Alice Brito reports from Portugal on the state of the Left Bloc
Portugal's Bloco de Esquerda was formed in March 1999. It was the answer to a mobilising demand that spoke about the need to join forces and change the world, the country, life, in a powerful appeal that seemed to contain the magical formula to fight against despair. It was an appeal to minorities inside small parties and to a majority that didn't fit in any party. It was, most of all, the embodiment of the idea that not giving up was possible. Not surrendering was possible. The appeal to embraceall of this was strong, and it was beautiful.
Sixteen years later, Bloco is still on its way. After electing 16 deputies in 2009, the parliamentaryrepresentation has come down to 8 deputies following the 2011 elections, an electoral consequence of the social demoralisation the economic crisis brought along.
The action of Bloco de Esquerda today approachesa huge social and political setback, aggravated by three years of brutal austerity.
Portugal has, at present, the worst government in the history of its democracy. In the last few years, the right wing attacked salaries and pensions, made cuts in basic social support, promoted a tax overload, increased the number of labour hours and the number of years until retirement, intensified all labour exploitation. It cut funding of education and the national health service too, privatised public companies, and, as ifanticipating some sort of ending, is now readyto privatise all that it is left - not much. All this outrage to rights achievedlong ago is perpetrated in the name of a public debt impossible to pay in the present conditions.
The main purpose of Bloco de Esquerda is to defeat austerity. That is the reason why, that at themoment, there is an anti-austerity campaign going on, this includes a petition in favour of untying Portugal from the Budgetary Treaty of European Union. Bloco has initiated this campaign on the streets right now, trying to bring together people, other political forces and social movements in order to debate in each spot and in each sector alternative proposals to austerity that take in consideration the daily hardship every citizen is enduring right now including access to water and electricity, a living wage, employment rights and public services.
The fight against corruption is another of Bloco's main campaigns. The collapse of Portugal's biggest financial group, BES, showed how urgent it is to effectively regulate the banking business. Bloco has been represented , at the national parliament, in every inquiry commission that is being held after the monumental bang that marked the end of this financial empire. The presence of Bloco has been welcomed by Portuguese public opinion due to the notable rigour and acuteness of its representative, the young deputy Mariana Mortágua.
Bloco de Esquerda maintains, at present, a close political relationship with both the Portuguese Communist Party, PCP, and CGTP, the centraltrade union closely linked to the Communists. At a parliamentary level, there have been a few actions in conjunction with the Socialist Party, PS, whose political line is somewhat ambiguous. To shape a permanent challenge to the leadership of the Socialist Party, to build bridges with PS dissidents, forcing the Socialists to move towards a clear defence of the welfare state certainly remains one of the tasks of the wider Left.
We are living today across Europe in times of social panic and political blackmail. The most prosperous of all the industries is, no doubt, the "industry of fear", whose fundamental raw material is the idea of inevitability.
Austerity's main excuse is the public debt. That is why the only possible way out of this labyrinth of disgrace will be restructuring the debt. This Bloco's core message, the same as Syriza's and Podemos.
The victory of Syriza in Greece was the most significant - if not the only - triumph of the European Left during these years of crisis. It was the living proof that it is possible to say no to inevitability and to the brute force of a ferocious capitalism that aims to profit from the crisis created and nurtured by himself. It reinstated the trust in a better future. In this almost feverish state of hope, Podemos is waiting for its turn, and Bloco's popularity is rising in the polls ahead of the Portuguese General Election in September or October 2015.
The consequences of Syriza's victory may be of utmost importance to Bloco, due to the explicit, and assumed, identification between the two political parties.
The present Portuguese political panorama shows the rising of new political forces in the Left, small groups and small parties, people who want to contribute to changes and ruptures on the status quo.
The biggest challenge to Bloco is now to become the unifying force of all those wills, to turn the Left into a credible, trustworthy alternative to a government that subdues and captures a country in a web of well planned impoverishment.
The Greek triumph can change the game. It is already starting to change it. And freedom will certainly pass this way.
Kevin Ovenden's reportage from Greece for radical online media is funded as an act of practical solidarity by the selfstyled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka Philosophy Football.
Alice Brito has been an activist of Bloco de Esquerda since its formation. During the Portuguese revolution she campaigned for the LCI (Communist Internationalist League), a far left party which helped found Bloco.