LISBON — Tens of thousands of people rallied in Portugal Saturday against the government’s austerity measures, protest organisers said, amid projections that the economic situation was far worse than expected.
Government and private sector workers demonstrated in Lisbon and Porto, following a call by the country’s largest trade union federation to speak out against policies it says threaten “jobs, workers, pensions and social rights.”
Rally organisers claimed 130,000 people demonstrated in Lisbon and 50,000 turned out in Porto. Portugal’s police did not provide an estimate of the crowd, but local media’s tallies said the figures were inflated.
“It is time to change course,” said Manuel Carvalho da Silva, secretary general of the organising CGTP union federation, during a rally closing speech.
“We need a political alternative,” he said, and called for a “week of action” against “impoverishment and injustice”, the watchwords of Saturday’s protest.
He further called for a slew of strikes on October 20 and 27.
In April, Portugal became the third eurozone country after Greece and Ireland to request an emergency bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to deal with its mountain of debt.
In exchange for the 78 billion euro ($106 billion) the country agreed to impose reforms demanded by its creditors, including tough budget cutting measures.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s right-of-centre government, which unseated the Socialists in a June vote, has promised further austerity, which is favoured the EU and IMF, but loathed by those on the streets Saturday.
“No to the IMF’s interference,” read another banner, which included the line: “We are saying no to this programme of aggression.”
Last month, Portugal unveiled plans for a slimmed-down central administration, that included the axing of 1,700 managerial posts from the state administration and 137 public companies.
Demonstrator Rafael Lourno, who works at the finance ministry, told AFP the public sector job cuts and privatisation plans government claims are needed to manage its debt amounted to “a frontal assault against the rights of workers.”
While holding a megaphone, Lourno pointed to specifically to a plan to reduce severance pay to 20 days per year worked, down from 30 days.
“I am fighting not only for my rights but also for the rights of my children and grand-children,” said a retiree, who came to Lisbon on one of the chartered buses.
Earlier this week, Portugal said its economy could contract by a more than anticipated 2.5 percent of gross domestic product next year because of a far gloomier global economic outlook.
In a statement issued ahead of the rally, the CGTP argued that it is the government’s policy decisions that have hampered economic recovery.
But parliamentary affairs minister Miguel Relvas said Saturday that the austerity “track” Portugal is on “is not reversible.”
“We are going to continue to ask for sacrifices from the Portuguese people,” he said.
The government said Friday that it will announce by mid-October a new set of austerity measures for the 2012 budget.
“The people are quite disheartened. They no longer believe in anything and have given up,” a demonstrator in his thirties told local TV as he boarded a Lisbon-bound bus earlier Saturday.
“But they are starting to see the need to demonstrate against the policies of the government.”