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Dress rehearsal for the General Strike

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

A strike on Wednesday, November 9, which paralysed trains, metros, ferries and buses across the country, promised to be a dress rehearsal for the General Strike on November 24.

The public transport strike, coupled with the bad weather, left Lisbon and Porto in chaos, forcing thousands to seek alternative means of transport to get to work or face staying at home.

In addition to public transport services again grinding to a halt next week, disruption at Portuguese airports is also on the cards as airport handling staff have voted to join in the 24-hour stoppage.

Rail services, air flights, rubbish collection, healthcare and banking are all expected to be affected by the General Strike against public spending cuts, austerity measures, unemployment, public sector wage freezes, temporary scrapping of holiday subsidies and increasing taxes.

The Airport Handling Workers Union (Sindicato dos Técnicos de Handling de Aeroportos – STHA), the independent body that represents ground staff, handed in its decision on November 11 to join the strike.

So too will the members of the Civil Aviation Personnel Union (Sindicato de Pessoal e Aviação Civil) and NAV (Air Traffic Controllers Union), which include cabin crew and air traffic controllers respectively, since “the unions are part of the UGT (Workers General Union) and the Workers’ Commission (Comissão de Trabalhadores). They want to show the Government that “we are against its policies which are prejudicial to workers”.  

It will mean that Portugal’s airports will likely be closed to most if not all incoming and outgoing flights and planes grounded.

In anticipation of a difficult day, TAP has stopped accepting reservations for November 24 and is informing passengers that their flights will be “transferred to other dates”.

Other unions which will come out in support of the General Strike include employees of the State-run broadcasting company RTP whose union called for “mass adhesion” to the strike in protest against what the Government is doing to RTP.

However, there are those who won’t be taking part in the General Strike on November 24. Public Ministry magistrates have already indicated that they will be working as normal.

Rui Cardoso, the General Secretary of the Public Ministry Magistrates Union (Sindicato dos Magistrados do Ministério Público), said its General Assembly voted overwhelmingly against strike action because “given the state Portugal is in, this isn’t the right moment to be going on strike.”

The Government has stated that it may have to resort to a Civil Requisition Order to counter the effects of the strike which will cost the country millions of euros in lost business.

A Civil Requisition Order is when non-union members are brought in to carry out essential public services; usually carried out at a time of national emergency such as a war or natural disaster. It would require the signature of the President of the Republic.

However, Portugal’s two largest unions, the UGT and the CGTP, have both stated that such a decision would be “unconstitutional”.

The leaders of the two unions, João Proença and Carvalho da Silva, said on November 8: “We never even imagined that this Civil Requisition Order would have crossed the Government’s mind. We hope that the strike will be carried out in a way that respects the Constitution.”

The UGT’s João Proença added that a Civil Requisition Order could only be used in “extreme cases” in which the “country’s essential values” were put at risk.

The General Strike will include a number of marching demonstrations in Lisbon at Rossio Square at 11am and São Bento at 3pm by the Portuguese Parliament building.

The leaders of the two main unions say that the General Strike represents “clear discontent at the current economic and social situation”.

“This decision (for the strike) was taken by the CGTP’s National Council so that this strike can express the general feeling of outrage over the austerity measures, and to call for the Government to change its policies with respect to workers and ensure the socio-economic development of the country,” stated the CGTP’s spokesperson Libério Domingues.

It is the second General Strike in Portugal since the 1920s. The first was held in November last year.

A series of downloadable items to promote the General Strike on November 24 are available on its official website