The following is a report by our Portuguese sister organisation about austerity measures and the recent general strike..
On the last 24th November a new general strike took place in Portugal, exactly one year after the previous one. This was the seventh general strike in Portugal in 37 years and the third convoked by the two main labor unions CGTP and UGT.
Since the last general strike, the situation of workers in Portugal has aggravated. Following the International Monetary Fund/European Union bail-out in May, a series of austerity measures presented as the only way to reduce the state deficit and to “make the Portuguese economy more competitive” have been adopted. Workers have already been hit with increases in sales taxes, up to 25% increases in public transports fares and cuts in social and health services. Workers of the public sector will see their salary reduced by means of an extraordinary tax in 2011 and 2012. New harsh measures that constitute an historic attack on the rights of workers are being presented by the government, like reductions in compensations for firing workers, extension of the work day by 30 minutes without extra pay, extinction of some holidays, or the extension of the renewal period for short-term contracts. Unemployment has been rising in the last years reaching now 13% of workers according to official numbers that hardly reflect the real unemployment. The economy forecasts for Portugal predict the strongest recession on the euro zone in 2013 and a rise in unemployment due to the austerity measures.
This strike was strong on the public transports sector and affected the activity of schools, hospitals and garbage collection. The activity of airports was also reduced. Some big factories like Volkswagen/Autoeuropa also stopped production due to the strike. But on the retail and private services sector, where there is a high concentration of precarious and poorly paid workers, the strike went almost unnoticed. Fear of retaliations by the bosses continues to obstruct the mobilization of these workers and only the absence of public transports makes an excuse for participation on the strike.
This time, the unions organized demonstrations across the country. In Lisbon, a demonstration organized by the CGTP went until the Parliament, followed by another one convoked by the 15th October/“Indignados” movement. In front of the Parliament the participants of the second demonstration were met with a CGTP security line which tried to prevent them from uniting with the CGTP workers. A couple of hours latter, an attempt by a quite heterogeneous mass of demonstrators to break the police lines and occupy the stairways of the parliament caused some small clashes with the police. Seven demonstrators were detained and are now facing trials for offenses and aggressions against the police. Some were beaten by the police. A video of a demonstrator being beaten by an undercover cop has circulated around the web and was showed in television. In response, the police started an already familiar media campaign trying to portrait the detained demonstrators as “dangerous radical anarchists”.
The Portuguese Section of the IWA participated in the mobilizations both in Lisbon, Porto and Chaves. In Lisbon and Porto we made informative pickets and joined the demonstrations. In Lisbon our members entered in several commercial businesses and one big shopping center and distributed leaflets until they were expelled by security. In Porto, our inter-professional union joined the Porto Popular Assembly in the CGTP demonstration. In Chaves, our new local group distributed leaflets among workers.
Associação Internacional dos Trabalhadores – Secção Portuguesa
International Workers Association – Portuguese Section