In 2010, during the peak of the economic crisis in Europe, Portugal requested international financial assistance, whose agreement was known as the Troika Memorandum (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund).
By Maria Silva (Em Luta) – International Courier 22 (Special Edition on Europe)
The Troika policy only brought more recession, destruction of public services and a brutal decline in the living conditions of workers (in 2014, the population in poverty reached a maximum of 27.5%), and led to emigrate between 2011 and 2014 about 500,000 people, in a country that has 10 million.
The request for intervention was made by the Socialist Party (PS) government of José Sócrates (who had António Costa, now Prime Minister as the number two in the government), but the contingency plan imposed by the Troika was essentially applied by the government that followed, a rightwing coalition (PSD-CDS), which faced great response and resistance. Even so, the union leaderships never wanted to unify the struggles of the various sectors to defeat the government. The PCP (Portuguese Communist Party), leading the trade union movement, and the BE (Left Block), relying on social movements, bet on letting the ascent weaken and convincing the workers that it was necessary to wait for the 2015 elections.
The Contraption government
In 2015, elections were won by the same right-wing coalition (PSD-CDS). They weren’t able to form a government, since the majority were composed of PS-PCP-BE deputies. Therefore, the President of the Republic called the second most voted party – the PS of António Costa – to form a government. The PS was a minority, it wouldn’t manage to govern alone; it made an agreement with the PCP and the BE to govern.
This government, product of written agreements between PS-BE-PCP, became known as Geringonça. BE and PCP did not have ministers in the government, but were a responsible part of that government: in a parliamentary system like the Portuguese, for the government to function, the budget must be approved by parliament every year, or it won’t be able to govern. Without this governance agreement with the left, Costa would not have been able to maintain the government for four years.
Austerity did not end
Geringonça was highly praised by the reformist left around the world, as a positive example of unity of the left and improvements for the country. But the reality of the working class is very different from those speeches. The international context in which Costa comes to power is that of a more favorable economic situation in the European Union, with a direct impact on the Portuguese economy.
But economic growth only served the bosses and multinationals: it did not change the lives of those who work. The austerity policies did not end with Geringonça. Costa essentially maintains the measures of the previous government and of the Troika (which had imposed a new level of exploitation in the country), to sustain growth at the service of the bourgeoisie. An example of this is that even the small increase in the minimum wage during this term does not recover the standard of living prior to the intervention of the Troika, in addition to the fact that the cost of living in the country increased brutally due to the growth of tourism and real estate speculation. The government even made alterations to the Labor Code that deepened job insecurity, showing that it was there to defend the bosses.
An EU and IMF government
On the other hand, the government paid debt in advance, saved more than two banks with public money, maintained budget cuts that continue to suffocate health and education. It was with this policy of austerity and reduction of public investment to historically low levels, that the government achieved the lowest deficits of bourgeois democracy (one of the central impositions of the euro zone is that countries do not have deficits greater than 3% ).
Between Geringonça and the previous right-wing government, the points are more of continuity than of rupture. That explains why this government is vindicated by the IMF and the European Commission.
Geringonça governed for the bosses and repressed workers and the youth
Geringonça, by bringing together one of the parties that several years ago governs for the bosses (PS) with the two reformist parties (PCP and BE), was a class conciliation government.
Four years later, it is clear that this conciliation did not serve the workers but only the bosses and the multinationals. The government faced several workers struggles : for the right to rest on weekends (VolkswagenAutoeuropa), for living wages ( Hazardous Materials Drivers), for evolution and accounting for career time (nurses and teachers), against precariousness ( Port of Setúbal dockworkers), etc.
Nor has the life of the most oppressed sectors changed, be it blacks, who fought for the right to nationality and against police brutality, be it women, who continue to die victims of domestic violence. These continue to be the most precarious and badly paid sectors of the country, and for whom these laws mean dead letter in their lives.
Faced with the struggles of striking workers and young blacks who took to the streets against racism, the response was repression and authoritarianism. In truth, the government made one of the toughest attacks against the right to strike since April 25: it used the courts to decree minimum services that prevented the strike, used the police and army as scabs to replace the strikers, and applied widely the civil requisition law (which allows workers to be arrested, in case they are urged to work and do not do so).
BE and PCP are responsible
BE and PCP say that Costa’s good measures are due to their presence and that bad measures are a problem of the PS. But there are no two different governments: there is only one government of the PS, supported by the PCP and the BE, which guaranteed the approval of four austerity budgets, at the service of the bosses. The continuity of budget cuts, precariousness, of degradation of public services, of the payment of bank financial holes , etc., therefore, they also share responsibility with the BE and the PCP.
Four years later, for Portugal and the rest of the world, the result of the unity of the left to rule in capitalism is visible: to abdicate defending the workers to obtain crumbs from the bosses.
Gerigonça saved the PS and disarmed the workers
On October 6, new legislative elections were held: the great winner was the PS, with 36.65% of the votes; the BE kept the same number of deputies, but lowered its vote; The PCP had an important electoral defeat. It is clear that Geringonça only strengthened the PS. In fact, BE and PCP, by holding the government for four years, saved the PS from having a fate similar to that of the Greek PASOK or from a historical defeat, as happened with the Spanish PSOE during the crisis period.
The defense of the benefits of Geringonça gave a left-wing makeup to a bourgeois government, which disarmed the workers, youth and the most oppressed sectors in the struggles, creating expectations in the pacts and negotiations with those who rob us bread and dignity every day!
However, if the support and exaltation of the government prevailed in the media and on the institutional left, below, a fighting movement confronted the bosses and the government, deepening a reorganization process that came from the economic crisis, although still atomized. It is in this sense that these elections, being a distorted reflection of the reality of the working class, also express a crisis of bipartisanship and lead three new parties to parliament, particularly a far-right party.
The working class seeks new alternatives, on the left and on the right, because Geringonça does not respond to their needs and has not changed their lives. Costa is already the new prime minister and forms a minority PS government, without written agreements to the left, but with the votes of the latter to allow his budget to pass.
Four years of a more unstable government are coming, at an international juncture where the recession is an increasingly palpable possibility in the European Union. The workers, the most oppressed sectors and youth are fed up with the lesser evil policy, the institutional policy and the negotiations in the halls. The left was unable to give voice to their needs.
The workers who went on strike or took to the streets in these four years show another way: the change will only come from the independent, democratic and combative struggle of the working class and the most oppressed sectors. With or without Geringonça, the fight against class reconciliation policy will continue to be a present necessity. And the only way to fight the extreme right is to fight the new PS government and the class conciliation policy of the left, which disarms workers. The need for unification of struggles, on the one hand, but also for the construction of a revolutionary alternative for workers, which responds to the process of reorganization and the search for an anti-system alternative, is of utmost importance.