When the results were announced the right wing prime minister complained in his resignation speech that it was not proper in a civilised country that “Trotskyists” should come within one percent of defeating the Christian Democrats.
Nationally we are the fifth biggest party. But in 14 out of 18 electoral districts we came either third or fourth. We were the third biggest party in Coimbra, Faro and Averiro, an old working class city where we are in the leadership of the shoeworkers’ union.
In the north of the country we were always in front of the Communist Party (which is traditionally strong in Portugal), and in the south we were always in front of the Tories.
The Left Bloc was formed in 1999 from three organisations — one Trotskyist, one Marxist-Leninist and one which came from the Portuguese Communist Party — plus many people who belonged to no party, who were active in the social movements and others who had previously been active on the left.
In 1999 we polled around 2 percent, in 2002 3 percent, and last month we grew to 6.5 percent with eight MPs elected. In addition we have one MEP and many local councillors. Of the eight MPs, four are women. It is the first time in the history of the Portuguese parliament that there is a party with such equality of representation.
In the beginning we were mainly young people and activists from the old organisations of the left.
But it was very important that we did not turn the Bloc simply into an alliance of parties. Like Respect in England we wanted it involve a broad range of people. More and more our support has grown among activists in the social movements.
We had a tremendous response from working class areas during the election. In Porto we filled one hall with 1,000 people for a meeting and had to hold another outside for 500 people.
We circulated a board game among young people. If the dice fell on a social problem you had to move back, if it fell on one of the Left Bloc’s proposals you could move forward and win. It was a big hit.
Portugal has never had a strong women’s movement. Abortion is still illegal. In 1998 we lost a referendum to make it legal by just 1 percent. We kept on campaigning although the right wing wanted this decision to be final.
After the election we demanded that the new Socialist Party government had a vote in parliament to make abortion legal. They refused, saying we must have a referendum. Now we are pushing for an immediate referendum.
The Bloc also proposed Portugal’s first law on domestic violence, which was passed in parliament.
Now we have all kinds of members — pensioners, students and workers. Later this month we are helping to organise the first big demonstration of immigrants for a long time. That means we have built support among Brazilians, Senegalese and other immigrant groups. The Communist Party is afraid of this issue because it believes working class voters are racist!
Some 300 trade union leaders, at a factory level and at national level, appealed for a vote for the Bloc in the elections. We still have workers’ commissions that are directly elected in each workplace. In Portugal’s biggest workplace, Ford-Volkswagen in Setubal, our supporters are the majority.
We wish Respect all the best and will see you in Scotland to help welcome the G8!