V. The Upsurge

Portugal - The Impossible Revolution? -- Phil Mailer



The political repercussions of September 28 only became apparent later in the year. The Party of Progress was banned, most of its leaders arrested and its offices closed. Other right-wing parties likewise ceased activity or at least pretended to. The strike movement meanwhile gathered momentum. During October some 400 factories and companies registered 'disturbances'. These ranged from workers presenting a list of demands to their routing the entire management.

The relationship between the Workers' Committees and the unions is worth looking at in some detail. The unions had been inherited from the fascist regime, in which they had been affiliated to the old ENT created by Salazar in 1934. In most cases they were completely discredited. There were now some 4000 unions across the county, organised by trade. In some instances they would not 'represent' more than half-a-dozen workers. In Lisnave there were 13 unions; in Mabor (the tyre plant), 23; in TAP, 15. The situation was similar in other large enterprises. Small union federations existed in name only, sometimes bringing together strange bed fellows: one of the unions in TAP was the Union of Air Navigators and Seamen. The only large, 'strong' unions were the Union of Bank Employees (which on May 1,1973 had attempted a demonstration in Lisbon) and the Union of Agricultural Workers. Together they were to constitute the hard core of Intersindical, the federation led and run by the PCP. Some unions were still fronts for the ex-PtDE. What Anton Pannekoek and the German Spartacus League had said about the unions in Germany in 1919 was particularly true in Portugal: they were instruments to control the workers.

The immediate response of the workers to the need for autonomous organisation was the General Assembly or 'plenario'. All those employed in a given enterprise would get together to discuss their situation. The plenano would usually elect a Workers' Committee or ad-hoc Commission, which would be entrusted with the task of drawing tip a list of demands. In the organisational vacuum that had followed April 25th the Committees had been thrown up as the natural organisation to defend the workers' interests. They pressed for economic demands and even, at times, for a restructuring of industrial life. Many called for an end to exploitation: profits should no longer be left in the hands of private individuals. Although the Committees were not revolu-tionary organisations (very few of them called for the abolition of wage labour or for an end to the capitalist mode of production), they showed an extreme distrust of the unions and, in many cases, of the new institutions created by the MFA. This is not to say that the MFA was unpopular. Workers just wanted things to move faster. By the end of October 1974 some 2000 such Committees existed throughout Portugal.

The Committees were usually elected for one year and were liable to recall. In some cases this power had already been exercised. Their aims and concerns were wide, and this at times brought them into head-on conflict with the state. The Lisnave Committee for instance was to call the demonstration of September 12, 1974 against the 'anti-strike' law, despite the fact that their proposed march had been banned by the govern-ment and attacked both by the unions and by the PCP cell within the shipyard. Similarly it had been the plenario of TAP workers which had called the strike in July which had led to the 'militarisation' of the airports. The Committees often existed in parallel both with unions and with the official management.

Plenarios and Committees were confronted with a wide and challenging variety of problems. Some were apparently trivial (but on closer inspection proved to be important). Others were clearly significant to all. A few were purely local but many had a much more general relevance. Some related to managerial attitudes and others to attitudes deeply engrained within the working class itself. Difficulties were created by seeking to adapt to a contemporary reality which was still capitalist. But difficulties a so arose through conscious attempts to pre- figure the communist future. It is worth devoting a few pages to these matters. The main problems were:

a)Finding a p/ace to meet accessible to the majority of workers. In most factories this would be the canteen. But sometimes there wasn't a canteen. Or the canteen wasn't centrally situated. Such accidents of geography made it easier for some workers to attend plenarios than for others. In many cases there was nowhere central to meet. Even big enterprises, like TAP, had this problem. Meetings therefore had to be held off the firm's premises. Certain companies, moreover, had very divided labour forces. The company, taken as a whole, was spread over many regions (office staff in Lisbon, factory staff in Setubal, with branches scattered throughout the country). In these cases meaningful representation proved quite a problem.

b)Coping with the political tendencies. Various political parties were operating within the plenArios. Their preoccupations often appeared sectarian to many attending the assemblies. Firstly there were union members, seeking to find a base by getting themselves elected onto the Committees. Then there were the various left groups, using the Committees for purposes of propaganda and recruitment. By raising extraneous issues (talking for instance about 'the traitor Vilar', leader of the PCP-ml, or about 'the traitor Cunhal') they caused all sorts of problems. Factional disputes on the macro-molecular level, which had little to do with the real (and serious) problems at hand, obstructed attempts to see the Company in the general context of the economy. They detracted from the discussion of real issues, wasted working class time and effort, and created mystification. The plenarios were often interrupted by heated arguments, only some of which were relevant to the workers' real concerns.

