Portugal's Left Bloc: 'The people now have a goal: resignation of the government'

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A million people protested across Portugal on September 15, 2012.

Resolution of the national board of the Left Bloc of Portugal, September 22, 2012, passed unanimously.

[The following articles and documents first appeared in the October 2012 issue of International Viewpoint, magazine of the Fourth International.]

1. The gigantic demonstration on September 15, 2012, [see article below], which cannot be compared to any other mobilisation in recent decades, turns the page of Portuguese politics. This was the response of the social majority to the government offensive, adopting a clear position against the Troika and demanding a break with the policy of impoverishment, austerity and destruction. The demonstration by the people in the streets did not demand time to slow down austerity, or the protection of the Troika: it demanded the end of the Troika in Portugal.

This was a signal sent to all the oppositions, to the financial markets, to Germany's Angela Merkel and the  International Monetary Fund (IMF), to the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission.

The Left Bloc salutes the organisations that took the initiative of this popular demonstration and expresses its esteem for the million citizens who saved democracy against the Troika.

2 .The mass struggle is the path to confront the government and the Troika. One year after the beginning of the protectorate, with the government of the PSD-CDS, record levels of unemployment, debt and poverty give the picture of the country. The people responded to the provocations of theft of wages through an increase in the Single Social Tax (TSU) paid for by workers, and its transfer to the employers, as to all the forms of reduction of wages and pensions or new increases in taxes, with democracy in action.

3. Before the announcement of this measure by Passos Coelho, seconded at once by the minister of social security, a CDS member, the Left Bloc presented on September 8 its agenda, around three proposals: first, support for urgent popular mobilisation; second, support for a general strike which would unite the whole trade union movement and broaden out socially; and third, recourse to the Constitutional Court, to a motion of censure and a fight in parliament to present clear alternatives.

Neither the internal contradictions of the government and of a coalition that is fragmenting nor the help of the President of the Republic will answer the single essential question in Portugal: to refuse the theft of wages and pensions, to refuse financial manipulations, it is necessary to refuse the Troika and to dismiss the government and open the way to general elections. Only the people can defend labour and social justice.

4. Social mobilisations will intensify, from the forthcoming trade union demonstrations to other forms of popular action, as has been seen in the gathering of thousands of people before the Council of State. The Left Bloc will work fully for the success of these mobilisations, supporting the general and unitary struggle of trade unions and social movements.

5. To respond to the emergency situation that the country is going through, the Left Bloc participates in convergences in parliament against the assault on salaries and pensions through the TSU or against the confiscation of the income of those who work.

In this sense, the Left Bloc expresses its full readiness for the junction and the confluence of the opposition, expressed in a motion of censure.

This new signal in Portuguese politics shows that the rout of the government and of the recessive spiral is the path to the recovery of the economy, to accountability and to respect for workers and taxpayers.

6. The Left Bloc is engaged in the regional elections in the Azores, presenting the result of its intense parliamentary and social work and mobilising a socialist alternative, based on the defence of workers, reforms and young people, promoting regional autonomy while refusing all solutions of austerity or poverty. The national board welcomes and supports this campaign and sends its wishes for electoral success to the regional organization of the Azores.

[The Left Bloc in Portugal was founded in 1999 by the Portuguese section of the Fourth International, the UDP and Politica 21, a current from the Portuguese Communist Party.

A million-strong revolt in the streets

By Rui Pereira Viana, Lisbon

September 16, 2012 -- The international media have largely ignored the huge popular mobilisation that shook the political life of Portugal on September 15, 2012: a million protesters across the country, including at least 500,000 in the capital (10 per cent of the population). The biggest demonstration since May 1, 1974, after the fall of the dictatorship of Salazar.

