Socialist Worker

Portugal's Left Bloc

Activists from the Left Bloc, one of the brightest stars of Europe’s emerging radical left, spoke to Matthew Cookson about the party’s vision

Issue No. 1957

Fernando Rosas

Fernando Rosas

The spirit of revolt lives on in Portugal in the form of the Bloco de Esquerda, the Left Bloc. This radical left party won eight MPs in the Portuguese general election in February this year.

It is building a left alternative to the governing Socialist Party, which is similar to Britain’s Labour Party, and to the Communist Party.

The industrial district of Setubal in southern Portugal was one of the heartlands of the country’s revolution of 1974-5, which overthrew a military dictatorship. Now Setubal is one of the heartlands of the Left Bloc.

Fernando Rosas is one of the newly elected Left Bloc MPs for Setubal. He told Socialist Worker, “Setubal is a socialist, workers’ district where the main factories were in the past.

“It is the left side of the Tejo river, both physically and politically. The Communist Party used to win all the elections and ran local governments.

“In the 1980s a kind of deindustrialisation happened and many factories closed. Unemployment rose, but a strong left tradition remained.

“The Communist Party is in decline. It is fixed and dogmatic, unable to offer a way forward to new groups of workers. There has been a big growth in people employed in service industries — low paid young workers with no contracts.

“They are not industrial workers but they have very hard conditions of life.

“A significant part of Communist Party voters changed their vote to the Left Bloc at the elections. We felt it in the streets. It was these people’s votes that were essential in increasing our vote from 4 percent to 10 percent in Setubal.

Street presence

“We have to be sure these people feel that we represent them. We have to have a presence in the streets, the factories, the villages, to be near the problems of the people.

“The role of an MP in such a district is to agitate and to organise people. We need to get Left Bloc organisation in areas where we have none.”

Antonio Chora is the coordinator of the workers’ committee of the Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant in the Setubal district. This plant employs over 3,000 people and is Portugal’s most important factory.

Antonio told Socialist Worker, “The Left Bloc list won seven out of 11 places in the election for the workers’ committee at the factory.

“This is the second time in a row that has happened. We promise to keep workers’ current rights and fight for better rights when we can.

“Right now our campaign is to keep the current number of employees. Workers voted for us because they have confidence in the people on our list.

“The biggest victory of our workers’ committee is that only 1 percent of the plant’s workforce are temporary. The rest are permanent. It is the only multinational in Portugal where this has happened.

“When we enter negotiations with the bosses we always start by discussing the issues with the union in the plant and making a copy of the issues for every worker. Then we have a mass meeting on each shift.

“After the workers have spoken about what they want changed, we start negotiations with the bosses — always telling the workers what has been achieved.

“The workers then vote in a secret ballot to say whether they want that agreement or not. Only if a majority comes out in favour do we sign it.”

Aliçe Brito is a local lawyer and member of the Left Bloc’s national council. She told Socialist Worker, “The revolution is in the Left Bloc’s DNA. Many people who participated in the revolution have been waiting for something like the Left Bloc for years. People like me have now come back to politics.

“I defend women who are accused of having an abortion, which is still illegal in Portugal. The Left Bloc has organised demonstrations outside the courts against the criminalisation of women.

Women speaking out

“The Left Bloc is pressing the government to have a referendum so that we can win abortion rights. It is the only party in Portugal where women can speak strongly about themselves.”

Jaime Pinho is a local teacher and Left Bloc member. He said, “In the elections of February the Left Bloc entered all sectors of the country. Workers have suffered defeat after defeat — but since the birth of the Left Bloc there is a new hope.

“Since Portugal entered the European Union there has been lots of money to build roads and bridges, but there is still massive poverty.

“The Left Bloc fights to involve the young workers in the factories who have no rights, who have been abandoned by the traditional left and the trade unions.”

Alvaro Arranja, a local history teacher, said, “I was a Socialist Party member for ten years between 1985-95 when the right was in power. I left after the Socialist Party got elected.

“Hundreds of Socialist Party voters in Setubal voted for the Bloc. The Socialist Party government is now attacking public sector pensions. This week was set to see strikes against this in the public sector. The Bloc is seen as a hope against these measures.

“The Bloc is also fighting to give rights to immigrants — an issue not touched upon by other parties. There is no money for education.

“There is no decent social aid system for people.

“The Left Bloc is not chained to history. It is for the future. It is known as the party with the youngest supporters.”

Aliçe Pinho, a 21 year old student and member of the Left Bloc, said, “Young people come to the Left Bloc because of its new ideas.

“The Bloc is the only party pressing issues like the legalisation of abortion and soft drugs. People now understand what women are going through.

“We feel the need to fight, and we have chosen the Left Bloc because it is the most effective tool for this.

“It has an imaginative way of attracting young people through its actions and commercials. Young people who want to fight go to the meetings of the Left Bloc.”

Antonio Chora

Antonio Chora

Aliçe Pinho (Pics: Angela Stapleford)

Aliçe Pinho (Pics: Angela Stapleford)

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Article information

Sat 25 Jun 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1957
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