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Labour market reform, Portugal

They call it ‘competitiveness’, but it’s ‘brutal exploitation’: new leader of Portugal’s CGTP union

IN THE RADICAL THE PRESS / IL MANIFESTO

Ahead of a national demonstration on February 11,  the new leader of  Portugal’s main union confederation, Armenio Carlos, explains why he opposes the country’s recent  labour market reforms, why the public debt must be renegotiated and of the importance of ‘giving hope that a different politics is possible.’

The Portuguese capital was shut down on February 2 by a transport strike that kicked off period of struggle that will likely be enduring, with a national demonstration planned for February 11, organised by the CGTP, the country’s main trade union confederation. Italy’s communist Il Manifesto newspaper caught up with Armenio Carlos, elected last week as the new leader of the CGTP, to talk about the union’s strategy to oppose the right-wing government’s austerity and deregulatory measure, designed to satisfy the demands of the ECB-EU-IMF Troika, international creditors and speculators.

How did the strike go? 

It was a success. The metro was shut down, nor did the buses or trains move. The passenger boats didn’t leave the docks of the river Tagus. It was a huge response from workers trying to protect their economic rights and protesting against ticket price increases (26% in recent months) and the destruction of public transport. Public transport workers and citizens united against privatisation of the transport system, because they know it will be them who will pay.

What are the objectives of the national demonstration on 11 February in Lisbon?

Above all to raise awareness and mobilise society against inequality. poverty and unemployment imposed on our country. Also, we want encourage hopes that different policies are possible. We need a unified class struggle. Workers and and other citizens have to understand that it is time to defend their rights and defend themselves.

The Troika and the conservative government are trying to change industrial relations. Part of the trade union movement has accepted an internal devaluation with a reduction in the cost of labour. You instead have rejected dialogue…

The proposals do not contain any measures that encourage growth; instead they will deepen recession and unemployment. In the best case scenario GDP will fall to 2001 levels, while the public debt will remain in triple figures, much more than the 92% [of GDP] before the onset of the crisis.

Also, the document signed by employers and the Socialist UGT union will boost competitiveness through unacceptable measures like a reduction in public holidays and annual leave, forcing workers to work an additional seven days a year.  The measures include a 50% reduction in overtime rates, and ‘flexible’ hours and pay.

You don’t boost competitiveness like this; it is simply brutal exploitation. The Bank of Portugal estimates that between 2012 and 2013 420,000 jobs will be lost. Officially there are now 700,000 unemployed. In practice the figure is one million, because the official statistics don’t include the long term unemployed and those who have stopped looking for work.

At the same time the reforms make it easier to fire workers and reduce labour costs for employers They want it to be easy and cheap to fire workers, even though our constitution expressly bans unfair dismissal.

The agreement tramples on workers rights…

They are trying to rip up national agreements and replace them with individual contracts. We are witnessing a real counter-revolution, a subversion of our rights and constitutional advances.

A internal devaluation that seeks to reduce labour costs…

A criminal policy that will lead to a never ending recession. Labour costs in Portugal are among the lowest. It is continuous blackmail to try to make us accept ever worse measures. The characteristics of the economy are changing radically: workers no longer matter, nor the prosperity of the citizens. The country appears completely dependent on the speculators and Europe’s Great Powers, like Germany and Angel Merkel.

It appears that Portugal is being blackmailed: exit the Euro or accept policies that the Troika demands. 

Europe must change its policies and Portugal must renegotiate the debt.

We can’t sacrifice an entire generation on the altar of the creditors. The financial model of the European Union must change. It must start to create jobs and growth. These are the fundamental conditions to tackle the debt crisis. We have to stand up to the speculators. We musn’t pay the moneylenders. We must refuse to introduce in our constitution articles that require the elimination of the deficit [the balanced budget or ‘golden’  rule], which blocks growth.

The CGTP demands a delay in the reduction of the deficit to 3% in 2013 until 2020 to stop the massive destruction of jobs and the recession.

By Argiris Panagopolous, Il Manifesto, 4.2.2012

Translation by Revolting Europe

Some figures on Portugal ‘s economy – the next Greece?

Unemployment : 13.6%, more than 30% among young people

GDP growth:  -3% (or worse) in 2012

Public debt – forecast  of 118% of GDP in 2012

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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