Portugal: Mobilisation against austerity reaches new level

Working class people in Portugal are facing an unprecedented assault against wages, welfare provision and public services.

Last week, the governing Socialist Party (PS) and the main right-wing opposition, the Socialist Democratic Party (PSD), joined forces in parliament to approve a second version of the Stability and Growth Plan (PEC) – a huge austerity programme destined to halve the 9.4% budget deficit in two years.

The new measures include income tax hikes, a VAT rise, cuts in central government funds to local councils, and a general increase of public transport costs.

A deep public anger against these measures is increasing. The ruling class, fearing a rise in social struggles, has pushed the political establishment to apply also some cosmetic measures against higher incomes, like a 5% cut in politicians and public sector managers’ wages, and a rise in corporation tax of 2.5%.

This serves the purpose of arguing that "everybody pays an equal share of sacrifices." However, while the working class victims of the capitalist crisis are facing ceaseless belt-tightening measures, the four largest private banks are netting on average €4.35 million in profits every single day.

As the level of unemployment is reaching a record-high – on average, 243 jobs a day are being lost – new savage cuts in unemployment benefits are also on the order of the day.

And new attacks should be expected soon. Displaying its allegiance to the will of financial speculators, the government is already coming out with new proposals. 500 primary schools are being cut and highway fees levied. President Cavaco Silva has even urged people to ’forget about going on holidays abroad’, supposedly as a way to help the country out of the economic crisis.

But like their Greek and Spanish counterparts, Portuguese workers have shown a tremendous willingness to struggle. The last weeks and months have seen a new stage in the scale of mobilisations. Even the police have taken to the streets to protest against their wages and conditions.

Huge mobilisation

On Saturday 29 May, a national demonstration called by the CGTP – the main union confederation- gathered more than 300,000 people in the streets of Lisbon, in a powerful response against the government’s austerity agenda.

This mobilisation was the largest workers’ demonstration in the country since the 1974 revolution and helped sharpen the enthusiasm and confidence of many workers for intensifying the resistance.

Significantly, while the smaller and conservative UGT trade union had refused to mobilise for this demo – arguing that it would represent a "threat to social peace"- many union rank-and-file members defied their leaders by joining the demo anyway.

Many workers saw this mobilisation as a step towards the building of a nationwide general strike. "Let’s follow Greece: General Strike!" one demo banner read.

Yet the CGTP national leadership doesn’t seem to be very keen in responding to this as it should. The widespread and popular slogan of "La luta continua" (continue the struggle) must not remain on paper, but needs to be translated concretely into the preparation of a militant agenda of struggles, beginning with a serious call and preparation for a 24-hour general strike.

This is what Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI section in Portugal, is arguing for, as a first step to display the strength of the workers’ movement and to organise the fightback – linking it to socialist proposals against the impasse of capitalist crisis.

Our appeal to the left parties (the Communist Party and the Left Bloc) for a united plan of resistance against the PEC, and for ’organisations of action’ during the international week of protest and solidarity during 21-26 June, also received a warm response from many activists and young people.

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June 2010