Workers and students radicalised

Major strikes and mass protests are taking place in Portugal against the anti-worker polices of the Partido Socialista (PS - ‘Socialist Party’) government of Jose Socrates. On taking office in 2005, Socrates said his priority was to ‘revive’ the economy, which has been near the bottom of the European table for years and has one of the continent’s largest budget deficits.

Socrates policy is to get bigger profits for big business by attacking the hard won rights and conditions of working people. Big cuts have taken place in public spending, pensions have come under attack and a huge assault made on public sector workers’ pay, conditions and jobs.

Francisco Raposo, from Alternativa Socialista (the CWI in Portugal) and a trade union activist in Lisbon council, spoke to Niall Mulholland from socialistworld.net:

“The situation is becoming explosive. This week will see protests by public sector workers and mass action. Every part of the public sector is affected by the cuts. The health minister was recently forced to step down after protests against cuts in the healthcare sector.

“The economic situation is becoming more and more desperate for working people. Unemployment stands at 9% officially, but the real figure is around 12%. Inflation is rocketing; up 5% in recent months. The national economy has been stagnant for years but the government could point to some export growth. But now that is falling, as well.

“Big movements are taking place in schools[0]. Teachers are under attack from the government and everyday there are new teachers’ demonstrations across the country.

“Last Saturday, on 8 March, 100,000 teachers held perhaps their biggest ever demonstration. It meant about 2 out of every third teacher was on the demo (the national figure for teachers is 150,000). This involved all the teachers’ unions and was probably the biggest protest by these workers since the Portuguese Revolution of 1974/75

“The mood amongst public sector workers is so angry and militant that even Menezes, the leader of the main capitalist opposition party (PSD), called on party members to support the teachers’ demos and the public sector week of action.

“On Tuesday, 12 March, there will be a national demonstration and strike by council workers and on Friday, 14 March, a general strike of public servants and a national demonstration by workers from that sector.

“But, in next period, all workers and the trade union movement will be forced to fight back against the government proposal of ‘reviewing’ the Código do Trabalho (Labor Code). A new general strike is not ruled out.

Political impact

“The opposition Communist Party (PCP) held a huge demonstration, Saturday, two weeks ago, in Lisbon, which attracted 50,000 people – the largest demonstration the party has held since the 1974 revolution that overthrew the former right wing dictatorship. Ostensibly, the demo was against proposed government legislation that would have restricted the rights of political parties, which all opposition left parties oppose. The government retreated on the issue, but the PCP protest went ahead, anyway. It really became a protest about health cuts and attacks on the private sector. It was a very militant rally and very political, as well.

“The strong influence of the Communist Party in the unions in Portugal has led other ‘left’ parties to make strong ideological attacks. The Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and left Catholic organisations condemn the ‘Stalinist’ (PCP-linked) union leaders.

“It is true that the Portuguese Communist Party has a history of being pro-Stalinist. But the PCP still has strong roots amongst sections of the working class, particularly amongst blue collar workers. The Socialist Party and Left Bloc offer no alternative to workers – they want to see ‘social democratic’ or, in reality, class collaborationist unions.

“While the Left Bloc is opposed to neo-liberalism, in words, its councillors in Lisbon City Council are keeping the Socialist Part in office. This means big cuts in council funding and attacks on 11,000 staff, with many council jobs threatened.

“But the crisis in the country is so deep that it threatens a split from the Socialist Party and the possibility of the formation of a new party. There are Oskar Lafontaine-type figures in the Socialist Party that may follow the path of the former German Social Democratic Party minister and leave the Socialist Party to initiate a new opposition formation, along with others.

“The economic, political and industrial situation is explosive. The situation feels like we are on the verge of another 1968, when students took to the streets of France, followed by 10 million workers going on a general strike and class radicalisation across Europe. Of course, the situation is not exactly the same. But the mood in Portugal today is radicalising all the time. If the government does not give way on key workers’ demands, there is a strong possibility the unions will have no choice but to call a general strike, by May, given the mood below. With this in prospect, Alternativa Socialista (the CWI in Portugal) along with other militant union activists and socialists, aim to hold public events on France ’68 over the next months. We can learn a great deal from this event, along with the lessons of the Portuguese 1974 revolution, for the coming class struggles.”

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