This was seen most clearly in the plenarios of Setenave, a big ship-repair firm in Setubal, 40 km from Lisbon. In May a strike had been called, which lasted twelve days. The Committee was recalled, for 'fraternising' with management and a new one elected, which grouped all sections: engineers, electricians, welders, etc. This is what one of the workers thought about one of the plenarios: 'The last General Assembly of Setenave had no interest for me. It just discussed a load of matters which had nothing to do with the problems at hand. Parties attacked parties ... you're MRPP, you're PRP, and so on. Everyone was more interested in this than in discussing the real issues. It shouldn't be as a member of a political party that one attacks the Committee, but as a worker. I agree with some of the attacks on the Committee. With others I don't'.

A second participant stressed that 'the workers should be strict in insisting that the plenarios deal only with problems relating to the company or perhaps also with more general problems of workers, unempl9yment, and so on . A third worker said: 'the criticism was directed more against parties than against the real work of the Committee. Criticism is OK ifit's constructive... If April 25th didn't take the money from the capitalists, how on earth was the Committee supposed to do it?' Yet another worker spotlighted a key issue: 'in the base groups we really know each other. We often don't know the people on the Workers' Committee. More members of the base groups are to go onto the Workers' Committee. I agree with this. Everyone should know someone on the Workers' Committee.

Sometimes a much greater unity prevailed, however, and this was seen where workers had understood the need to meet often and to involve themselves to the maximum in the struggles at hand. In the Lisbon electrical engineer-ing company of Efacec-Inel for instance the mere election of a Committee was considered insufficient. A plenino on May 21 presented a list of demands. Another, on June 1, discussed what to do when the management refused the demands. On July 8 a third plenino voted for a strike and occupation. A Defence Committee was set up on the very first day. Later a Cultural Committee, an Information Committee, and a committee to coordinate pickets were also set up. A pa p er was published, which was sent out to other occupie dfactories. Films such as 'Battleship Potemkin' and documentaries about other struggles were shown. Discussions on the nature of the political crisis were organised. Over 90% of the 1000 workers participated.

c)Deciding their own terms of reference. In the plenirios there would often be differences of opinion concerning the demands to be formulated. Sometimes these would reflect differences in the composition of the work force in a given firm. At other times differing policies would be dictated by obviously differing managerial attitudes - or by varying relationships between the management and the MFA.

Propam, an industrial bakery employing some 150 workers, was in many ways typical of the smaller companies. After April 25th a committee had been set up and the MFA invited to visit. Later some office workers and two members of the Committee were sacked (the management claiming that they couldn't pay the minimum wage). The MFA arrived; in the form of two young captains, who accused the management of 'incompetence and lack of lucidity'. A report was sent to the government. The government replied that it had no powers to interfere with private property. The MFA insisted. Finally 3 workers and 3 managers set up an Administrative Committee. Things went well for two weeks, the bosses accepting the will of the workers. But the bosses began to question the 'legality' of MFA interventions in such matters. One of the workers on the Administrative Committee was fired and the other two could do nothing. Sackings began in the offices. The management took advantage of the August closure for holidays to dismiss a large number of workers. A plenario on August 28, decided that a strike was the only solution.

'Our demands were the sacking of the management for incompetence, and the right to work ... The government approached us and asked us nicely not to release our decisions to the press, to avoid "shocks". The Ministry of Finance issued a document on our economic viability as a company. The boss has recently begun writing things on the walls, and also writing lying letters to the government. He has also written to the parents of the younger employees, saying what bad company they were keeping...

