Two day public services general strike
Lisbon City Council trade union leader and member of CWI in Portugal comments on the recent two- day public services general strike.
Francisco Raposo, Alternativa Socialista, CWI-Portugal interviewed by Simon Van Haeren, CWI, London
“We are fighting back against a major offensive from the ‘Blairite’ Partido Socialista government”
Thursday 9 and Friday 10 November a general strike in the public services swept through the whole of Portugal. This action followed the 12 October national demonstration that saw 100,000 people on the move, in a fight back against the government’s austerity plan, protesting against declining living standards. On that day the public services formed a powerful contingent in the massive demonstration, representing the on going struggle in the public services. We talked to Francisco Raposo, a trade union leader in Lisbon Council Public Services. We discussed the recent two day strike in the public services, the perspectives for the struggle and the role being played in it by the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party.
SV:Francisco, can you tell us what the workers of the public services in Portugal are fighting for?
FR: “We are facing and fighting back a major offensive initiated by the ‘Blairite’ Partido Socialista government. In the sole interest of big-business it is planning to destroy the public services and sack tens of thousands of public servants. We are also fighting for better wages and work conditions. In Portugal there is national collective wage bargaining each year, just before the government’s national budget is made up. But the government is refusing serious negotiations. It is tying to impose a ridiculous 1.5% wage increase, a rise of 0,5% in ADSE (the financial security system for illness of the public servants), an insulting €0,08p/day increase in meal subsidies and it wants to freeze careers until 2008.”
SV:How long has this struggle been going on?
FR: This struggle is almost uninterruptedly going on since this government picked on the public servants to blame for the enormous budget deficit. This had been inherited from the previous pro-capitalist and neo-liberal PSD-PP government, headed by Durão Barroso – now president of the European Commission – and his successor Santana Lopes. The current fake “socialist” government uses the budget deficit as an excuse to try to impose draconian policies on the public services and to sack tens of thousands of public servants. They are trying to make the state apparatus ‘slim’ and give profitable public sectors to big business. So, we can say that this struggle has been developing over the last two years or so.
SV: 12 October was a national day of action in Portugal with a 100.000 strong demonstration in Lisbon. This was the first time all sectors – public and private – were united in there struggle against the government. Has the 12 October action influenced the struggle of the Public Services since then?
FR: In fact, 12 October’s “General Protest”, as we called it, is a landmark for the working class and union movement in Portugal. Prime Minister Sócrates’ initial success in scape-goating public servants as privileged workers has crumbled because of this powerful demonstration. The proof of this is that a few days before the ‘General Protest’ the polls still gave the PS government a solid majority, but a few days after, for the very first time, it went down. So, without doubt, the ‘General Protest’ helped towards the success of the public servants’ general strike.
SV: How does the Socrates government respond to the actions?
On the surface it deploys an annoying arrogance. Socrates has said that he will stick to this course despite the loud voiced protest on the streets. However, during the PS National Conference, the leadership tried to bring forward the idea that the PS is the “real and modern left” as a means to win back support from the workers that are being alienated from the party by its policies. In fact, although a vast number of working class people have voted PS, its neo-liberal polices are provoking revolt among the workers that voted for them. Sócrates and co. can not ignore this. Their rethoric illustrates the pressure on the government.
SV: The trade union leadership of the CGTP has called a national day of action on the November 25, do you think this will be enough to defeat the government?
FR: Unfortunately not. The CGTP (the trade union federation that called the 12 October “General Protest”) had a golden opportunity to start an action plan to build a nation-wide general strike. With 100.000 workers on the streets and thousands and thousands more who were touched by the mobilisation for the “general protest”, the announcement of such a plan could have led to a mass movement in the workplaces to build for an effective general strike. But the weight of PCP (Portuguese Communist Party) and a small but overrepresented PS group in the CGTP bureaucrats and their fear for mass movements that they may not control, have slowed down the development of the movement. To maintain control over the movement, the National Council (NC) of the CGTP decided after the magnificent “General Protest” to call for regional demonstrations in all 18 district capitals in Portugal on 25 November, effectively diffusing the struggle. However, many shop stewards and union leaders continue to demand a General Strike. For example, my own union has written a letter to the CGTP leadership saying that we believe it is a mistake not to start building for a General Strike in the workplaces.
SV: Portugal has two big leftwing parties that claim to fight for an alternative to capitalism, the Left Bloc (LB) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP); how do they respond to the upturn in class struggle?
FR: Well, we have a lack of left in the “left”. One must see that the Portuguese working class had a golden opportunity to achieve socialism during the Portuguese Revolution in 74/75. But, without a socialist program and a revolutionary mass party, the revolution was defeated and the class consciousness of the working class suffered a huge blow. Furthermore, without time for the working class to recover from this set back, a new major blow was dealt to the workers in the form of the collapse of Stalinism. Because of the mass influence of the PCP in the industrial working class, Stalinism was seen as the ‘real existing’ model of a socialist society. The PCP and the LB are mainly made up out of militants of the Portuguese Revolution, now around 50-60 years old.
From my point of view, they are not able to consolidate youth, although the Left Bloc, in its starting phase, and the PCP when Jerónimo de Sousa became general secretary, both attracted some young people for a period.
The Left Bloc had a socialist profile at the start but is shifting more and more to the right, not raising any revolutionary socialist demands. The Left Bloc does little or no consistent work in the trade unions and in the industrial working class. It does defend the social movements but in an increasingly reformist way: it emphasizes their function under capitalism.
The PCP does have roots in the working class but does nearly nothing to educate their members in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, although they dwell on their “anti-capitalist” image. In fact, their slogan for the defence of the so-called “national economy” forms a tandem with the neo-liberal policies deployed in city councils ruled by PCP mayors. This lack of a perspective to unite the working class and resolutely fight back against capitalism leads to break lines between different sectors. In some cases it even leads to infighting amongst PCP bureaucrats. However under the present conditions, the PCP is still a pole of attraction for the working class to some extent.
Of course, I am also a ‘son’ of the Portuguese Revolution, but I’m still confident that a new generation of working class militants will come to the front of the class struggle and look for a truly socialist democracy as an alternative to this rotten capitalism. I do think that the ideas and methods of the CWI could play a key role in that process. Alternativa Socialista, the group of CWI members in Portugal, will continue to explain socialist ideas and campaign for Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in the union movement and elsewhere. Then, as now, we need the international solidarity of socialist and Marxist organisations, newspapers like yours, and individuals.