Portugal’s transport system was paralysed by a public sector general strike on Thursday of last week. Workers were taking action against labour reforms and austerity measures imposed by the country’s creditors.
The “troika”—the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund—demanded a programme of cuts from Portugal last year.
This was in return for a £65 billion bailout package.
The right wing government of Pedro Passos Coelho responded with vigour. Even before the next round of £12 billion cuts, the number of school teachers has been cut by 10 percent.
Public utility companies are being sold off and roads lie empty as drivers are unable to pay new tolls.
Death rates for February were as much as 20 percent higher than usual after medical fees went up. The cost of a visit to hospital emergency departments has more than doubled under the troika’s programme.
Portugal has been held up as the troika’s model student—in contrast to Greece where resistance has been much higher.
But for all the pain Portugal’s economy is sinking deeper into recession. The country is expected to follow Greece in requesting a second bailout.
Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP union federation, met with troika officials before Thursday’s strike. “These men are like robots,” he said afterwards.
“They have come here with a mission not to help Portugal but to help the markets.”
Portugal’s other main union federation, the UGT, has backed the labour reforms. But the CGTP recorded a strong turnout for the strike, including from non‑members. There were protests in 36 towns and cities.
On the same day Ireland, another peripheral European economy to have received a bailout, fell back into recession.
In Italy striking factory workers blocked roads in Turin and Pisa. They occupied Fincantieri shipping plants in Liguria. The actions were against a planned onslaught on workers’ rights by the government of unelected technocrat Mario Monti.
The CGIL trade union now intends to call a general strike against the labour reforms.
And in Spain the first general strike for over 18 months was set to take place on Thursday of this week—again over attacks on workers’ rights.