Portugal: Dock workers struggle to end precarious conditions

The following articles are translations and adaptations of articles originally published in the blog of Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI in Portugal): https://socialismohoje.wordpress.com and concern the struggle of the dockers against precarious work in portuguese ports and against the government of the Socialist Party (PS in portuguese), currently supported by the Left Bloc and the Communist Party in parliament.



A particularly important dispute opened up in the Port of Setúbal (linked to the biggest car factory in Portugal – Autoeuropa), where 90% of the workers are precarious. Hired and fired daily, some for 20 years(!). The workers are on strike since  November 5th demanding a collective contract and basic rights. The bosses, with help from the government and the police, are breaking the strike illegally since wednesday. The dockers are calling for solidarity action. Therefore we ask that letters and photos/videos of solidarity to be sent to their trade-union SEAL (setc@setc.pt) and to our portuguese section (socialismo.revolucionario.cit@gmail.com), as a way to show that the dockers are not alone in their fight.

A Solidarity Fund as also been established. We call on all socialists and trade-unionists to donate, even a small amount can be a huge help.

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This is not a workers’ government! End the repression against the dockers!

Statement from Socialismo Revolucionário

We fully condemn and repudiate the usage of the State’s repressive forces to break a picket line today in Setúbal’s port. It has been clear from the Lisbon dockers’ struggle in the in 2016 and, currently, in the ports of Leixões [North of Portugal] and Caniçal [Madeira island], that this is a government which systematically places capitalist’ interests over those of workers. What is happening to the  dockers is not the exception, but the rule experienced by many other workers in struggle.


The port operators’ persecution and harassment of SEAL [Dockers and Logistics Trade Union] members has been going on for several months, showing the ruthless and brutal character of the port owners, who fear SEAL will threaten their feud of super-exploitation and precarious work. The case of Setúbal’s port is paradigmatic with 90% precarious workers who are hired daily, some for 20 years. These conditions forced the dockers – precarious and full-timers – to go on strike, stopping the port, which is the only point of exports for the Volkswagen Autoeuropa factory.


The Government and Sea Ministry, overseen by Ana Paula Vitorino, never wanted to solve this conflict, and acted like the mafia, covering up the bosses from Autoeuropa and Operestiva [the port operator] on the illegal hiring of 50 scab workers, from outside the port, to load a “ghost-ship” with the Volkswagen automobiles, so as to catch the dockers by surprise. SEAL immediately called for a picket line to block the entrance of these workers, which was broken by the anti-riot police. The Government reveals its true class character by denying these dockers’ right to strike.


Unite the struggles to defeat the PS Government! Build a general strike against precarious work!


The antagonism between the PS Government and the interests of the working class is becoming clearer by the day, not only with the struggle of dockworkers against precarious work, but also with the struggles of teachers, nurses, council workers and others sections of the labour movement. The government budget for 2019 didn’t reverse any of the Troika’s previous (Anti)Labour Legislation and deepened the economic difficulties that the majority of the working class face daily.


Despite partial victories, such as the public television precarious workers, these isolated struggles have been insufficient in breaking the cycle of precarious work and impoverishment. It is of paramount importance to unite the various sectors of the working class around a common struggle to end precarious work, low wages and the degradation of public services. The leadership of the main trade union confederation, CGTP [General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers], must call for a 24-hour general strike which demands the end of precarious work, persecutions and harassment. The right to strike must be respected! This strike should be built in all workplaces, through democratic assemblies,in order to mobilize as many workers as possible.


Worker’s unity is our biggest strength against exploitation and precarious work. This is a common struggle, not one concerning only the dockworkers.

Dockworkers: a common struggle


Gonçalo Romeiro, Socialismo Revolucionário


The struggle against precarious work in the ports is old, as old as the activity of stowage itself. In the last few years, this struggle has been conducted by the former SETC – Trade Union of Dockworkers, Maritime Cargo and Traffic Workers from Center and South of Portugal, a regional trade union which, in the end of 2016 went national, being renamed as SEAL – Dockers and Logistics Trade Union.


