Portugal: Constitutional court ruling sends government into disarray

CC rules budget illegal for second time, government declares war against it

The situation in Portugal is explosive. Last week’s decision from the Constitutional Court (CC) to declare four measures of the State Budget illegal, amounting to a value of 1.3 billion euros, only confirmed what many had already said: it was an impossible budget to implement. But, they said, the government had to put it forward. The Troika demanded it. Portuguese capitalists demanded it. They didn’t have a Plan B. The government seems now to be breaking down. The prime minister’s right hand man and Minister, Relvas, has resigned, and more ministers are bound to follow his example. The Finance Minister, feeling the end of his “reign” drawing near, declared what could be linkened to a "State Lockout" by suspending spending in all departments until further notice. This threatens every important public service with breakdown: schools without food, hospitals without medicine etc. One university in Lisbon already suspended classes for lack of materials.

Protesting farmers, 17 April 2013

Given all of these huge events, the response of the Left and the Trade Unions has been weak. Whereas the government “screams”, they “whisper”. Although they demand the fall of the government more loudly, they fail to give any answer whatsoever in terms of concrete struggle to achieve this! After more than 1 Million people took to the streets on 2 of March, in the biggest demonstration in terms of population ever, where the Portuguese working class and youth showed its willingness to fight back, they keep blocking the struggle and refuse to call and organize any mass protest or strike!

The military

As all this takes place, the military are not left out. They’re also being attacked and are not happy with it. Military associations already declared that the reform the government wants to implement is illegal. We’ve seen the military demonstrate their anger in the streets already in their thousands on repeated occasions. They also showed on more than one occasion open solidarity with the people’s protests, saying they are on their side and not the government. Sections of the police have also joined big demonstrations. The State machine is not stable, the government knows it doesn’t have their clear support in a explosive social situation, and that’s one of the reasons why we see panicking reactions every time something big happens or is about to happen. The government’s desperation and isolation are clear, and they shoot in all directions (except against big capital of course) which only makes the situation for them worse. It’s like adding gasoline to a big fire.

The government has never been so weak

The mass protests and general strike at the end of last year, 2 March and now the CC’s decision has sent the government into its biggest crisis so far. They don’t know exactly how to solve this problem. They don’t have alternative measures besides more brutal cuts in public spending sending the already failing public services and Social Security into complete chaos. At first they said they would find alternatives only through cuts in spending, but that was not enough to fill the gap. Now they say they will to forward with measures that were deemed illegal, such as the taxing of unemployment and sickness benefits, just with slight irrelevant changes.

This is already a clear disrespect of the CC’s decision. The Constitution doesn’t mean anything to them in face of the interests of the Troika, speculators and big businesses. They are also trying once again to approach the Socialist Party to reach a “wide consensus”. This is a clear attempt to get a “National salvation” government strong enough to attack the Constitution itself, but the PS is reluctant, knowing it will mean a huge loss in popularity for the coming local and regional elections. However, they also don’t say a clear No, and many of its leaders also point in the direction of "consensus". In reality, it is now more a matter of time before such a broad right-wing coalition will be placed on the table, with or without elections.

Following the CC debacle, one thing has been made clear for all to see. The purely institutional struggle has proved incapable of stopping this massacre, and bringing down this government. While extremely welcome news for workers and unemployed who have seen budget attacks reversed, the CC ruling has not been enough to stop the government and Troika coming back for more blood. Only the mass mobilisation of the working class and the youth can be relied upon. It’s time to get back to the streets and bring down the government through mass struggle.

A General Strike to bring down the government

Demanding the resignation of the government and the expulsion of the Troika, as the leaders of the CGTP, Communist Party and Left Bloc do to their credit, is all very good. But saying it isn’t enough. Calling for a big protest every now and then isn’t enough either. The government is determined to stay in power at all costs, and the President supports it. To bring the government down we need to make them unable to rule. Symbolic actions such as a “Popular censorship motion” brought to parliament aren’t enough, proposals and motions in the parliament that will never pass, due to the right wing majority, aren’t enough. Only the struggle in the streets, workplaces, universities and communities will be able to turn those words in reality.

We need a plan of action, one that doesn’t stop until the government falls and is replaced by a government of working people and youth, a plan that uses every mobilization and concrete struggle to make the next one even stronger and wider. After four 24-hour general strikes, that were unable to stop these policies we need longer strike action, that gives workers a perspective with which they can stop this disastrous path. Such a plan should start with a 48-hour General Strike that turns the radicalization and mobilization of 2 of March into concrete, consequent strike action. The next General Strike could and should not only last longer than the 4 previous ones, but be linked internationally like on 14 November (in Spain for example a general strike of Education is taking place on 9 May). Britain is also coming ever closer to organizing a general strike, the first one since the revolutionary strike of 1926. It should be organized through public assemblies in the workplaces and streets that could mobilize the 1,5 Million unemployed and turn it into an organized army to fight alongside the workers.

Such a plan would also include big demonstrations, occupations and boycotts of the fiscal robbery imposed upon working people, which the government already says will become worse with the CC’s decision. This plan of struggle must continue until the government falls, the Troika leaves the country, and a Workers’ and young people’s government replaces it, to implement policies in the interests of the majority. The government is at its weakest moment, give a strong enough push and it will fall.

A workers’ government and the socialist alternative

Taking into account that the crisis we live today is not just some merely “cyclical” crisis, but a structural crisis of capitalism, where its biggest contradictions are crudely exposed, where capitalism is unable to solve its crisis without condemning millions of people to poverty. This means that a solution to the crises to challenge the capitalist system itself. Keynesian measures were put forward at the beginning of the crises in 2008 and they didn’t work, now austerity is the only way that the ruling class has to pass the cost of its crisis onto workers and youth, all over Europe and in particular in the south.

This means that bringing down the government is far from being enough to solve our problems. The Trade Union and social movements have to arm themselves with a clear alternative to Capitalism, with a socialist alternative. A plan of action has also to be based on an alternative programme that can answer to all the big issues workers and youth face today. In Portugal, we call on the Left, particularly on the Communist Party (PCP) and the Left Bloc (BE), to form a United Front with the Trade Unions and the social movements to draw up such a plan of action and a minimum programme to break with Capitalism and its crises. We call on the Left, Trade Unions and social movements to put forward a programme for a workers and young people’s government as an alternative to the governments of big businesses and speculators.

This programme has first of all to declare that we can’t pay this debt. We can’t pay a debt made by speculators that condemns entire nations to poverty just to keep on profiting and feed on every last public resource we still have. We need to be free of their grip, and nationalize the banking system under workers and consumers’ control and management, so that we can generate and deploy the funds necessary for a mass public investment plan that can raise from the ground our devastated public services, a plan of investment in the economy to create real and decent jobs for the 1.5 million unemployed. We need to nationalize all the strategic sectors of the economy and run them democratically under workers control so that the resources of the country, that belong to everyone, are not run in the interests of private profit, but on the basis of the real needs of society.


Such a plan of action and alternative programme, in contrast with the shy measures of “renegotiating with the creditors” put forward by the left leaders, and the fractured struggle implemented by the union tops, can give a real perspective to all the radicalized workers and youth, who are feeling the heavy fist of the “markets”, that they can defeat the government, the troika and their policies and fight for a clear alternative to this disastrous path. Fight for a Democratic Socialist alternative to the dictatorship of speculators and big businesses.

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May 2013