Portugal: Right wing government brought down

Political crisis continues

After the rejection of the programme and government of PàF (the right-wing coalition) in the new Parliament, elected more than a month ago, all eyes are placed on Cavaco Silva, the ultra-conservative President of the Republic.

As expected, when Cavaco Silva chose to nominate Passos Coelho, the leader of the conservative coalition, as prime-minister, he gave birth to the shortest government of the democratic history of Portugal. The new parliament, where the Left has increased its presence and, along with the ex-social-democratic PS, won the majority of seats, had already promised to reject any proposal from PàF to form a new government.

These events, combined with the hesitation of the capitalists to support a “Socialist” Party (PS) led minority government supported by the Left, has created a governmental crisis that will be the central feature of the next period.

A PS-led government: opportunities and dangers

As we said earlier, after the election results of 4 October, the Left (Communist Party and Left Bloc) presented the PS with a question: will it support the right-wing and help it stay in power to continue the brutal austerity policy of the Troika, or will it open dialogue with the left to form an alternative government that aims to end such policies? This tactic, depending on how it is conducted, can open up big opportunities but also big dangers for those fighting against austerity.

The Left parties agreed to support the formation of a PS-led government as an alternative to the PaF while at the same time refusing to enter the government. We generally support this tactic, despite serious disagreements with how the agreement has been made (explained below). It was time to expose the bourgeois two-party system and force the PS to choose which side it is on. On one hand, a right-wing government was only possible with its support, on the other, it had the opportunity to form an “anti-austerity” government with the support of the parliamentary left.

Already, this tactic has won some important victories in the field of democratic rights for LGBT people – with the right to adoption for same sex couples having been won. Also, the cancellation of the last changes to the Abortion Law mean a lot to thousands of women across the country. But the question of ending austerity will be more complex and dangerous, given the record and history of the so-called Socialist Party.

Ruling class divided: trust the PS or keep PàF as a caretaker government?

The capitalists are divided. The most conservative section, around the President, fears an unstable PS government dependent on the support of the Left. Such a government which will have to try, at least to a certain degree, to give concessions to working people, thus weakening the TINA (there is no alternative) neoliberal propaganda, especially in a context of huge economic uncertainty. This section conducts a fearmongering and undemocratic campaign against what it calls a “Coup of the Left” against PàF, the most voted force in the elections. It intentionally ignores the fact that Portugal has a parliamentary system where we elect MPs, not governments, which are elected through the parliament, and that the right wing was far from winning a majority of seats. .

Another section, which seems to be the majority, accepts a government led by the PS, generally a party of the ruling elite, trusting it to keep the Left in check and follow the capitalist agenda in its most important aspects. At least for a few months, until it is possible to call for new elections that will probably be conducted under a new conservative President.

The major capitalists favour this last scenario, including the bankers, as was made clear after their last meetings with the President, and it is not difficult to understand why.

This option can also be facilitated by some of the political mistakes made by the Left parties’ leaderships. The most serious of these mistakes was for the Left to not only agree to support the formation of the government, but to agree to keep it in place for a full 4-year term. This undermines the necessary political independence of the Left and the working class, and could become a weight around the necks of the Left Bloc and PCP.

The main concessions agreed between the Left and the PS are to be applied over 4 years, the entire legislature,. This means that the Left will be pressured to keep social tensions low so as to not “break the deal” and keep waiting for the day the agreement is fulfilled. At the same time, the capitalists will intensify their campaign for “realism” to delay as long as possible the most important concessions, while exploiting all the contradictions inside the PS and between it and the Left. They hope to capitalize on the frustration and fear of the masses.

Only a minority is in favour of maintaining a right-wing caretaker government because this would force the Left to radicalize, break free from the constraints of the agreement, and return to the streets. With the new composition of the parliament and the PS in the opposition pressured to approve workers’ demands, it would alienate the Right even more from the masses and reinforce the need for a government of the Left.

Nonetheless, the fact that all major bosses and bankers chose to place their trust in the PS, should make us think twice about the way this agreement was achieved and what it will mean for the struggle to end austerity…

Make the Socialist Party talk directly with workers in the streets and workplaces

Therefore, we disagree with the way this dialogue was conducted, for it left out the vast majority of the working class from the process, including its organized sections. No big mobilization of workers was called, the negotiations were conducted behind closed doors, with workers being informed mainly through the capitalist media, amidst a brutal fearmongering campaign against the Left.

This way, the Left leaves the working class in a precarious position of mere spectator while being bombarded with reactionary propaganda. The negotiations should be public and made in the presence of the working class, this way we could directly tell the PS what we expect from a Left Government.

In this sense we welcome and take enthusiastically part in the mobilizations called by the CGTP (main trade union confederation) for the 28 of November to demand the President to endorse the PS-led government. But we should do more than just that, we should be seriously campaigning already for concrete measures.

The working class needs to be in the centre of the struggle

The tasks are huge, but we now have the best conditions for struggle of the past years, perhaps even decades, and we shouldn’t waste them. Independently of what government is formed, we now have a parliament that is much more exposed to the pressure of workers’ struggles.

First, we, the organized working class, should be coming onto the streets and, sector by sector, in a unified way, demanding from the new parliament concrete measures to reverse cuts and privatizations, give back stolen labour rights, stop sackings and an end to precarious work.

Fighting for an 100% anti-austerity Left Government

The next period will be one of intense political instability and struggle. Having a voice in the parliament can give confidence to the working class to return to mass struggle and demand real change. The PS will inevitably be in the centre of this turmoil, the working class will be looking at it with attention and take important lessons from its behaviour.

Central will be the question of what government and what parties really represent workers’ interests, what is a Left government? How can it come to being? Is the EU an ally or an enemy of the working class in Portugal and on a European level? As it did in Greece, the Troika will not sit back and allow the anti-austerity policies demanded by the Left to be implemented. Defending these policies will mean confronting and breaking the rules of the EU and capitalism.

All these questions must be brought to the fore by building a united front of workers in struggle for very concrete demands such as raising the minimum wage, affordable housing and against unemployment. It will be through such struggle that the mass of the working class will conclude that it needs its own government, an 100% anti-austerity government, that is willing to take the struggle to the end, i.e. overturn the dictatorship of the markets and fight for a socialist alternative.

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November 2015