The struggle against precarious work in the national ports has been protracted but also a role model. With a combative and democratic union, allied with active international solidarity through the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), the workers of SEAL have been able to keep in check the precarious work in the port of Lisbon and made some important gains in other ports throughout the country. This success deserves the most profound hatred from port operators and from the bourgeoisie in general, who systematically demonize this struggle through the mainstream media.


In the summer of 2016, a crucial step for the labour organization in the ports was made,which, in a context of continuing crisis of trade unionism, represents a crucial step for working class organization as a whole. The defeat of precarious work in the port of Lisbon and the creation of SEAL opened up a new chapter in the struggle against precarious work in portuguese ports and set an example to be followed by other sectors.


The bosses’ response has been swift. Their objective is clear: to destroy the gains of dockers, starting by their trade union, the SEAL. Dockers from across the country, particularly in Leixões [North of Portugal] and Caniçal (Madeira island), have suffered workplace harassment, attempts at bribes or summary redundancies for being members of SEAL.


Building a national trade union of the logistics sector is of paramount importance, not only for these workers in particular, but for the entire working class, given the growing importance of this sector in the world capitalist system and its concrete importance in the portuguese context. As with any living process, this struggle is non-linear and occurs between two opposite poles. On one side we have the bosses, the bourgeoisie as a whole, who try to boycott SEAL’s construction, whose activity is still focused mainly in Lisbon. On the opposite side, we have the workers, who try to take the fight against precarious work into all ports, with the purpose of winning the working conditions achieved in Lisbon.


The bosses’ boycott has several dimensions and relies on the solidarity of their own class displayed in their mass media. Trying to keep the dockers isolated from the rest of the working class through a persistent and lengthy slander campaign, the bosses resort to all means at their disposal to prevent other dockers from becoming members of SEAL. The bosses are assisted by “yellow” unions and bureaucracies who sold them down the river and allowed precarious work spread throughout the ports like gangrene.


While trying to prevent the building of SEAL in the main ports of Portugal, the bosses’ directly attack their base of support in Lisbon. On the 10th of September 2018, the portuguese newspaper Público and the news agency LUSA reported a complaint made by another trade union, the Confederation of Maritime and Airport Unions, part of UGT (General Union of Workers, trade union confederation closer to the portuguese Socialist Party), of the dangers posed by transferring the ports management to Lisbon’s City Council. According to this confederation “The first step has been taken for the extinction of the Port of Lisbon” and its replacement to the other side of the river, in Barreiro, opening up opportunities for real estate speculation.


The workers have met these attacks with a determined struggle and solidarity. On the 27th of July 2018, SEAL called for its first national strike against union busting in the portuguese ports. That was an historic step forward, with 100% participation from its members and a decisive impact in the country. The response from the bosses and the government was to continue their attacks, forcing the workers to resume an overtime strike – essential for the normal operation of the ports, given the lack of workers – since August 13th until the end of this year.


The distinctive feature of this strike in Portugal is of the utmost importance: a solidarity strike!  The strike is strongest in Lisbon, but its goal is to end the anti-union practices and precarious work in the other ports. The strongest ones fight for the weakest. It’s not a new method for SEAL dockers, who have always mobilized the full-timers to integrate the precarious workers, but it’s a practice almost unknown to the portuguese labour movement.

The dockers are running against the clock in a race that concerns the whole of our class. The building of SEAL as a true national union and the defense of the port of Lisbon are two battles which affect the struggle against the threat of precarious work to all of us. Victory for the port owners is a victory for all the exploiters. The example of solidarity and the fighting methods of SEAL should be replicated in all sectors. Let’s remember the slogan of the July 2016 demonstration: “precarious work? Neither for the dockers, nor for anyone!”

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December 2018