Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Portugal's hot!

"Against the Troiks"
"We are faced with a wall of intransigence. The government better understand that negotiating is not the same as imposing." -- Carlos Silva, the head of the 500,000 members-strong UGT
It's hot here in Lisbon and I'm not just talking about the weather.  Luckily we're able to get around the city pretty well, arriving in town just after another strike shut down the Lisbon Metro for the 4th time in the past year.

Lots of young people in the streets. Graffiti is ubiquitous. Unemployment is at a record level, 17.8% with youth unemployment at a record 42.5%. Among Lisbon's large African immigrant population from Portugal's former colonies, it's much higher. The whole country is reeling under the burden of imposed austerity and while things are pretty peaceful here, say as compared to Turkey, neighboring Spain, or Greece, signs of resistance are everywhere.

Saturday's protest.
Saturday, more than a million people took to the streets here and in 30 other cities, the largest protests in Portugal's history, and marched against, what protesters call the Troika -- the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - Portugal's one-percenters.

The Lisbon protest ended with the hymn to the 1974 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship, sung by hundreds of thousands in the Plaza de Comercio.

Yesterday, the country's biggest unions announced support for a general strike, called for June 27th. It will be the second general strike here in 6 months.

This all has a familiar ring as we learn about the dismantling and closing down of social services,  layoffs and falling wages for public sector workers, and increased privatization. Among the hardest hit, Portugal's already suffering public school system and one of the weakest in Europe. Thousands of teachers are being fired under pressure from the I.M.F. which issued a report recently, singling  out public school teachers as a "privileged group within society."

I don't think many Portuguese would have a tough time relating to the mass closings of public schools, health and mental clinics and the attacks on public sector unions we're facing back in Chicago.

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