In recent years, apart from some minority demonstrations of social organisations and movements, the Portuguese population has endured the austerity measures in a spirit of resignation. This resignation is not the product of a “national (or cultural) characteristic”, any more than it results from congenital stupidity. No, it comes from decades of massive propaganda campaigns which have led Portuguese workers, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, to give credit to the most dreadful tales. As a result of campaigns to make the population believe it is responsible for the government deficit or for public debt and that its salvation depends on that of banks and financial speculators, that there is no money to pay for public services or the workers who run them, the population accepted the intervention of the Troika.

This gullibility comes in a country where the minimum monthly net wage has been in recent years less than 400 euros (this figure should be compared with those of Spain, Greece and other European countries), which gives rise to two conclusions:

1. It is easier to dominate a people accustomed to poverty for generations.

2. In the course of the last thirty years, capital and the parties that have alternated in government (PS, PSD and CDS-PP) have concentrated most of their forces and their resources on hiring communication consultants and on absolute control of the media.

There is a limit to resignation

However, from time to time discontent and revolt have made themselves felt in some sectors. Since March 12, 2011, there have been two general strikes and several big demonstrations. On September 15, we saw massive demonstrations of angry people.

The slogans for the demonstration summarised in an exemplary way all the reasons for the present revolt: “Out with the Troika!”; “We want our lives!”; “We have to do something extraordinary!” Everything is implied in these three sentences: the urgency of bringing down the government, putting an end to the policy of austerity, reconnecting with the social functions of the state, suspending the payment of the illegitimate debt that benefits capital and dispossesses workers.

On the eve of the demonstration, several representatives of the police and of sergeants of the armed forces sent a clear message: the Portuguese people have good reasons to rebel against this state of affairs and political leaders will not be able to count on them to repress the people that they swear to defend.

What can a million people signify in the present context?

The present governing coalition (CDS-PP and PSD) obtained the support of 29 per cent of registered voters on June 5, 2011. But that was:

Image removed. before workers lost between one and three months of salary per year;
Image removed. before the implementation of the cancellation of collective bargaining agreements;
Image removed. before the increase in the hourly, weekly and annual workload;
Image removed. before workers were obliged to work unpaid additional hours (and even days);
Image removed. before the increase in VAT;
Image removed. before the cuts in the spheres of sickness and disability, health care, education, culture, of unemployment and minimum income benefits;
Image removed. before the massive dismissal of teachers;
Image removed. before the dismissal, an express reform and the re-hiring on a precarious basis of doctors and nurses in the national health system;
Image removed. before the drastic reduction in the number of beds available in public hospitals;
Image removed. before the reinforcement of educational measures aimed at transforming children into workers accustomed to be reduced to slavery from the age of five;
Image removed. before some police brigades came to kill people in the poor neighbourhoods on the edge of urban centres;
Image removed. before more than a hundred protesters were taken to court for protesting peacefully against the violent and illegal actions of the municipal authorities;
Image removed. before the closure of websites that announced demonstrations and rallies;
Image removed. before activists who were trying to help the people in the shanty towns were severely beaten by plainclothes police officers;
Image removed. before indignant unemployed people were arrested and taken to court for attempting to enter an employment agency in order to seek employment and distribute leaflets;
Image removed. before the abrupt increase in the hourly workload of teachers;
Image removed. before the minister of education announced that classes will now have a maximum of 30 students, against 24 two years ago;
Image removed. before patients on dialysis in the countryside who had no money were abandoned to certain death, which can already be considered to be a new massacre of modern times;
Image removed. before the government decreed the closure of the largest maternity hospital in the country, which was also a centre of education for the sector;
Image removed. before a cut of 100 per cent in the culture budget...

It should be known that this demonstration saw the participation of tens of thousands of activists and supporters of political organisations, parties and unions whose organisations had begun by condemning the demonstration. It should be known that throughout the preceding week and up until two hours before people began to assemble, the media campaigned intensively to dissuade the population from demonstrating, citing possible police attacks, agents provocateurs or masked extremists with bad intentions, thereby contributing to prevent hundreds of thousands more people from being involved in the demonstrations. Under a veil of apparent neutrality, the media did their best to demobilise potential protesters.

