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International Socialism, September 1977


Notes of the Month

Portugal: Government and Bosses Go on Offensive


From International Socialism (1st series), No.101, September 1977, p.7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


PORTUGAL remains unstable, and the instability is increasing. The Socialist Party government is continuing its policy of ‘pin-prick’-attacks on the working class in the factories and on the land. The more left-wing elements of the socialist party, opposed the official line of handling land and factories back to their ‘rightful’ capitalist owners, are being forced out of the party. The Civil Service is being purged under the leadership of Freitas do Amaral, a leader of the right-wing CDS. The National Guard is being used more and more to force workers off land they have occupied in the Alentjo region and hand it back to capitalists. At the ‘Queen of the South’ co-operative the workers refused to leave and the GNS wounded eight workers. They are also being used to smash strikes and occupations of factories. At the Auto-Reconstructura de Barreiro vehicle component works it was announced that the plant was being handed back to the old boss, who had fled in 1974 leaving behind massive debts. Under workers’ management for three years, the 170 workers had paid off most of the debts and found jobs for twelve unemployed. They refused to accept the boss back and occupied the factory: again the GNS was used to bludgeon them into submission.

The government and the bosses have tried other offensives too. One of these underlines the vital importance of state power and centralised planning for the working class if workers’ control is to be feasible. The government has adopted the policy of cutting off credit to militant factories and farms until the workers agree to the return of the boss, at which point the state finds that it has the money for credit after all. The government and the police are ready to back almost any bosses’ trick. In Barcelos, in the north, the boss decided to pay his 600 women workers only half their April wages. When they struck, they were attacked and beaten by a force of 60 Security Police. In education too the old fascists are coming back and the police are being used to smash any protest.

The working class has been fighting back with a series of battles around wage agreements. Early this year the government proclaimed a 15 per cent ceiling for wage rises with inflation running at more than 30 per cent and about 25 per cent unemployment. There have been important battles in textiles, metal-working, hotels and building. Significantly, workers in the northern towns, who were previously passive if not right wing, are today strongly behind the struggles.

The government, aided by the AFL-CIO, and, no doubt, the CIA, has been trying hard to split up the Intersyndical trade union federation by setting up an alternative centre. In February the Intersyndical Congress of All the Unions had 272 unions represented, while the alternative centre claims only five major unions. It looks as though the strategy which worked so well in France and Italy after the Second World War has been smashed in Portugal for the time being.

The leadership of the Intersyndical and the bulk of the organised working class remians in the hands of the Portuguese Communist Party. They are trying to bargain this support in return for economic expansion. At their June 1977 National Conference they said that, in return for expansion (and presumably a bit more influence for the PCP), the workers: ‘would intervene, voluntarily conscientiously, creatively, and responsibly to defeat our economic and financial difficulties, courageously prepared to take their part in the sacrifices of the nation.’ Despite their claims to be much more revolutionary than the ‘EuroCommunists’, they are saying the same things.

As a result of these policies, they make every effort to limit wage battles, demonstrations and solidarity actions to the bare minimum of token actions. On June 22 the Intersyndical called 200,000 workers to a demonstration in Lisbon, but this and other demonstrations have to be set against the efforts made to restrict militant action.

The revolutionary left has failed to take up these opportunities. The enthusiasms generated a year ago around the GDUP’s and the Presidential election campaign has been squandered. The MES (Movement of the Socialist Left) has moved to the right, lining up with the Maoist UDP (Popular Democratic Union) in favour of a ‘government of national independence’ as the top priority. The PRP (Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat) sees an imminent return to fascism as the most likely development. None of these organisations is capable of sustaining a regular paper and all are reported to be losing members.

In fact, it is possible that the increasing instability will lead to moves towards some form of ‘Bonapartist’ rule by the President, General Eanes, although a right-wing government based on the CDS and PSD (formerly PPD) is more likely in the short term. Behind them the old fascists are gathering. The extreme right in the Army is on the offensive and has nearly won its battle to oust left-wing elements: 1000 soldiers still face court-martial and new recruits found to have left-wing backgrounds are sent home. The leaders of the paramilitary ‘Portuguese Liberation Army’ (ELP) and other rightist officers have been re-instated. The returned settlers, now more than 100,000 from Mozambique and Angola, are a fertile ground for rightist recruitment. Portugal may be out of the newspapers, but the drama is far from over.

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