Now, Portugal is being fully hit by the economic crisis of international capitalism, with enterprises going bankrupt, with widespread lay-offs and workers suffering big delays in their wage payments. And Portugal’s social situation is becoming worse and worse as the new liberal-conservative government of PSD (Social Democratic Party) and PP (People’s Party) is increasing its attacks on the working class and on young people.
This government is conducting a policy of savage cuts in public spending, privatisations and social confrontations that in three months has spread such concern and fear among layers of the working class and even the middle-class that the polls now that the PSD and it’s leader, the Prime Minister, Durão Barroso, would lose elections if they were held now.
The Government has raised VAT to 19%, cut the housing subsidies to youth, threatened to fire 50,000 public servants, launched a Public-Private Finance Initiative for 10 new hospitals to be built in the coming years. It has also opened up the Social Security pensions to the greed of Insurance Corporations and approved an anti immigration law that is more an Immigrants’ expulsion law as Solidariedade Imigrante, (Immigrant Solidarity) leader, Moamed Seke, calls it.
All these measures are being taken along with a huge ideological campaign to criminalise the immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, the single parents, etc.
Recently, Francisco Van Zeller, the leader of the CIP (Portuguese Industry Confederation) - the bosses’ association – said in a meeting of employers that Portugal "Needs to take care of the companies, not of the welfare of workers". The German bosses in Portugal had been threatening the Government to relocate the German factories to other countries, including the Far East, if the labour laws didn’t change, i.e., to give bosses all the necessary power to sack workers and to organise the work time as they wish, and so on...
Some ministers and other capitalist parties’ leaders have expressed indignation at the rude interference of German bosses in Portuguese internal affairs. And then they rush to present a Labour Code to meet the demands of the European bosses: cut labour rights and speed up the exploitation of Portuguese and immigrant workers, cut the social services and get more "law and order" measures to prevent social unrest.
But the working class response has also gathered momentum. After the announcement of a government plan to fire 50,000 temporary workers in the public sector, the unions called a national demonstration on June 10. They expected 5,000 to 6,000 people. The Unions didn not really try to build a big protest demo. They called it on a Friday before a three day holiday weekend. But a 15,000 strong and very combative demo crossed Lisbon’s streets with a very impressive participation of young workers that is unusual in Portugal.
On June 20, another 15.000 strong demo in Lisbon took place and hundreds of other demos, rallies and meetings were held all across Portugal in response to a National Day of Action called by the CGTP - one of the Portuguese Union Confederations, lead by a majority of CP members. The UGT, the other Confederation lead by the social democrats of Partido Socialista, is talking about a joint strike in the public sector. But many workers view this with suspicion as the UGT is known as a kind of appendix of government for putting its signature on unacceptable agreements that ignore the workers’ demands.
Almost every sector of the working class is being forced to come on to the streets, to strike, and to fight, such is the pressure of the bosses in making workers pay for their own crises. Bus-drivers of Lisbon’s CARRIS have already been on strike more than 8 times since the beginning of the year. The public sector, textiles, health sector (doctors, nurses and staff), teachers and schools staff, postal workers, rail workers, garment workers, metal workers, fishermen have all been taking action. But all these struggles are conducted in a separate way
Unfortunately, the top leaders of the CGTP don’t seem to really understand the need of building the unity of struggles and building a General Strike. A proposal for a national demonstration in defence of Social Security, was put by four members of the National Council of the CGTP - activists of the Left Bloc – but was defeated. The majority of the National Council – PCP – argued that "there are not the conditions" to build it up. In fact, that is an old argument that bureaucrats use to prevent the unification and radicalisation of the struggles that are criss-crossing the country.
But the bosses plan to revise the labour laws will bring home the need for a genuine General Strike that builds the confidence of workers and young people to fight back against this offensive. In this sense, there is the possibility opening up of a new "Hot Summer" in Portugal. Already the Lisbon Council Workers’ Union Shop Stewards’ Assembly has passed a motion to the CGTP to call a 24 hour General Strike in answer to the bosses’ and government offensive.
The National Meeting on Unions and Immigrants, organised by the Left Bloc, that took place on 5-6 July endorsed a resolution on Left Bloc Union work that calls for the building of a General Strike. Alternativa Socialista – the grouping of CWI members in Portugal - is also raising the case for a General Strike to stop the bosses’ and government offensive, within LB as well as in the trade unions, colleges and schools.
The dangerous situation that Portuguese and immigrant workers face in this period underlines the urgent need for a genuine workers’ and young people’s party that promotes among workers and youth the ideas of struggle, solidarity and international socialism. This is the central task of CWI members in Portugal.