PORTUGAL IS PREPARING for a day of all-out national strike today, as part of a nationwide public protest against the country’s austerity budget which is set for approval in parliament on Friday.
The country’s two main trade unions, UGT and CGTP, are both holding a national day of industrial action – the first time in 0ver two decades that the two unions have arranged co-ordinated protests – and will involve workers from both the public and private sectors.
The two unions between them have over 1.5 million workers, and an overwhelming majority of them are expected to take part.
Opposition to the severe Budget is widespread, and its passage was only secured after the Social Democratic Party, the largest opposition party – which had threatened to block its passage – agreed to abstain on the vote.
Left Bloc leader Francisco Louca, who commands the fourth-biggest share of the Assembly of the Republic, has slammed the package, saying it would “penalise families with tax increases and salary cuts”.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates, however, has pledged to remain in power and attempt to introduce the budget in efforts to avoid becoming the third Eurozone country – after Greece and Ireland – to require a bailout.
100% of staff on the Lisbon Metro system walked out of work at midnight, along with the entirety of the staff in many of the country’s city and town halls.
Private businesses and transport have been massively affected; the Wall Street Journal reports that the two largest main commuter lines into the country’s capital have also been shut down, while the majority of air travel into the country has also been hit.
The Irish Independent reports that Ryanair has cancelled four flights to Faro airport – two each from Dublin and Cork – while Aer Lingus has cancelled its flight in both directions between Lisbon and Dublin.
Ryanair alone has been forced to pull 60 flights across its entire European operation as a result of the strikes, and claims that the industrial action is more disruptive to its operations than the volcanic ash cloud had proven earlier this year.
Portugal’s finances are under such strain that the archbishop of Braga has called on priests in his diocese to donate a month’s wages to those suffering hardest in the crisis.
“We live in extremely serious times. We cannot ignore this and must show a concrete love for the people,” Archbishop Jorge Ortega said in a letter to priests, AFP reports.
The cost of borrowing for the Portuguese government has this morning breached the 7% mark, for the first time since November 11.
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