Sudden and unpredictable, the last straw that broke the camel’s back

With an obvious lack of a sense of timing, two days after the calling of the demonstration, the prime minister announced the most offensive measures that workers could remember: an increase of 7 per cent in the social contributions paid by workers accompanied by a cut of 5.75 per cent in employers’ contributions and additional cuts in the social functions of the state. This measure comes on top of the previous austerity measures and involves a new wage reduction of at least 8.5 per cent.

A large number of demonstrators (perhaps the majority) have no other weapon of struggle - because many are temporary workers who are unable to have the “luxury” of distributing of leaflets or going on strike, on pain of immediate dismissal and of being put on the blacklist of the employment agencies. Today, a large number of people are afraid to appear in a demonstration, to be photographed and recognised publicly, and of losing their jobs as a result. We live in a climate of fear similar to that prevailing under the dictatorship.

For these reasons, more than for the number of demonstrators, this demonstration on September 15, 2012, was a clear illustration of the spirit of revolt which is shaking the country. In strict terms of numbers, the only demonstration of this magnitude that we can remember was May 1, 1974, when a million people came out into the streets of Lisbon (which had almost twice as many inhabitants then as compared to today). However, there is a significant difference between the two dates. On May 1, 1974, when a million people invaded the streets of Lisbon, what was striking was the way people laughed and hugged each other, after the fall of the Salazar dictatorship, which had taken place on April 25 with the Carnation Revolution. On September 15, 2012, it was this joy that was missing in the streets of Lisbon and Porto.

This mass mobilisation cannot be an accident in the desert

Of course, it is not enough to take to the streets and say “enough!” A change in the political relationship of forces is always the result of more than good intentions or slogans. Harder forms of struggle are needed to force the government to retreat. In this sense, faced with the great potential shown in the country on September 15, the unions and organisations of the left have an even greater responsibility in the organisation of the struggles against austerity and the established power. They can no longer justify their lukewarm attitude by expressing doubts about the state of mind of the workers -- independently of the political views of individuals, it is clear that there is an awareness and a willingness to put an end to austerity measures and to put an end to the government and the interference of the Troika.

From now any action of trade union or political organisations that does not clearly take this demonstration into account and that tries to calm things down and abandon commitments could only be regarded as an execrable act of treason.

[This article was first published on the site of the CADPP.]

Left Bloc on the crisis

Articles from the electronic daily Esquerda.net, published by the Left Bloc.

'We are experiencing an economic coup d’état'

The prime minister has presented to the country "a set of measures that will change the Portuguese economy and the social reality of the country" and he has done so "without presenting the accounts", without any guarantee that, by 2013, we will be at the beginning of the end of the crisis, said the Left Bloc's Francisco Louçã.

In reality, "with these measures, in 2013 Portugal will be a much smaller and more ravaged country, with far fewer options and less ability to make choices, as a result of the savage taxing of this economy by the Troika and of the memorandum which has been implemented", he said.

The Left Bloc leader stressed that we are faced with the plans of "Talibans of the economy who, with flattery and cruel proposals" present measures that correspond solely to the interests of big business but "never to the suffering of the population”.

Francisco Louçã has accused Prime Minister Passos Coelho of lying to the country by stating that the measures presented flow from the decisions of the Constitutional Court and from its pressure, that they strengthen social security, that all Portuguese will be treated equally and that Portugal was not Greece.

"The prime minister has brazenly lied by saying that he took measures to respond to the Constitutional Court, because the Constitutional Court said exactly the opposite, demanding equality for work and a stop to the protection of capital and speculation. The government has transformed interim measures into permanent ones, continuing the attack against workers and against reforms; in other words, violating the principles of the Constitutional Court in a grotesque manner" said the coordinator of the Left Bloc’s political commission.

"The poor are treated with great cruelty" said Louca, unlike those who “avoid being taxed”, and are favoured.

