Portugal: Social turmoil as country hit by economic crisis

Workers respond with action

The recent period has seen a rapid degeneration in the social, economic and political landscape in Portugal.

The Portuguese economy is peripheral in Europe and weak. No wonder that the impact of the global crisis is worsening all the economic indicators very quickly. It serves to underline the massive and brutal role of the neo-liberal policies imposed on the working class by the Barroso, Santana and Socrates governments.

Portugal has seen the gap between rich and poor being the biggest in the whole European Union. One third of the population is below or threatens to be below the poverty line. Half of the poor have a paid job. So the massive increases in food and fuel prices has provoked growing social unrest that only the lack of a real working class political voice has prevented from exploding into a pre-revolutionary period.

The main traditional capitalist parties remain in a deep crisis with the conservative People’s Party (PP) loosing its social base and with the ‘liberal’ Social Democratic Party (PSD) in constant turmoil. The latter has elected as its new leader – the last on only had the seat for 6 months – the former Finance Minister of the PSD, Mrs Manuela Ferreira Leite, a ‘hawk’ of neo-liberalism. Nevertheless, even capitalist commentators do not foresee any change to the PSD’s chances of building an alternative to the ‘Socialist’ Party government lead by Prime Minister Jose Socrates.

Meanwhile, the fishermen are protesting against the massive fuel hikes of the recent period. Blockades are bringing the country to a halt. Fuel is running out. The drivers of large lorries are striking and now the drivers of vans and commercial cars are stopping too. The government may try to move to use the police against the blockades.

So far the trade union leaderships have been against walk-outs but the use of the police could force them to call action. There is a postal strike and strikes of train-drivers. The social movement is growing.


In a meeting organised by the Left Bloc last week (June 3) a well-known historic leader of the Socialist Party, Manuel Alegre, made a rousing speech. This was the man who had already defied the Socialist Party leadership when he ran in the 2006 presidential election against the official PS candidate, Mário Soares. He got a massive 1,138,297 votes and came second after the right-wing candidate. He came out forcefully “Against capitalism and for socialism again”, but put forward nothing as an effective programme to resolve the problems of the working class.

Last Thursday, June 5, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP), the largest trade union federation in Portugal, organised another national demonstration against the new labour laws for the public and private sector under the slogan ‘Global Warning’. In the last two years the national demonstrations have got turn-outs of 120,000, 150,000 and 200,000 workers. The latest one was on the very day of the signature of the Lisbon Treaty. On June 5 there were again 200,000 on the streets of Lisbon.

Unfortunately, the CGTP is still not making a call for a real general strike, preparing for it with workplace committees and full-blooded mobilisation. Instead, it is calling for regional demonstrations at the end of June, when the situation is burning now!

We need a fighting programme to organise a real struggle against this government, let alone this brutal system that daily increases exploitation and poverty. In the Lisbon Council workers’ union we are making a statement calling for more generalised action and a real fight.

In some respects one can feel in the streets and workplaces of 2008’s Portugal the winds of the days before the great general strike in France of May/June 1968, with some touches of March 1974 in Portugal – the days before the revolution that overthrew Caetano. Today, more than ever, we need a socialist programme and a fighting, working class, democratic political voice for working class and youth. That is the aim that Socialismo Revolucionário in Portugal is working to promote.

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June 2008