From the TUC

Why unions in Portugal are striking this week

20 Nov 2011, by in International

Graciete Cruz and Wanda GuimaresGraciete Cruz and Wanda Guimaraes, International Secretaries respectively of the CGTP and the UGT – the two main trade union confederations in Portugal – write together about this week’s General Strike in Portugal. The issues will be familiar to anyone in Britain: government austerity measures and who pays for the crisis are the key concerns.

Workers in Portugal face an unsustainable level of unemployment, insecurity and precariousness, reductions in income and of social protection, increases in the cost of living and of social inequality. The CGTP and UGT, Portugal’s two union confederations, have called a General Strike for Thursday 24 November, appealing to both men and women, permanent and precarious workers, from the private and public sectors, unionised or not, to demand a change of policy, for decent work, against unemployment and precariousness, for better wages and pensions, in a Portugal of economic and social progress and of justice and solidarity.

Following consecutive Stability and Growth Programmes, the Programme for Economic and Financial Assistance was signed with the Troika*  in May 2011, with the support of the three largest parties in parliament – PSD, CDS and PS. It is leading to a cycle of austerity, economic recession, budget deterioration and the widespread impoverishment of workers, pensioners and families – including an increase in VAT on electricity supplies from 6% to 23% – which will worsen the crisis and increase poverty and social exclusion.

It is a policy which does not affect those with large fortunes, but overloads the general population with incorrect and unfair sacrifices, devaluing work, deregulating labour legislation and disregarding the values ​​of the European Social Model. Moreover, it denies any chance of a fair distribution of sacrifices, resulting in a brutal loss of purchase power, and the decrease of pensions and salaries in the public administration and state business sectors.

This year, the government has imposed a supplementary income tax equivalent to about 50% of one month’s wages (covering both the private and public sector), for salaries over the minimum wage of €485. Next year, public sector wages of over €1,000 a month will be cut by reducing the number of payments over the year from 14 to 12 (it’s common in southern Europe for a supplementary monthly wage to be paid at certain times of the year such as Christmas). And in addition, wage levels generally will be cut by 6% if the wage is €600pcm, 30% for wages of €750 and above, and almost 70% for workers on €800 or more.

The private sector has not escaped this attack either, with deregulation leading to an increase in working hours, contributing not only to rising unemployment and precariousness as well as falling wages. The Government intends to impose an additional half an hour of work each day for private sector workers, corresponding to extra 15 days of unpaid work per year and to about 6.5% of salaries: a free gift for employers!

We are fighting and will go on fighting both the privatisation of companies that are strategic for the country’s development, and policies which only serve to increase the sacrifices inflicted on workers in employment or in retirement and also on unemployed people. We completely reject the employers’ vision, which demands more sacrifices from those who work, in order to increase profits, whilst disregarding both job-creating investment and company modernisation. We demand that effective measures are taken to fight privileges, speculation, fraud and tax evasion, and that tax breaks for large enterprises and especially for banks are eliminated.

Amongst the measures being advocated by the UGT and CGTP are:

  • deep changes in the State Budget for 2012, in order to fight the general impoverishment of the population, aiming at economic growth and at the creation of more and better employment;
  • growth and employment policies, creating hope for the future of the younger generation and which prevent us from falling into a vicious cycle of growing recession, demanding more and more sacrifices;
  • support for the welfare state, especially in the areas of health, education and social security, and respect for the rights of workers in the public and private sectors;
  • an income policy as a justice and solidarity tool, with higher wages and pensions, as well as a higher National Minimum Wage.

We reject the deregulation of rights over dismissal, redundancy pay, unemployment benefit and overtime and the weakening of collective bargaining; as we also reject attempts to impose an increase in the maximum weekly working hours while reducing Christmas and holiday allowances. We will fight growing social inequalities, unemployment, poverty and social exclusion and the increase of labour precariousness affecting workers in general and younger ones in particular. The Government wants to reduce the number of national holidays (both civil and religious) and has announced further privatisations of fundamental economic and public sectors, for instance water supply.

UGT and CGTP have reaffirmed their willingness to engage in social dialogue and collective bargaining, as a means to promote better working and living conditions, to improve productivity, generate wealth and distribute the fruits of both equitably, to expand exports, to reduce dependence on imports and to increase national self-sufficiency.

* the three organisations responsible for implementing austerity in Ireland and across southern Europe – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission