Apr 2, 2012
On March 22, another general strike took place in Portugal. Like others before it, this strike was very widespread, with workers coming out from the subways, the railroads, the ports, in health care, the post office, the courts and many from the public sector. The strike was called by the CGTP (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers), the union federation linked with the Communist Party.
The strike was in reaction to changes in the Work Codes proposed by the right-wing government that are now being debated in Parliament.
These changes, giving the bosses “flexibility,” tend to make layoffs easier and, specifically, to cut unemployment payments. The new code would end all year-end bonuses for public sector workers, who are poorly paid. And it would end paid vacations, which in Portugal amounts to two months’ salary. The changes would also eliminate four holidays paid for all workers and other paid days off. And the politicians pretend these measures, so favorable to bosses, are needed to pay off the sovereign debt and to obey the demands of the Troika (The European Union, The Central Bank of Europe and the International Monetary Fund), which has loaned Portugal 78 billion Euros.
Lower “labor costs” will do nothing about this economic crisis. In Europe, Greece and Ireland have wages lower than those in Portugal, and the crisis is worse in those countries. The other measures – like suppressing paid holidays and increasing the work day by half an hour in the private sector – may threaten 100,000 jobs. That’s how many jobs could be eliminated if this reform is passed. The CGTP has denounced the austerity, the lowering of wages and the miserable retirement plans that will reduce popular consumption. It also challenged the sales of the companies themselves. Precarious employment situations – affecting 21% of the workers and 35% of the youth, and 14.5% unemployment in the working population – also reduce what the population can buy.
Workers understand very well that they are the victims of the crisis. They show their discontent and their rejection of austerity by responding to the unions’ call for the strikes, on March 22 and on March 31, a day when another general strike was proposed. The government and the Troika do not ignore this discontent. But they do not imagine that the anger of the workers can go further.
Perhaps they’ll get a surprise.