Portugal: Thousands march on unions’ day of action

A National Action Day, called by the CGTP (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers), saw tens of thousands of workers from the public and private sectors take to the streets on Thursday, 30 November.

An impressive 20,000 strong demo marched through the centre of Lisbon to the the Official Residence of the Prime Minister. A 7,000 public service contingent also lobbied the Finance Ministry. Workers from Bombardier, Cometna, Malka and Docapesca – companies whose Portuguese plants are all threatened with closure – joined the protests.

Despite the serious situation facing workers, the Lisbon demonstration was a noisy and combative affair. Protesters chanted, "A Luta Continua! Governo para a Rua" ("The struggle goes on! The government must go!") In the city of Porto, more than 5,000 workers also take the streets. There were also protests, rallies and demonstrations in other cities throughout the country.

The National Action Day was an important militant response by workers to the vicious attacks of the rightwing PSD-PP government, led by Prime Minister Durao Barroso.

The neo-liberal policies of the government, working hand in hand with the big capitalists, is provoking outrage. The government’s infamous ’Labour Code’ (designed to destroy the resistance of trade unions), the ’reforms’ in social security, the privatisation of the national health system and of education, the changes in health and unemployment subsidies, the social cuts in the national budget – they mark an open war against workers and the conquests and rights won by workers since the Portuguese Revolution in 1974.

An economic crisis is hitting workers hard, with the closure of factories and companies taking place each day. In September alone an average 677 workers lost their jobs in a single day. As a result, Portugal has a high rate of unemployment, with around 500,000 workers on the dole.

The Finance Minister, Mrs Manuel Ferreira Leite, is under pressure to follow the EU Stability Pact, which means keeping the public deficit below 3% of GDP. Despite economic experts warning staying to this target is impossible, given the economic downturn and high joblessness, the Finance Minister is determined to make to stick to the EU rules. This policy is deepening the economic and social crisis.

The explosive situation is added to by continuous scandals concerning state institutions and public figures (for example, the Modern University, the Traffic Division of the National Republican Guard, and the ex-mayor of Felgueiras Council). The most infamous scandal concerned a paedophile network that operated for more than 30 years in Casa Pia, a state institution for orphans and the poorest youth. This involved the sexual abuse of more the 100 children. The Casa Pia revelations led to the arrest of prominent public figures, such as a very popular TV star, Carlos Cruz, and a leading Socialist Party (i.e rightwing social democratic) MP and ex-minister, Paulo Pedroso.

However, in the absence of a strong socialist alternative in society, these events have also led to the growth of homophobic and reactionary populist ideas.

Union leaders’ circular agruements

The trade unions, mainly lead by Communist Party, are lagging behind the angry mood in society. The leadership have an entirely bureaucratic and conservative approach. They continually delay trying to unify workers’ struggles and involving wider sections of society in resisting the government with a circular argument that runs: "We don’t propose more militant actions because workers do not want struggle". But the reality is that working people are not being given a clear, class based programme of resistance that can attract them and that can build a powerful response to the bosses’ and government’s attacks.

A militant response would mean organising democratic workplace assemblies and cross sector action, calling the unemployed to struggle, organising casual workers (which make up more then 30% of the total workforce) and promoting active solidarity between workers.

Alternativa Socialista, Comit por uma Internacional dos Trbalhadores, Portugal

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November 2003