Most of the (new) sackings have taken place in the offices, because they supported the MFA officers and refused to obey the management. Also because the boss never comes here (in the factory itself) and it would be hard for him to find a good excuse. Also because we, on the factory floor, are specialised workers and it would be difficult to recruit other qualified staff. There is only one other factory like this in the whole country The boss is an extremely authoritarian person and the simple fact that he cannot now give an order to a worker has become unbearable to him ... He stopped thinking of the interests of his company and began thinking about his own survival and not the survival of 150 workers.

Propam owns 3 factories, a yeast plant, a flour mill and a 'treating plant'. Besides this there is a whole sales and distribution network. There are 1850 shareholders in this company, but a group of 8 people really run it. The shareholders (who own 95% of the capital) don't run anything here Here we have 20 unions for 150 workers. But the y are not organised. We elected a new Committee and presented our demands. There had to be a saneamento. The office workers at first agreed with the Committee but later set up a Committee of their own. We had meetings which continued late into the night and sometimes into the morning. No decisions were taken without a plenino. But there were differences with the office workers, who were mainly in Lisbon. They were more afraid. We were asked not to say what happened at the meetings between us, so that it wouldn't get to the management, who were also in Lisbon'.

More drastic methods were sometimes used, not always unsuccessfully. At Mueller Miquinas Lda the workers had kidnapped the two American managers and kept them prisoners until a ransom of 100,000 escudos was produced. The parent company paid up and lodged a formal protest with the government. The Ministry of Labour replied that in view of recent wage increases the amount was due in back pay anyway. The managers fled. Among the problems discussed were whether or not workers should take part in the management of companies which still remained in private hands: in a nutshell whether or not they should hel p employers increase their profits. This was generally and increasingly rejected. Attitudes were more varied in relation to firms which the workers had taken over and where the employers had fled. At stake were issues central to the whole discussion about self-management, about its recuperation under capitalism, and about its central role in the institutional framework of a socialist society.

d)Problems within the class. The real problems within the class were considerable. They reflected differences of 'status', of age, of sex, and between employed and unemployed workers.

Calls to narrow the range of wage scales produced considerable opposition from the better paid workers. Generally, as in TAP, this was got round by raising the lower scales and freezing the top ones. But in the case of specialised categories (like pilots, who threatened to sell their labour power to another company) these questions were not easily dealt with. There was moreover a definite tendency for the better-paid workers, who were often more articulate, to dominate and sometimes even to manipulate the plenirios to such an extent that other workers walked out.

What the workers were seeking to do (and in many cases achieved) was to tackle certain aspects of the relations of production: the relations they experienced in their daily lives. They discussed what type of oiganisation of work they wanted. This had the effect of lessening the separation of the workers from their means of livelihood, altowing them to situate themselves more consciously within the total process of production. Different functional groups (cleaners, welders, electricians) discussed many issues relating to those functions. As long as capitalism remained, all this was little more than the self-management of their own exploitation: it did not abolish the exchange of labour power for wages. But the insights achieved could be of lasting value to the building of socialism.

Young workers were the most militant. Occasionally scathing leaflets would be handed out in the plenirios, many of them very witty and containing real criticisms of the Committees and of the type of discussion taking place there. A leaflet circulated in an electronics factory in Settibal spoke of how the Committee 'was actually worse than the old management'. Another said: 'we have passed from a situation of hunger to a situation where we can sav we are hungry. Those behind the leaflets were often wrongly called Maoists. Their leaflets tended to be one-off things. The older workers (and in the last analysis the revolution would have to mobilise their support) tended to be more conservative. They had the most to lose. They often warned against 'adventures'. 'Who would pay the wages if the firm was taken over?' they asked again and again. There were often no funds to start with. There was no security. To lose one's job was to jeopardise one's survival. They knew about wage labour. Organisation was paramount, they rightly stessed.

The commitees also had to face up to the machoist attitudes of some workers. In Abel Alves (at Santo Tirso, near Porto) there was a textiles factory employing 600 workers, mainly women. The men earned more than the women, who only got 88 escudos per day. The women wanted to work at night but neither the boss (nor their husbands) would let them. Contradictions of all kinds abounded. After April 25th the firm of Parceria A.M. Pereira began publishing editions of Marx, Engels and Lenin. On February 17, 1975 it was occupied by its workers who may or may not have read the texts, but who had certainly received no pay since September.