As regards the alleged differences between Portugal and Greece, Francisco Louçã pointed out that in both countries it has always been clear that "wage reductions have never been a solution to the crisis”.

Louca said, referring to patent inequities in the proposals submitted by the government, that the taxation from the 3466 million euros which, as has been recently discovered, have been deposited in accounts offshore, corresponds to wage reductions for civil servants and reductions in retirement pensions, and even exceeds them. The coordinator of the Left Bloc’s political commission added that the lowering of the Single Social Tax (TSU) "favours only big companies" and that on the other hand small companies are disadvantaged by the decline in household consumption.

“We are experiencing an economic coup d’état” which is leading to an “economic depression” stressed the Left Bloc MP, warning that the Socialist Party will have to choose, and to decide whether it continues to support the policies of “insensitivity, dementia and cruelty" of this government which has been transformed into “an embassy of financial interests or whether it is willing to break with this memorandum and to oppose this "economic coup d’état”.

The Bloc will be, said Francisco Louçã, "ready for every struggle, for every form of unity and convergence in the framework of all the democratic measures that enable us to oppose this savage economic coup d’état".

"We are at a time when Portugal must stand up again and when Labour needs to know how to defend itself, when democracy must include everyone. This is a struggle that will lead to a government of the Left, capable of breaking with the troika, of restructuring the debt, of defending the economy and Europe against the Talibans of the policies of financial speculation", he concluded.

September 8, 2012, http://www.esquerda.net/artigo/esta...

Convergence of the opposition for a motion of censure

At a press conference, Francisco Louçã announced that the Left Bloc is "ready for a convergence or a confluence of all the opposition around a motion of censure" of the government, which would represent "the voice of the country against the attacks on wages and pensions”. This was the main proposal approved -- unanimously -- by the national bureau of the party, which discussed "the dramatic worsening of the economic and social crisis" in the country and "the political failure of the government”.

The Left Bloc MP pointed out that the demonstration on September 15 was the most convincing and determined response to the prime minister’s announcement of that all workers had to offer the bosses a month of their salary. The demonstration mobilised so many sectors that "the prime minister has found himself all alone", he said.

It appears, nevertheless, that the government is considering new ideas on how to take from workers one or two months’ more salary, or pension in the case of pensioners, either by means of a new tax increase or through new taxes and surcharges or by other similar attacks. "All of these measures, over the past year, show that this government is totally incompetent and non-viable from the social point of view, and unreasonable economically", Louçã said.

Support for a general strike

The left Bloc has presented an agenda around three proposals, as indicated in the statement presented to journalists: first, urgent support for popular mobilisation; second, support for a general strike which would unify the entire trade union movement and broaden out socially; third, appealing to the Constitutional Court, with a motion of censure and a fight in parliament to present clear alternatives.

After its crushing defeat, which forced it to abandon the changes to the TSU, the government again wants to impose measures as severe as a huge tax increase, said the coordinator of the Left Bloc. “So, let us have the courage to say that the only response that Portugal expects is the resignation of the government”. To this end, the Left Bloc affirms to all the forces of the opposition that it is completely ready for a motion of censure which will reflect this popular clamour and this demand. "Everything for a fightback against austerity. Everything for a fightback against the troika. Everything for a country which lives decently", concluded Francisco Louçã.

September 22, 2012, http://www.esquerda.net/artigo/bloc...

Louçã insists on a motion of censure

"In the course of this week we will see what the government wants to do. We will discuss and we will not give up, we will not let our guard down. I will speak with the leaders of the opposition parties, to insist on the obligation that the country has given us, so that parliament may hear the million people who have been censored by the government and the troika", said the coordinator of the political commission of the Left Bloc to journalists, after a journey on the Green Line of the Metro to demonstrate the constraints imposed on travellers by the reduction of trains to only three carriages.

This descent into the Metro fits into the Left Bloc’s campaign against budget cuts and privatistion of transport. "With this government, it’s the end of the line”.

