Trade Unions, Public Service Customers’ Committees and other social and political organisations are coming together in an Initiative for Public Service.
Last week a Public Tribune in Rossio, the central square in Lisbon, saw dozens of trade unionists and social activists denouncing the huge attack on public services that big capital and its neo-liberal government is developing against working class people.
An organiser of the Initiative, Paulo Trindade, from the Public Services’ Union Federation focussed on the WTO’s Cancun meeting where the multinational corporations and worldwide capitalism was preparing further attacks on Public Services.
Carlos Carvalho from the CGTP – the Portuguese Trade Union Congress – announced a European action day called by the European Trade Unions Confederation.
The Workers’ Committee of the still public water company, ‘Águas e Portugal’, put in clear terms the steps being taken to bring this essential commodity into the private profit sphere of multinational corporations.
A representative of Sado and Coina Railway Users’ Committee said that the privatisation of Coina Railway imposed on working class people an increase of 20% in transport costs but also a worsening of safety conditions.
A leader of the Teachers’ Union Federation spoke on the ‘Public Private Initiative’ in Schools and the need of teachers, staff, students and parents to defend the achievement of the April Revolution in the form of universal education rights.
A member of Alternativa Socialista, the group of CWI members in Portugal, spoke in the name of Lisbon Council Workers’ Union. He described the ideological campaign of capitalism to ensure the passivity of the working class. It had used the media and pro-capitalist opinion-makers to discredit the public services and publicise the “pros” of privatisation.
He said that in the next period the working class would be told that university students are privileged and the state cannot afford to pay for them. This is because of a huge process being carried out to put working class youth out of public universities, for example by raising the fees by up to 140%. This will make them around €800 when the minimum wage is €370 and the average industrial wage is €650.
He pointed out that this measure implies the return of the “elite university” and the practical ban on working class children and youth getting into higher education. Therefore, this is a struggle that unions and other working class organisations cannot stand aside from or wait and see. They must come into the front line of this battle.
The Alternativa Socialista speaker also explained the double standards that big capital and the capitalist politicians use to create the idea that “private is better”. Lisbon Council is preparing a so-called pilot zone to give to a private corporation the clean and collect refuse service. But this zone is the easiest area of Lisbon in the matter of technical and geographical conditions. All the depressed areas, working class neighbourhoods and the hilly areas will be kept in the public service but with old equipment and an insufficient workforce. Moreover, the private company will be getting brand new equipment and a trained workforce. At the same time, in the public areas, the management is changing the collection of refuse from daily to every other day. The result is easy to figure out: in the end the private area will be clean and nice and the public area dirty, proving “private is better”!
Denouncing this trick, the comrade promised that Lisbon Council cleaners would not accept this. They are confident and aware of the need for a fight. But all the working class people are phoning up to express in different ways that they want to give active solidarity in defence of this public service.
Lisbon, 20 September