The problem of scab labour cropped up repeatedly. The workers of the building firm of Soares da Costa had gone on strike on August 20, 1974 for pay increases. Scab labour had been sent to the site. The scabs were beaten off but 4 workers had to be taken to hospital. The strike lasted six weeks. The number of unemployed workers only made matters worse. In the middle of July some 5000 workers had marched (in a demonstration in Settibal organised by employers in the building trade) shouting 'No to anarchy, the building industry bosses are sons of the people.

The workers of Soares da Costa reacted with imagi-nation and sensitivity to this threat. 'We, the workers on strike, understand the situation of many workers who come from other sites and find themselves without money to buy food, or without lodgings. We are putting our resources at the disposal of these brothers to give them food and somewhere to sleep. Comrades, our struggle is just and we are determined to win'.The workers collected funds and gave out money to unemployed workers, but the task was an impossible one, given the number of unemployed and the men's own hardships.

e)Problems of self-management. In many cases (Timex, Sogantal, Charminha, Sousabreu and others) the management had fled or been routed and the Committees had been left to run the factory. There were many problems in such firms - some of them deak with further in Chapter 11.

At Nefil (a furniture factory in Guimaraes, near Porto) the old management had been completely routed The 237 workers sold the goods produced at the gates and to street distributors. But how was the money to be shared? As one worker put it: 'The question is very difficult. It has really been a headache, this workers' control. People want to adopt a more united, more socialist attitude, those earning more giving some to those who earn less. But this raises a lot of problems. One proposal was to pay out according to the type of work. Another was to pay according to need. Yet another was to pa y everyone the same. People realised that everyone couldn't bep aid equally. If this happened it would cause disunity among the workers. We still haven't reached agreement over this. The proposal to cut some wages and increase others (where there is real need) is the most popular'.

There were problems with this type of sales. At Luso-Vale on December 16 a thousand pairs of rubber boots proved difficult to get rid of. The means of distribution were still in the hands of international capital. It was perhaps the workers in multinationals who were hardest hit by all this. The Workers' Committees were impotent against the might of international capital.

The questions of common ownership and of judicial and effective power over the means of production were rarely raised explicitly (though they were always in the background). Many groups called for nationalisation as a means of achieving such control. Only a few could see beyond this reinforcement of state power, could envisage a genuinely communist society. Problems of immediate survival inevitably surged to the forefront. The workers in occupation needed raw materials, machinery, money. In the absence of any other source if help they were forced to call on the government or on the MFA. Even at Muller,Maquinas Lda, previously referrd to, this is what had happened.

In many firms under self-management the workers continued to produce the same type of goods (but see p256)in most instances there were major problems of distribution. Many of the bigger firms had so scattered their production units that many of their plants only turned out components of the ultimate product.There was no question of being able to sell or distribute such components within the country without a structured distribution network and without an awareness of overall demand. Moreover many of the components were exported. Applied Magnetics, for example, was a branch of an American company. It produced parts for computers, which were then sent to Puerto Rico for assembly. From there the finished products were shipped to the USA. When the workers went on strike and occupied the factory, the company simply folded: 650 people, mainly women, found themselves out of work. A workers' communique' said: 'the reason can only be political. The management are familiar with the political situation in Portugal. Such a move can only be part of a global plan on the part of capitalism.

The clothes factory of Camoda, in Odivelas (in the industrial belt of Lisbon) is a modern building. It was set up with German capital in 1972. The raw materials were bought in Portugal and the finished clothes sent to Germany, where the profits remained. After April 25th the manageress had said that there was no money for wages. The 32 workers began to work a four-day week (the supervisory staff, meanwhile, working full time). The CT went to the Ministry. The employers promised to resume full production within two months. In December the madame fired a member of the CT and called two others into her office. The workers replied by calling her to a shop-floor meeting. She then fired the other two members of the CT, calling them wasters and revolutionaries. 'Why do you call me a revolutionary?' one of the girls asked. 'Is it because, when you come down here and say that there are no wages, we answer that we can't go home without money?'.

The firm was occupied and the workers continued to work. The problem, as usual, was markets. The Minister of Labour promised help. People began to realise that the real issues went much deeper. Employers were using sackings and closures as a means of disciplining workers. But what was posed in reality was the fundamental question of restructuring the whole economy in terms of. communist production, of production for use. The task could only be tinkered with on a local basis.

The workers also had to cope with reactionary propaganda against self-management. In the tourist complex and holding company Grao Par6 they had to deal with pressure from the bosses, who had fled to Spain. The 1300 workers had taken over the whole complex which included hotels and buildings, run companies such as Matur, Grao Para', Interhotel, Somote Orplano, Autodril, EDEC, Comportur and Rota do Atlantico. They were supported widely by other workers. In a communiquC on Christmas day they said: 'Through the strength of its workers Matur has achieved something unprecedented: the conditions to guarantee its own survival. We have frustrated the plans of the management (who are abroad) by achieving an index of 90% bookings ... We denounce the management for threatening our positions through the spreading of rumours . . .' The management abroad were spreading stories to the effect that the hotels were closed, that the service was bad, and so on. The hotels were expensive and continued to be, even under workers' control. In a capitalist society,capitalist economics prevailed.

The unions also created problems for the CTs, often through lukewarm 'support'. At Famalicao the workers of a textile company put out a communique':

'After being vigilant in the factory over the weekend, so that our right to work could be assured, we were surprised when, on Monday morning, the manage-ment and section chiefs didn't turn up. In view of this cowardly action we have decided to start working normally, on our own ... Since the office staff like-wise didn't show up, some of our mates took over these tasks 'Last Friday a group of reactionaries, criminals, well-paid lackeys who sold themselves to the boss, untuned various machines in the blanket finishing section. They took the fuses out of a combing machine, hiding them in one of the turbines. 'The union didn't show up either, as they'd been asked to. In a meeting with a union leader last Saturday the CT presented a minimum programme of 5 points, for collaboration. But they let us down ... in the most difficult hours they preferred to be absent' .

f)Problems of liason. Many small companies invited members of the CTs of larger companies to attend their plenarios. Efacec-Inel, through their CDDT (Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Workers) attended many, like at Fortis-Otis (elevator manufacturers) in Lisbon. These visits paved the way for the setting up of a federation of workers' committees. In their paper Efacec-Inel published news of many of these visits.

When small companies were part of large combines they faced difficulties which could not be solved by mere occupation. For instance the monopolistic group Miguel Quina controlled over 60 companies, including Mabor, Jornal do Comercio, Eurofil (plastics), Icesa (dockyards). In each company there existed separate CTs. An ad hoc Committee was set up, representing the combine as a whole.

Workers employed by CUF, the giant monopoly which comprised some 186 companies ranging from insurance through anirnal fodder to textiles also had problems of communication. A Federation of Workers' Committees was set up to establish and maintain contacts between those employed by the different companies.

g)Saneamento. One of the major problems confronting the CTs was that of saneamento, of purging managements of their former fascist sympathisers. This was often difficult to achieve on a local basis because those to be purged had very deep roots in the economic institutions of the country and because the real power of these institutions (banks, trusts, newspapers, political groups) had scarcely been dented. The struggle over saneamento was often a question of the balance of forces in a particular firm or community. On this background the CTs lost as often as they won.

The experience of Furofil (a textile factory) was interesting in this respect. The 1600 workers had occupied their work place to stop the sacking of 300 of their comrades. The Navy intervened. The sailors (although called in by the management) mixed with the workers and took their side. An ad hoc Committee wrote, concerning this particular firm:

'This group has always had close relations with the fascist regime. It continues to employ people gravely implicated in it. We know how some of these have acted in the past. Goncalves Rapazote, ex-Minister of the Interior and active agent of repression. Guilherme Braz Medeiros, from Diano Popular. Antonio Costa Felix, from the Borges Brothers Bank, who signed the note asking for permission to attend the demonstration of the 'silent majority'. Jose Miguel Maia Pereira from the same bank, a member of the Portuguese Legion and FAC. JosC Costa Deitado, director of the newspaper of the Party of Progress and active member of this neo-nazi party Fernando Pinae Almeida, now in Caxias, who established the link between the P1DB and this company.

