|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Portuguese workers resist the euro cuts
ALONGSIDE THE anger, the workers’ movement in Portugal is also on the rise. Following on from action in a number of sectors, on 5 February, Portuguese public-sector workers took to the streets of Lisbon, in opposition to the attacks planned by the PS (‘Socialist Party’) government. Fifty thousand participated in the protest called by the CGTP, the largest union confederation in Portugal. Workers from the municipal service workers’ unions turned out in large numbers, alongside teachers and civil servants. The demonstration was also joined by the nurses’ union, SEP, which the previous week had ended a three-day strike for better pay with a 15,000-strong march through the capital.
A national day of action by school students had taken place the day before, with 30,000 demonstrating all over Portugal against cutbacks in the education sector, the undermining of democratic rights in schools and the rising cost of education. The CGTP has called for ‘decentralised action’ in the public and private sectors throughout February, with strikes and demonstrations in several workplaces and cities.
Portugal was one of the most vulnerable countries when the world economic crisis hit, plagued by high unemployment, low wages and anaemic growth before the great recession began. Like Greece, Ireland and Spain, Portugal faces intense pressure from the rest of the eurozone to reduce its public deficit and meet the requirements of the stability pact by 2012. The current budget deficit is partly the result of the government’s rescue package to try to avoid economic collapse by giving billions to the banking sector – €4.2 billion to the BPN bank alone. Now, however, this money is supposedly to be repaid by the entire population through new ‘sacrifices’, with public-sector workers among the first victims.
The government plans to freeze all public-sector wages – in real terms, a pay cut. Portuguese wages are already among the lowest in Europe, with a minimum wage of €450 a month. In addition, the government wants an embargo on public-sector recruitment, and aims to replace only two out of every three jobs lost. Retirement conditions are to be tightened, and contracts changed to make workers easier to sack. The government is planning the privatisation of electricity and water, the national airline and rail network, and the re-privatisation of BPN. Big business leaders are calling for 10-15% pay cuts.
In the face of this onslaught, the recent strikes and protests show that resistance is building. Anti-capitalist attitudes have grown in recent years, and sections of the workers are not prepared to pay for the bosses’ crisis. A certain fear of this growing resistance has developed among sections of the capitalist class, illustrated by recent large falls in the stock exchange. They are not convinced that the government will be able to implement its austerity measures easily and solve its debt problems. Clearly, they have good reason to believe that their way out of the crisis will not be a ‘painless’ one, from their point of view.
What was noticeable on the demonstration, however, was the lack of a political response being proposed. The PCP (Communist Party), which has a very strong position in the unions, did not attempt to politicise the resistance and channel it into a political alternative to capitalism and to the PS government of José Socrates. In fact, Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Portugal) was the only political organisation which intervened with a leaflet – headed ‘It’s their crisis, it’s our struggle!’ – which was well received.
The situation shows tremendous potential but lacks a political programme and perspective to concretise this struggle. There is a pressing need for the parliamentary left parties (PCP and the Left Bloc), other left groups and the unions, to work together to fight for a political alternative. The call needs to go out for a workers’ government based on a socialist programme, serving the interests of the workers, and not the interests of the international or Portuguese capitalist class.
Jonas Raposeiro, Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI Portugal)