Sunday, January 22, 2012

Portuguese protest government austerity program

Here a right-wing counter-protestor (probably an undercover cop) holds a flare to threaten those protesting against the the Portuguese government's austerity program (Lisbon, Jan. 21). Portugal, under the guise of debt repayment & under pressure from European Union partners & the IMF, is on a massive wrecking operation to privatize the public sector, including health care, the water supply, postal service, public transport, education. The first step was selling the state's shares in Portugal’s only electric company to a Chinese-owned company. Most of these vital services are being sold to private profit companies at bargain basement prices. This will increase unemployment, consumer prices, immigration, & human misery. Pivotal to the program is gutting Portugal’s labor laws. Since most union federations are run by officials with divided loyalties who understand capitulation better than intransigence, leaders of Portugal’s two union federations sat down to negotiate with the government & employers. Saying “no” to attacks on labor rights doesn’t require private negotiations & these talks should have been rejected. All the representatives of the oligarchs agreed to the austerity program (since it will make them even richer). Despite massive protests last fall (including 3 million last Nov. at a national general strike), the UGT union federation completely caved to government demands for gutting labor laws by relaxing firing & hiring rules, reducing the number of holidays, & layoff compensation. The other & largest union federation, the CGTP, rejected the measures & called nation-wide protests against them on Feb. 11. Portuguese workers are going to have to watch union officials like a hawk since their tendency is back-room deals & more is needed than an occasional show of power. If labor has to shut down the country to stop the attacks on working people, then they should shut it down until the oligarchs cry “uncle”. Perhaps the most cynical & despicable part of the austerity drive is the public appeal by government officials for youth to emigrate for work. Portugal has always had a large number of immigrant workers in other European countries. (Photo by Francisco Seco)

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