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article imageGeneral strike paralyzes Portugal

By Stephen Morgan     Jun 27, 2013 in World
Public sector unions have called a one day general strike in Portugal this Thursday to protest against the government's draconian austerity measures and its further plans to reduce pay and lengthen working hours in the public services.
Over one million workers have walked off the job and according to the Washington Post most of the country's public transport, buses, metro, trains and airports will be shut down or severely disrupted.
Reuters adds that refuse removal has also been halted, government administration has been shut down, hospitals reduced to skeleton staff and even fishing fleets have stayed in port. The strike is expected to mostly affect public services, which have born the brunt of the adverse effects of government spending cuts and job losses, while the less directly affected private sector is unlikely to see a great deal of disruption.
Portugal faces similar problems to those of neighboring Spain and crisis-ridden Greece. There has been a massive rise in unemployment to around 18% and a drastic fall in living standards in the last three years. Public spending cuts and the imposition of higher taxes by the center-right government have been introduced in an effort to comply with the terms of a 78 billion Euro ($100 billion) aid plan from the EU and the IMF.
However, in the last few years, the government's policies have failed to revive the economy and have instead deepened the crisis as unemployment and higher taxes have cut into people's pockets and reduced demand for goods and services. This has been compounded by the fact that the EU zone, which is the country's major trading partner, faces a prolonged recession undermining Portuguese exports. Foreign creditors had hoped that the economy would grow by 1.2%, but the Wall Street Journal reports that it is instead forecast to contract by 2.4% this year.
The stress placed on the economy and the increasing social discontent are creating splits in the government ranks, with members of the governing party and its coalition partners calling for a renegotiation of debt repayments. According to Press TV, a recent IMF report said that unemployment and the severity of the current recession are “exacerbating social and political tensions and, in turn, testing the government’s resolve to continue with adjustment policies and reforms.”
To worsen matters for the government, a court ruled earlier this year that Prime Minister, Passos Coelho's plan to cut the wages and pensions of public employees was unconstitutional and even his traditional backers in the form of the country's business community are now calling for a curtailing of the austerity measures. The confederation of retail, tourism and manufacturing employers has issued a joint statement telling the government that "Once and for all, courage is needed to stop imposing a recipe that isn't the solution for Portugal."
Armenio Carlos, head of the 600,000 strong CGTP union confederation said the aim of today's strike was "to force a change in policies and make our economy grow," while Carlos Silva, the leader of UGT union grouping, which represents a further 1/2 million workers, called the strike a "a cry of resistance" to austerity policies which will "punish the country, violate the people, penalize workers and pensioners."
Euronews quoted an unemployed woman participating in the protest who said, "It’s to call for a new government, because the current one is basically death – the final blow for youth and the country.”
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