Top Portugal union readies big anti-austerity rally

* Mass rally on Saturday, unions say to intensify protests

* General strike possible in coming weeks

* Little chance of government collapse foreseen

By Shrikesh Laxmidas

LISBON, May 28 (BestGrowthStock) – Portugal’s biggest labour group
girded for a mass protest rally through central Lisbon on
Saturday in the first serious test of government resolve to
carry out painful austerity measures.

The 725,000-strong Confederation of Portuguese Workers
(CGTP) is also leaving open the option of calling a general
strike in the coming weeks.

Public protest over financial cutbacks imposed on wage
earners to cut yawning budget deficits has been muted in
Portugal so far compared with elsewhere in the EU, especially
the violent unrest seen in debt-hobbled Greece.

But the CGTP said Saturday’s rally would signal a strategy
of escalation driven by outrage over the government’s cutbacks.

“It’s a stage in a continuous struggle that we will
intensify. We’re leaving all options open, including calling a
national general strike,” Armenio Carlos, member of CGTP’s
national leadership committee, told Reuters on Friday.

“What we are going to see on Saturday is one of the largest
protests in recent years in Portugal, an expression of the sense
of indignation and injustice the workers feel over the
government’s austerity measures,” he added.

A mass rally by teachers in November 2008 brought together
as many as 120,000 protesters in central Lisbon.

FIGHTING DEBT CONTAGION

The minority Socialist government, with the support of the
main opposition party, the Social Democrats (PSD), announced tax
increases and spending cuts on May 13. They added to austerity
measures such as a freeze on civil servants’ wages approved
earlier in its medium-term economic programme.

The plan aims to soothe investor concerns over Portugal’s
creditworthiness and fight contagion from debt-stricken Greece.

It seeks to cut Portgual’s budget deficit to 7.3 percent of
gross domestic product this year from 2009’s high of 9.4
percent, and then gradually to 2.8 percent by 2013.

Analysts say the relatively low level of social conflict in
Portugal and the PSD’s strategy of backing the austerity plan
for now mean there is little chance of a government collapse
before the next presidential mandate starts in March 2011.

“We expect the government will go even further in next
year’s budget in terms of the sacrifices it forces on the
workers, and we want to take a stand against that right now,”
the CGTP’s Carlos said.

Unlike what happened in a civil service strike in March, the
CGTP rally will not have the support of the second-largest
union, the 500,000-strong General Union of Workers (UGT).

Traditionally close to the ruling Socialists, the UGT
criticised the additional austerity measures but said it would
not participate in anti-government protests.

The rally does, however, have the backing of the Communist
Party, whose no-confidence motion on the government failed in
parliament last week, the Left Bloc and the FENPROF teachers’
union, which was responsible for the massive rally in 2008.

Stock Market Today

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Top Portugal union readies big anti-austerity rally