Portugal: New explosion against austerity and the government

“Screw the Troika – the people are the best rulers”

Yesterday, on 2 March, over 1.5 million people reclaimed Portugal’s streets, in what even the media has speculated may have been the country’s biggest ever demonstrations. With 800,000 in Lisbon, 400,000 in Porto, and tens of thousands more in over 30 cities, nationwide, the masses poured onto the streets, under the slogan “Screw the Troika – the people are the best rulers”. The marches gave an expression to the seething anger an ferment at the death spiral which the Troika’s puppet centre-right coalition government, led by Passos Coelho (conservative, PSD party), has imposed on the country through its vicious austerity policies.

The demonstrations sent a clear message to the Troika – EU, ECB and IMF – as their representatives visited Lisbon for the seventh time to oversee the brutal cuts imposed on the country. As well as the need to stop the Troika, hundreds of thousands in front of the finance ministry expressed their demand to bring down the government. A protester is quoted by Euronews.com: “I just want to tell Passos Coelho that I have the right to scream and show everyone how revolted I am at his incompetence, mediocrity and dishonesty – at everything.” Another one adds: “If the government pays attention to what is happening and understands that the people are against them, they should get out. If not, this won’t stop.”

The newspaper Publico quotes a demonstrator referring to Passos Coelho (which is not only the name of the Prime Minister, but also the Portuguese word for rabbit): “I’d rather have horse in my hamburgers, than rabbits [coelhos] in the government”.

These demonstrations, bringing together workers, the poor and solidiers in every town of the country showed that the Portuguese people are up for a fight, and determined to force this government and its policies from the scene of history.

Translate the anger into a strategy for victory

The task now, in order to translate this massive popular will for change into victory, is for the building of a movement an strategy strong and militant enough to bring down the coalition, armed with the necessary ideas and programme to chart a way out of the mass misery of the capitalist crisis.

A 24 hour general strike is needed as an immediate step towards an all out struggle to bring down the government.

Last September, the same platform brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets, sending the government into disarray and forcing it to cancel important austerity announcements. However, the momentum was unfortunately not seized upon, by an escalating calendar of mobilisations to force the government out. The same mistake must not be repeated.

Armenio Carlos, Secretary-General of CGTP (main trade union federation) is quoted from his speech on 2 March: “Today it is clear that this government has no political legitimacy, has no moral legitimacy, has no ethical legitimacy to continue to govern, because any visit, by any minister is followed with protests and demands for the resignation of the government. The government has became the problem that prevents the solution” (Euronews.com). However, Carlos is currently not giving a lead, to implement the steps necessary to bring down the hated politicians.

The organisation of those who made history on 2 March 2013 into democratic committees of action in workplaces and communities, an immediate campaign to force the CGTP (main trade union federation) leaders into the calling of a general strike to bring down the government, the occupation of strategic buildings, the main workplaces etc., are no longer utopian dreams but urgent tasks of the hour. Given the revolutionary spirit and strength of the movement expressed on 2 March, activists do not only have to put pressure on the trade union leaders for such a call, but should also move forward to build for it from below.

If Coelho falls, what alternative?

Alongside this, the mass left parties (Left Bloc and Communist Party, who already share almost 30% in polls) have been handed an historic responsibility to channel the movement through a political programme to end the misery of capitalism and austerity – a programme to refuse to pay the debt, no to austerity, nationalisation of the banks and commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and management. Such a government could immediately inspire the struggles in Greece, Spain, Italy and all over Europe. It could link up for example with the Greek, Spanish and Italian workers in a joint battle to end the dictatorship of the Troika and the markets.

This requires the urgent formation of a united front of the left parties, trade unions an social movements around a programme for a government of the workers and the poor, to refuse the payment of the debt and implement socialist policies.

The demonstrations were literally soaked through with the legacy of the Portuguese revolution, of April 1974. Following on from the repeated singing of “Grandola Vila Morena”, in protest actions in last weeks, the demonstrations ended with the mass singing of this hymn of the 1974 revolution, in an emotional scene, reflecting how 38 years after the event, the capitalist crisis has dragged revolution back onto the agenda. The only lasting way to complete its legacy is to carry through the socialist revolution today.

More reports and analysis to follow…

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