Portugal. António Louçã: “Portugal’s Socialist Party has never been a workers’ party”

Antonio is a historian and journalist, he is a member of the workers’ commission of Rádio e Televisão de Portugal[1] (RTP) and has a long history as a revolutionary socialist militant. Taking advantage of his visit to Argentina, we talked with him about the political situation in Portugal. When we met in December, Prime Minister António Costa had recently resigned. We began the interview by asking him his opinion about the crisis unleashed in his country.

The Socialist Party government seemed to have all the conditions to govern with the full support of the Legislature because it had won in 2022 with an absolute majority. But after a short time, contradictions began to be noticed with the President of the Republic[2], who is a man of the right. Then there was an incident of corruption over concessions for lithium exploration. In wiretaps that began to be carried out by order of the Attorney General’s Office, several government officials appeared saying that they had the support of “Antonio.” Assuming that it was the prime minister, the Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement declaring that he was under suspicion in this process. A few days after his resignation, it was revealed that the Antonio that was being talked about in the wiretaps was not him, but the Minister of Economy Antonio Costa Silva, who had also already resigned.

The new elections are going to be in March, but it is not known what will happen: if the PSD, a liberal social democratic party, or the PS, the classic social democrats, wins. Neither of them will be able to win with an absolute majority and it is very difficult for the Socialist Party to make an alliance again with the Communist Party and the Left Bloc[3]. To give an example, even though everyone really hated the right-wing government in the 2015 election, the PS fell behind the PSD. And although they had done the entire electoral campaign saying that they had to continue the policy of the right-wing government, they then took an opportunistic turn to end up agreeing with the PC and the Left Bloc, a fact that the right contemptuously called “the geringonça.” The pact worked, because it allowed people to recover a little purchasing power and breathe after years of government by the right and the troika[4]. In short, the PS gained popularity with politics that it did not want to do.

A.B.: Tell us about the Bloc and the rest of the institutional left

The Bloc came to have a parliamentary strength far superior to that of the PC. At this moment it has five deputies and the PC has six, which means an abrupt drop. This may have to do with too close collaboration with the PS. It could not be an opposition party, but neither could it be a government party. However, it did not become much more combative in opposition to the absolute majority of the PS. We, as the RTP Workers Commission, every time we need to make a complaint in Parliament we have to interact with the PC and mostly with the Bloc. And there, yes, when a more radical struggle appears, the Bloc plays a quite positive role. For example, starting in January 2023, a strike process in education began that still continues. It was an extraordinary political phenomenon for maintaining the mobilization during all these months, but also because it achieved demonstrations of up to 100,000 people. By the way, an opportunity to fight to gain presence in the labor and union movement, something that the Bloc never had in a solid way. But perhaps it felt exposed by the small union that called the strike, whose Trotskyist leadership is more combative.

I don’t think the Bloc will recover much of what it has lost to the PS. In the March elections it will only be able to recover very little. In relation to the PC, we must know that it was the great party of the left for many years, since it was pointed out as one of the few communist parties that had survived, that had not entered into the process of self-dissolution of Eurocommunism and that maintained a apparatus. It still maintains a fairly stable union and parliamentary representation. Although it is also increasingly an empty shell. For example, younger people in precarious jobs join unions very little. Unions have increasingly low membership rates, adding to the fact that the party suffered a setback in Parliament. The Block had grown quite a bit at the time, but then it regressed. And not only that: the extreme right Chega is fighting to get into the union movement. It has begun to fight this fight precisely with the unions that do not have the support of the PC and the union centers. With the teaching department and with the RTP Workers Commission thay have asked us for meetings that we have rejected.

Portugal’s Socialist Party, in my opinion, has never been a workers’ party. It was formed a few months before the revolution of April 25, 1974 began, in a German spa resort and in a founding congress that fit in three cars. They were all professionals. The history of the PS is associated with Mário Soares and an alternation between supposed socialists and social democrats in different combinations, but the PS as such was never a workers’ party.

A.B.: You have been in conflict…

The strike for wage increases was recently suspended. There was an opening of negotiations. However, the government issued a resolution that exempts public companies from increasing salaries due to inflation. In Portugal there is no inflation like in Argentina, but it reaches 7, 8, 9% annually. In general terms there has been a salary increase of 5%. But the government said public companies can increase only 1%. The RTP administration had decided not to carry it out. Furthermore, there is a situation of labor informality that is not resolved. The Socialist Party government promised to include precarious workers and did so with some, but not with the vast majority. We have rejected all this.

We are also trying to coordinate with colleagues from the teaching union. The teaching struggle, on the other hand, is a precursor example. They called for an indefinite strike in January 2023 in a novel way. They were organized so that every day there were some schools that closed and rotated to maintain the measure indefinitely. This new method of struggle has proven to be very successful and has overcome the isolated 24-hour strikes of traditional teaching unions. With our colleagues from this teaching union we have an agreement to work in a movement to defend public services, health, urban cleaning and other smaller sectors.

A.B.: The genocide of the Palestinian people has generated a great mobilization worldwide. In Europe, how much impact has it had in Portugal?

We have been carrying out the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for several years and we participate in the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which has also carried out several demonstrations. They have nothing to do with other massive events that took place in London or some very important ones that took place in France and Germany, but something is taking place. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that solidarity is weaker in Portugal than in these countries and also with the fact that immigrant communities are less numerous. Due to its low salaries, Portugal is a place of passage. But, for example, we have gone to concerts with Palestinian flags. And suddenly they begin to approach to take pictures with the flags. And none of them are Palestinians. They are Bengali, Nepalense, Maghrebi immigrants and many other countries. The Palestinian flag, in short, has become a symbol of internationalism.

A.B.: How do you see the proposal for international regrouping of the revolutionaries?

It seems very positive to me that the effort is made to maintain an international link between the different national groups that have a common way of facing reality and a common methodology, or at least common points to face reality and respond to it. I hope it advances, because the class struggle requires it.

[1] Public radio and television.

[2] Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has been the Portuguese president since March 2016.

[3] Broad left-wing reformist coalition.

[4] European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF.