Portugal: Fifty Years of April Revolution: A Fight to Defend its Legacy and Values
R Arun Kumar
PORTUGAL is moving for snap elections after the prime minister Alberto Costa was forced to resign on the allegations of corruption. Though it was later reported that the investigative agencies were confused with the name Costa and had wrongly blamed the prime minister (instead of the finance minister Costa), the damage was done. These elections are being held in the midst of many protests organised by the working class in Portugal and also the demonstrations against Israeli war on Gaza, Palestine and the role of Portugal as a member of the NATO.
The economic condition of Portugal is bad and the workers are feeling the pinch. The cost of food prices and fuel has increased abnormally during the past year. For instance, one litre of olive oil, a staple in the diet of Portuguese, which was around 5 euros per litre, rose to nearly 10-11 euros. Similarly, the rising cost of fuel is forcing schools to switch off heaters and ask the students to wear layers of woolens to protect themselves. The rising house rents are adversely affecting people’s budgets. For those who have purchased apartments and new houses by taking loans, the rise in the interest rates on their repayment is upsetting their finances.
On top of all these, there is no increase in the wages even commensurate with the inflation, as both the government and the private employers are refusing to increase wages. Pensions are not sufficient to meet the growing expenses of the retirees. The number of youth who are not in employment and education is high at 8.5 per cent, according to official statistics.
Due to insufficient public investment, there is a visible deterioration of public services, particularly healthcare and public schools. The government is trying to hide this economic reality by a propaganda blitz tom-tomming its ‘economic successes’. The government and the ruling classes are using their control over the media to hide their failures and the conditions imposed by the EU and European Commission that cripple the economy and sovereign rights of the people.
Most of the political parties in Portugal support the economic policies of the ruling Socialist Party (PS). This was evident during the debate on the budget for 2024. They had all agreed with the budget proposals to not increase wages and pensions, reduce corporate taxes and give more benefits to corporates. The budget also contains provisions to increase public-private-partnerships in various sectors of the economy and deepen them where they are already existing. More blatantly, the budget allows the transfer of 8 billion euros to private health sector, which is already profiting from the concessions it is receiving from the State. Another sector that is benefiting from the budgetary provisions is the real estate, which is subject to least regulatory control. Except the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), parties like the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Conservatives CDS, Liberal Initiative and the far-right Chega have supported these policies in the budget.
In the last two months, October and November, major demonstrations of the working class were held in Portugal against such policies. Thousands of workers were mobilised in mass struggles throughout the country. Two major countrywide protests were organised in Lisbon, the capital city and Porto, the biggest city in the northern region.
On October 25, a huge demonstration was held demanding an increase in wages by the confederation of trade unions – the CGTP. On October 27, the central and local government employees were mobilised along with healthcare workers, doctors, and workers in the retail, agriculture, dairy and transport sectors, who went on a strike.
Another big rally followed in Lisbon and Porto on November 11, demanding an increase in the wages, pensions and action against the rise in cost of living. Right to housing, healthcare and education were also part of the working class demands. Resolutions were passed expressing solidarity with Palestine and demanding an immediate ceasefire, in all these protests organised by the CGTP.
On October 29 and November 5, two huge protests were held in solidarity with Palestine, by the PCP, together with other progressive, democratic organisations, peace and solidarity movements. The issues of livelihood were linked with the war in Palestine, imperialism, EU, NATO and Israel.
In contrast to the bourgeois parties, the PCP is organising protests against the budgetary proposals at the local level and coordinating with the trade unions. The PCP together with the CGTP is demanding an increase in wages by 15 per cent, that is at least another 150 euros. It wants the national minimum wage to be set at 910 euros in January (from around 735 euros now) and this should be made 1000 euros during the course of 2024. Similarly, the PCP is demanding an increase in the pensions by 7.5 per cent, or a minimum of 70 euros above the pension the retirees are receiving now.
The PCP demands an increase in the budgetary allocations for all public services. It is exposing the real estate controlled rental market and argues against the need to increase housing rents. The rent a family pays in social housing (housing units built by the government, maintained by it, along with providing basic amenities like electricity and water) is around 30 per cent of their salary. Public housing available to the people is increasingly becoming difficult due to lack of public investment. Many people are forced to depend on private housing. The rent usually varies from 700 to 1000 euros, making it very difficult for an ordinary worker’s family to rent a house. The PCP states that this problem can be addressed by diverting the over 11 million profits that the banks are earning daily from the rising interest rates. It wants the government to stop the banks from increasing the interest rates.
The PCP wants the big corporates to be taxed on their profits. Each day these corporates are earning a profit of 25 million euros and this is not being taxed adequately, even according to the promise made by the PS government. The corporate tax concessions and all other tax deductions for the capitalists have reached more than 3000 million euros. No wonder, 5 per cent of the rich own over 42 per cent of the wealth, while the workers are not paid sufficient wages and denied social security. With this money, all public services including healthcare can be strengthened, like by appointing more doctors and healthcare workers.
The PCP is also against privatisation of the public sector like the airlines TAP. Millions of euros are invested by State in these companies and then they are offered to private capital for takeover. Above all, loans are provided for private capitalists to buy these public sector enterprises. PCP decided to campaign and mobilise people on these demands.
The PCP has also planned to campaign against the government by contrasting it with the gains made by the April Revolution in 1974 that was against fascism and democratised many State institutions. PCP played an important role in the revolution, along with a section of the armed forces. People remember to this day, the gains made by the Revolution. Free public health system, and education is a result of the April Revolution. Recognition of trade union rights and regular wage increases were made possible by the Revolution. People also remember that public housing is a right guaranteed by the Revolution. All these rights are under attack now, thanks to the austerity measures and the economic policies pursued by respective governments under the persuasion of the EU and international financial institutions.
The PCP in its central committee meeting held on November 18 has decided to approach the elections to the national parliament on March 10 and subsequent elections to European Parliament in June, by organising sustained protests on people’s issues and reminding them of the achievements of the April Revolution.
The PCP decided to mobilise people on alternative policies with the slogan: ‘It’s time to change policy. More strength to the CDU (the alliance of the PCP and Greens)’. Struggles have been planned to be held at local level under the slogan, ‘Living Better in our Land’ on the issues of housing, healthcare, access to public services, schools, daycare centres, rights of the youth, support for the elderly and for environmental protection. The PCP warns the political parties that are pursuing neoliberal policies and supporting imperialism, to do so at their own peril.
The 50th anniversary of the April Revolution will be commemorated under the theme, ‘April is more Future’. Through the April Revolution, people tasted the power of democratic rights and sovereignty. The task is to defend the gains and reaffirm the values of the April Revolution – the protection of rights of the workers and toiling people and popular sovereignty.