Some 1 million of Portugal’s 11 million people held massive marches in Lisbon, Oporto and 38 other cities and towns to condemn the austerity policies of the troika — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — and of the three parties backing austerity in Parliament.
Veteran Portuguese political activists called this Sept. 15 demonstration “the largest in Portuguese history,” since the demonstration of May 1, 1974, which followed the revolution that overthrew the decades-long fascist regime. The revolution ushered in a wave of laws favoring urban and rural workers. However, those laws had been slowly eroded over the following decades and sharply curtailed over the past few years.
Those calling the demonstration were a relatively new and youthful group. This could be seen by its main slogan, “Fxxk the troika,” which sounds more like protests by groups such as the “Indignant Ones” of Spain or the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S., than those called by Portugal’s class-conscious labor and left movement.
But any mobilization so massive must have attracted many of the up to 3 million workers who have participated in general strikes over the past four years, the latest in March. In these actions, the CGTP union federation played a leading role, with support from the Portuguese Communist Party and other pro-working-class organizations.
A recent speech by Pedro Passos Coelho, the current rightist prime minister, raised such a sharp attack on the workers and people of Portugal that even some government supporters broke ranks and distanced themselves from his program. He promised to raise taxes on workers’ wages and cut them for the corporations. Meanwhile, the government and the ones before it have been cutting health and education programs and laying off caregivers and teachers.
An editorial in the progressive odiario.info web magazine commented on the protest:
“The slogans adopted (against the ‘troika,’ ‘austerity,’ the theft of wages and rights, unemployment and the national economic collapse) allow no ambiguity: they represent the unequivocal condemnation not only of the present government but of the course adopted by successive governments that are also responsible for the deteriorating situation in the country. …
“The protest echoed slogans in the name of popular unity, so strongly implanted in the memory of April [the 1974 revolution]. … Not only did the supportive base of the government collapse, but also the prospect of an outlet for purely cosmetic change in the current situation had its potential greatly reduced.
“[These events] did not arise from nowhere, only representing the spontaneous rupture of a rubber band the government stretched too far. This arousal follows a long, courageous and tenacious resistance by workers and peoples on all fronts of national life, in industries, in schools, in cultural institutions and for the rights of access to public services, which had led to an innumerable series of outbursts in small and large struggles, including magnificent general strikes.
“Others will surely follow — of comparable or even greater magnitude — especially in other major initiatives already scheduled, as the national demonstration called by CGTP on Sept. 29.”
Demonstrations of tens if not hundreds of thousands also took place in Spain that day on similar issues.