Snap elections called in Portugal after government collapse amid massive strikes

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called snap elections on January 30 after Prime Minister António Costa’s minority Socialist Party (PS) government collapsed for seven years amid mass strikes. Parliament voted against the PS’s 2022 budget last week. This is the first time since the Carnation Revolution of 1974 toppled fascist dictator António Salazar Estado Novo regime that a Portuguese budget was rejected.

São Bento Palace

In a televised address, Sousa said that the defeat of the PS budget “has totally reduced the support base of the government” and that 2022 will be “a decisive year for a lasting exit from the pandemic and the social crisis that has plagued us. “. He added: “At times like this, there is always a solution in democracy… to give the voice back to the people. “

Costa refused to resign from his post as interim prime minister, promising to lead the PS campaign for a “reinforced, stable and lasting majority”. The PS held only 108 seats out of 230 in the Portuguese parliament, depending on the support of the Stalinist Communist Party of Portugal (PCP) and the petty bourgeois left bloc (BE). To maintain the pretext that they oppose austerity despite their support for the PS for six years, the BE and the PCP felt compelled to oppose the budget in the October 27 vote in parliament, resulting in its failure immediate.

The ruling elite are terrified of an eruption of class struggle. Early elections are deeply unpopular; in fact, 54 percent of those polled in a recent poll opposed calling an early election. It is widely seen as a dirty maneuver, using nationalism and pseudo-democratic rhetoric in an attempt to quell an upsurge in the class struggle. It comes as unions, under increasing pressure, desperately try to divide, call off and defuse a wave of strikes.

In recent weeks, strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in several sectors have broken out across the country. In September and October, railway workers, teachers, pharmacists, metro workers, pre-hospital first aid workers, tax office workers and prison guards all went on strike.

As Sousa announced the elections on Thursday, workers at the Metropolitano de Lisboa (ML) began the latest in a series of 24-hour strikes against the wage freeze and lack of career advancement.

Last week, the National Union of Professional Firefighters called off a strike for wage increases scheduled for November 11 and 12, arguing that the budget failure and “the foreseeable fall of the government decided in the coming days are factors that justify the withdrawal of the strike. “He said he would present his demands” in due course to the new elected executive. “

The leader of the Public Administration Trade Union Front, José Abraão, then suspended this week’s strike for salary increases for civil servants, saying: “Without the state budget, there is a set of measures that are impossible… with regard to our problems… all forms of struggle in the hope that as soon as possible we can have a budget.

FNAM, the federation of doctors, also announced the suspension of the strike scheduled for November 23-25. He said: “After a careful assessment of the current political crisis, conditioned by the non-approval of the state budget for 2022”, he ended the strike. He concluded by calling for “urgent” negotiations with the new government.

The unions, the PS government and the Stalinist PCP and the Left Bloc are terrified by the growing anger of the working class, especially against the European Union’s rescue plans in the event of a pandemic. The new government will be mandated to adopt the EU austerity measures to repay the 45 billion euros that the EU will hand over to the Portuguese financial aristocracy in the years to come as part of the bailout fund. It will also face the reduction of the huge public debt of 133% of GDP.

As the EU and the Portuguese government hand billions to the rich, they plan to strictly limit wages and pursue a policy of “herd immunity” from massive infection to COVID-19. Thousands of people are expected to die in the country, among the 500,000 more deaths from COVID-19 expected in Europe over the next three months, according to statements by the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the ‘Europe, Hans Kluge.

The criminal policy of the PS government in Portugal has resulted in massive deaths. Since March 2020, 18,167 people have died and 1,091,142 cases of infection have been recorded, or 10% of the population, according to data from the Directorate General of Health.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the Socialist Party will be re-elected, but will again fall short of a parliamentary majority. He would get 36% of the vote. The pro-austerity policies of PS leader and interim Prime Minister Costa, however, face growing opposition, even according to official opinion polls. It went from 45% in favor and 34% against in a poll last July to 34% in favor and 38% against today.

Fearing that the elections would worsen the political crisis, the PCP and BE, who saw their support dwindle after supporting Costa for six years and backing the brutal crackdown on the truck drivers’ strike in 2019, while the PS government called on the army to force truckers back to work.

The PCP and BE would have preferred Costa to make nominal concessions during the budget debate. Their demands during budget negotiations, such as increasing the minimum wage to a meager 805 euros and compensation for collective redundancies; strengthen union hands in collective bargaining to suppress workers’ struggles; and slight increases in pensions and public investment in the National Health Service (SNS) would have done little to reverse the brutal austerity implemented by the conservative and PS governments backed by BE and PCP.

Reacting to the announcement of early elections, the parliamentary leader of the Left Bloc Pedro Filipe Soares began by defending this position by saying that this result “does not [mean] it was inevitable. He continued: “On the side of the Left Bloc, we did not want elections, and we always wanted to guarantee a budget that the country would not lack at this fundamental moment.

PCP leader Jerónimo de Sousa reacted on Friday by declaring cynically: “The country has no budget because the PS did not want to confront the interests of capital in order to be free to serve the interests it has always served.

In fact, the PCP and the Left Bloc, by supporting the reactionary policies of the PS, have opened the door for the far-right Chega party to present itself as the only opposition party. It is expected to become the third force in parliament, going from one seat the year it was founded to no less than 20 seats, according to some polls. Chega is the first far-right party to win a significant share of the national vote since the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship.

That Chega is on the rise and unfolding as the capitalist class in Europe and internationally pursues a policy of austerity and massive COVID-19 infections is the most serious warning.

For the emerging strike movement in Portugal to achieve its goals, it must be linked to the expanding international movement of the working class against wage austerity, war, and the fascist policies of ‘herd immunity’ of the ruling elite. the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task now is to build a politically independent movement of the working class, fighting for a strategy of eradication against the pandemic and for socialism. It means fighting to build a Portuguese section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

About Andrew Estofan

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