A new general strike was held in Portugal on the March 22nd, the second in four months, this time convened only by the major union CGTP. The strike had a lower adhesion than the previous one but was marked by an intensification and radicalization of protests.
The Portuguese Section of the IWA (AIT-SP) has marked its presence in Lisbon and Porto, before and during the strike, with a campaign for workers’ self-organization and direct action and participating in the demonstrations that took place in both cities.
This general strike was held two months after the last congress of the CGTP, where a new general secretary, Arménio Carlos, was elected. Unsurprisingly, Arménio Carlos is also a member of the Central Committee of the Portuguese Communist Party.
The socialist run UGT did not join the strike this time, after having signed the agreement on social peace with the Government and employers, accepting historic attacks on workers' rights, imposed by a neoliberal government following the austerity plan of the IMF and EU.
The strike came at a time when the effects of the austerity policies are taking their toll on workers. Unemployment continues to rise sharply, standing now at 15% according to official figures (35% among young workers) and emigration reached values similar or even superior to those of the 1960s.
The call for general strike found the vast majority of workers disoriented or paralyzed by fear. Predictably, the adhesion to the strike was lower than on 24th November last year.
There was strong policing throughout the country, controlling the pickets and demonstrations that took place in several cities. In some pickets there were confrontations with the police.
In Porto there were arrests at a demonstration that expected a visit of the Prime Minister to the University.
In Lisbon, the control paranoia of the CGTP reached a new peak when its security service tried to prevent a movement of precarious workers, influenced by another leftist party, from joining the demonstration in front of the parliament. Another demonstration organized by an “indignados” movement also made its way to the parliament, but this time a few hours later. This demonstration was also joined by an autonomous march, with the motto “for the blockade and occupation of the streets”, which had previously traversed the streets of Lisbon, throwing eggs at financial institutions, including the Bank of Portugal, and chanting anti-capitalist slogans. The demonstrators were successful for several times at preventing the detention of protestors by the police, but on the central and touristic neighbourhood of Chiado, the arrest of a demonstrator caused clashes with police, resulting in several injured.
Although the strike was obviously weaker than the last one, the Government, for the first time we can remember, didn’t advance any estimates of the adhesion, refusing to claim a victory. Instead, it commended the peaceful and orderly nature of the initiatives of the CGTP, whose new general secretary made a statement on national television on the night of the strike condemning "all acts of vandalism".