Portugal: Millions strike against savage budget cuts

Portugal's working class brought the country to a standstill on November 24 to press the Socialist Party government to scrap its regressive cuts program.

The general strike against European Union-mandated austerity, the first to be organised jointly by Portugal's two main unions since 1988, is the country's largest ever stoppage.

Trains and buses did not run, planes were grounded and banking services halted.

All workers on the Lisbon Metro joined the strike at midnight and Portugal's largest exporter, Volkswagen's Autoeuropa plant, was forced to stop all production. Employees at the plant normally produce up to 500 cars a day.

“The production line is completely shut so we don't expect to produce any cars today”, said Autoeuropa union co-ordinator Calros Chora.

The communist-leaning General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) said all ports were shut and check-in counters at Lisbon's main airport were empty. National airline TAP cancelled most flights.

General Union of Workers (UGT) head Joao Proenca said: "It is a bigger strike than the one in 1988 — it is the biggest strike ever."

CGTP general secretary Manuel Carvalho da Silva, who is a member of the Portuguese Communist Party, said: “I have never seen so many people support and identify so closely with the causes of a strike before.”

The CGTP said worker participation was more than 75%.

The government's austerity budget, which aims to cut the deficit from 7.3% this year to the arbitrary EU limit of 3% by 2012, was approved by parliament on November 26.

The measures include cutting public-sector wages by 5%, freezing pensions and raising the value added tax from 21% to 23%.

Portugal’s unemployment rate is 10.9% — the highest since the 1980s — and it is expected to rise.

Striking worker Leonore Pedro said: “We are protesting against the cuts because they mean we won’t be able to meet our basic needs, pensioners won't have enough money for medicine.”

Pensioner Leandro Martins said: “It's the workers who are paying for the crisis, not the bankers or the shareholders of big companies.”

Economists say higher taxes and wage cuts will eat into consumer spending, which could push the country back into recession in 2011.

[Reprinted from www.Morningstaronline.co.uk .]

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