Although the Socialist Party has argued that it was premature to present a motion of censure of after the government of Passos Coelho has apparently abandoned the changes in contributions changes to the Single Social Tax (TSU), Louçã insisted on the fact that “we must not withdraw or give up”.

"After the first responses of the Socialist Party (PS) and the Communist Party (PCP), I think that we should discuss further. In our opinion the motion of censure is still necessary. If the government’s policy is to increase unemployment, reduce wages, raise taxes even more, whereas they have promised that they will not increase them, what people said in the street must reach parliament and force the opposition to be consistent. That is why the Left Bloc has invited everyone to be consistent and to respond to the country’s difficulties", said the leader of the Left Bloc.

To the question about what he expected from the Social Concertation meeting, which began this morning, Louçã replied that the government is preparing "a colossal attack on wages" and that it is preparing to ask workers to pay for "the incompetence and the inefficiency of the budget and the destruction of the economy that it has caused”.

"The government is completely addicted to wage cutting, it is drugged by attacks on pensions and it thinks that the only thing possible in the Portuguese economy is wage-cutting and reforms. This only causes crisis", Louçã criticised.

The member of parliament and leader of the Left Bloc stressed that the alternative is "to be serious in the field of the economy" and that it is for this reason that the opposition should unite around a motion of censure. For Louçã, it is time to move from words to acts and to take on one’s responsibilities. "We want to unite without wasting time. We are not prepared to turn our back on the country. It’s already as bad as it could be," he said.

September 24, 2012, http://www.esquerda.net/artigo/louç...

João Semedo: 'Struggle is the only way to defeat the policy of austerity'

Esquerda.net interviewed the MP João Semedo on the retreat of the state with regard to the TSU and the measures announced on Monday by Passos Coelho.

Esquerda.net: What do you think of the measures announced by Passos Coelho?

Joao Semedo: Under the pressure of the gigantic demonstration on September 15 and the concert of protests across the country, the government has been forced to withdraw the amendments to the TSU and is trying to fool us by claiming that it is relieving us of austerity, whereas it will in reality intensify it by a general increase in taxes on income from work, for all workers, including retired people and those on benefits.

The people took to the streets against the austerity imposed by theTroika and the government, against even more unnecessary and unequal sacrifices, whether they are called TSU or IRS (personal income tax). The Portuguese people are tired of always being victims of the Troika and the government, while at the same time the government accords advantages to banks, financial groups and employers.

What will the ruling CDS do this time? (This party centred its election campaign around being against any increase in taxes). Will it keep silent about a tax increase, as it has always done is since it has been in government with the PSD? I cannot remember a government that has so much increased the taxes of those who work for a living as the government of Pedro Passos Coelho and Paulo Portas has.

The Left Bloc has called for a motion of censure, is it maintaining this call?

The Left Bloc considered that it was necessary for the parliamentary opposition to censure the policy of austerity and that this condemnation could and should take the form of a convergence around a motion of censure of the government. The measures that have been announced now confirm the worsening of austerity and therefore show that the Left Bloc’s position was right. If the whole opposition converged around a motion of censure, it would have great importance for the fight against the government’s proposals. I think we can say that what we already know of the government’s intentions reinforces the validity of the position of the national bureau of the Left Bloc.

Beyond this call, what should be done now?

I think that the key now is to intensify the social protest, the social movement, social struggles in all the forms that they can take, from big demonstrations, big street protests, up to a general strike. Neither the Council of State, the employers, nor the financial groups can stop the government offensive against the wages of those who work, or the reforms to the pensions of those who have spent their lives working. The only brake to this policy, the only way to defeat and overthrow this government is by the social struggle; now, by demonstrating on September 29 at the call of the CGTP [trade union federation]. The Left Bloc will mobilise all its forces to contribute to a big demonstration that will once again show the government the door.

September 25, 2012, http://www.esquerda.net/artigo/joão...