|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 167 April 2013
‘Screw the troika!’ - Portugal protests
On 2 March, over 1.5 million people reclaimed Portugal’s streets in what even the media speculated may have been the country’s biggest ever demonstrations. With 800,000 in the capital, Lisbon, 400,000 in Porto, and tens of thousands in over 30 other towns and cities, the masses poured onto the streets. The main slogan was: ‘Screw the troika – the people are the best rulers!’
It was a clear expression of the seething anger and ferment at the death spiral imposed on the country through the vicious austerity policies of the centre-right coalition government led by Pedro Passos Coelho (conservative, PSD party, pictured). Coelho’s coalition is acting as a puppet for the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The demonstrations sent a stark message to the troika, whose representatives were visiting Lisbon for the seventh time to oversee their brutal cuts. Hundreds of thousands also amassed in front of the finance ministry demanding to bring down the government. A protester said: "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 added: "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". (Euronews.com)
The newspaper Público quoted a demonstrator referring to the prime minister, whose name is 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 soldiers in every town of the country showed that the Portuguese people are up for a fight, and are determined to force this government and its policies from the scene of history.
The task now is to translate this massive popular will for change into a movement with a strategy strong and militant enough to achieve its aims. It needs to be armed with the necessary ideas and programme to chart a way out of the mass misery caused by 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 a number of austerity measures. Unfortunately, the momentum was not seized upon, through an escalating calendar of mobilisations to force the government out. The same mistake must not be repeated.
Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP (the main trade union federation), said in 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 become the problem that prevents the solution". (Euronews.com) Carlos, however, is 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 into democratic committees of action in workplaces and communities is no longer a utopian dream but is an urgent task of the hour. An immediate campaign must be launched to force the CGTP leaders into calling a general strike, and to organise the occupation of strategic buildings and main workplaces, etc. Given the revolutionary spirit and strength of the movement, activists should not only put pressure on the trade union leaders for such a call but should move to build it from below.
Alongside this, the main left parties (Left Bloc and the Communist Party, which 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. Such a programme needs to include the refusal to pay the debt; say no to austerity; and call for the nationalisation of the banks and commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and management.
A government which genuinely represented working-class people could immediately inspire the struggles in Greece, Spain, Italy and all over Europe, linking up with the workers’ movement in these countries 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 and social movements around a programme for a government of the workers and the poor, and the implementation of socialist policies.
The demonstrations were soaked through with the spirit of the Portuguese revolution of April 1974. Following on from the repeated singing of Grandola Vila Morena – the song which, when played on the radio, signalled the start of the military revolt against the dictatorship – in protest actions in recent weeks, the demonstrations on 2 March ended with the mass singing of this hymn of the 1974 revolution, in very emotional scenes. It is a reflection of how, 39 years later, 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.