Portugal: Biggest strike in 20 years cripples a nation
Portugal is under severe pressure to cut a high level of national debt which is undermining its economy and fuelling market concerns that it may need a financial rescue.
The government intends to introduce pay cuts for public employees next year, as well as tax hikes, to help pay off the debt.
Opposition to the measures has united the country’s two largest union federations, representing 1.5 million workers, in their first joint strike since 1988.
As the country’s two biggest unions stopped trains and buses, grounded planes and halted services from healthcare to banking, the country’s economic woes continued.
“It is a bigger strike than the one in 1988,” said Joao Proenca, the head of the UGT union which is traditionally close to the ruling Socialists.
Manuel Carvalho da Silva, head of the country’s biggest CGTP union, said over three million people took part.
“This strike offers an unequivocal sign that the government and the political forces must interpret,” Mr Carvalho da Silva said. “The way out of the crisis cannot be through sacrifices made by the workers.”
Prime Minister Jose Socrates has repeatedly ruled out the need for a bail-out, pledging to stay the course to cut the budget deficit through tough wage reductions for civil servants, tax hikes and major cutbacks to public services.
“What’s coming for the new generation is very sad. I don’t see a solution for them aside from emigrating to other countries where they may have new opportunities,” said Madalena Costa, 66, a retired school teacher as she passed a train station emptied by the strike.
Others were angered by the protest, saying the country could not afford the stoppage, the first general strike.
“This strike is completely absurd,” said Pedro Silva, 36, a biology teacher at a private school, who had to take a taxi to work.
“The Portuguese have to understand that there is no money and if there is no money people have to work to get it.”