The international call for real democracy that came from Madrid was answered with protests of over 100,000 in Lisbon, 20,000 in Porto and thousands more in six other cities across the country.

A massive austerity package, in which working class people will be hardest hit, was the background for huge protests in major cities in Portugal on 15 October. The ultra-liberal conservative Prime Minister Passos Coelho announced on 13 October that a new national budget would comprise wage cuts for all civil servants and a 30-minute extension on the working day for private workers, destroying the 8-hour workday.

A group of citizens and social organisations supported the call for the protest and people answered with outrage in the streets. The two month period prior to this protest involved the production of unifying manifestos*, organising logistical aspects of the demonstrations and a widespread appeal to join the protest, opening up a new field for social struggle.

The results were inspirational. Following the protest in Lisbon, a popular assembly was held at the staircase of parliament, and many participants voted on proposals to continue the struggle. Among others, there was an appeal for a new protest, the refusal of the national budget proposal for 2012, a call on all unions for a national general strike, support for acts of non-violent civil disobedience, the suspension of the payment of the sovereign debt, and a call for a citizen’s audit of the Portuguese debt.

There was a widespread spirit of rejection of the aura of inevitability created by the government and its media, a refusal to accept this rotten system, an internationalist spirit recognising that this is not only a national but a global problem, and an unequivocal rejection of the IMF, of the European dictatorship held by Merkel and Sarkozy, and of their counterparts in Portugal, the right-wing government and president.

Tensions rose when some people tried to break into parliament, but fortunately it ended with the biggest popular assembly held in the country for many years, right in front of parliament. Since 15 October there has been an occupation by a small crowd in front of parliament.

In the aftermath of this popular protest the two union confederations in Portugal called for a national general strike for 24 November. The open platform that supported the call for 15 October protest has reconvened, receiving more people and organisations, and is set to carry through the proposals for the continuation of this struggle.

It has stated its intention of having a general strike where all participate, a working and social general strike, for the unionised, the unemployed, precarious workers, immigrants, and all sectors of society, to bring the country to a standstill.

It will call for a broadening of the struggle to include civil society, unions, working people and the unemployed. It will carry through actions against the approval of the national budget proposal. And in the spirit of the democratic vindication for popular participation, it will promote popular assemblies and gatherings in neighbourhoods and workplaces.

As Portugal is besieged by the IMF, Europe is crumbling under a financial system sustained by robbing working class people of their wages and livelihoods. The first step towards real democracy will have to be the complete rejection of austerity. The people will take their stand.

*Lisbon Manifesto (in English):
Porto Manifesto (in Portuguese):
Coimbra Manifesto (in Portuguese):