The list is interesting in that it gives an idea of what was involved in 'saneamento'. The CT sent a report on the firm to the MFA listing the 'irregularities' and asking for intervention. But this reliance on others (and in particular the MFA) was to prove the main stumbling block in most attempts at saneamento. As a worker in the textile company of Abel Alves de Figueiredo put it, in reply to a question concerning a delegation to the Ministry of Labour: 'If it (the Ministry) has to be cleansed I think it can only be done by the working class itself. The working class has to put this particular house in order'.

The workers were gradually becoming more aware of the global nature of capitalism. Attempts at solidarity became more frequent, the analyses of problems more coherent, the solutions proposed more radical and more political. In issue no.8 of their 'Strike Bulletin' (dated July 17, 1974) the workers of Efacec-Inel put it this way:

'Our struggles are just, and if we strike we shall be heard. This is why we must organise not only against this or that boss, in this or that factory, but against the capitalist system as a whole. 'Comrades often ask: "If there were no bosses, who would give us work?" We all know that to work we need a factory, machines and raw materials. We also know that the factory and the machines were made by other workers, just as it was other workers who sowed the cotton, worked the wool or dug up the iron ore. It therefore isn't the boss who gives us work, but the miner, the metalworker, the farmer. Where did the boss get the money to have his factory? Very easy, comrades. We gave it to him. It is the only way to make a fortune. Those who do the work only get what is necessary to survive. It is the workers who produce the surplus, which the boss uses to buy machines. Since it is workers like us who run the factory, why are bosses needed?

Here in a nutshell were all the problems of Capital spontaneously felt by the workers. The questions were profound, dealing with value, surplus value and wage labour. By December 1974 there were over a hundred of these 'workers' control' situations, by March 1975 over 200. In most instances there had merely been a change of management. The capitalist mode of production never altered. The new management were the committees. And although international capital was uncooperative in terms of sales, credits and raw materials (Marks and Spencer reduced their purchases from Portugal by 60% because they didn't want to trade with 'workers' control'), enterprises continued to function.

It is difficult to draw up an overall balance sheet. Despite the number of meetings communication remained difficult. One of the main shortcomings was the lack of any organisation controlled from below. The unions and parties fought for domination of the plenarios. In many cases the Committees didn't represent the majority of the workers, despite the fact that they had been democratically elected by them. Although an editorial in a strike paper said 'It is only ourselves, organised with other workers, who can change society. Our capacity for work, our sense of justice and social conscience will in the end create the kind of society that we workers want', the workers in many cases put the onus of struggle on the Committees and remained passive themselves, expecting the Committees to get on with it, alone. Power was a hot potato.


There were three basic proposals concerning trade union structure: 'pluralismo', 'unidade' and 'unicidade' (pluralistic, united and monolithic or totally integrated). They had been proposed by the PPD, PS and PCP respectively.

The employers at this stage were weak an dpoorly organised and preferred to deal with a fragmented trade union structure. On October 4, the PPD voiced their viewpoint: 'Pluralismo results from the free assembly of the workers, and not from any law limiting the right to unionise. It is unicidade which has existed since April 25th. This pattern can be seen in all countries where there is a dictatorship, be it of the right or of the left'.

The PS was more sophisticated. It called for unidade (trade union unity). But it opposed the setting up of a single trade union federation to which all workers would belong. It had little industrial base itself and was afraid of the power that would be wielded by the PCP if Intersindical were to become such a federation. Both the PPD and PS were fighting Intersindical though rarely mentioning it by name. The trouble was that Intersindical was giving them the weapons to fight with.

The PCP and its satellites called for unicidade. Their implantation in industry was such that they could readily control any general body that was set up. The unity they wanted was the unity of the spider with the midges caught in its web.

A demonstration was called by Intersindical for January 14. It was supported (because sponsored) by the PCP. The MDP-CDE (which had recently constituted itself a political party) gave immediate support, adding to existing fears that it was merely a front for the PCP. The idea was to have 'one big union' for the whole of Portugal. The Council of Twenty issued a statement claiming that they unanimously supported unicidade.11 Two days before the demonstration the spokesman for the CCP of MFA, Vasco Lourenco, read a statement on TV:

'The MFA knows full well the problems which face the country and has the necessary cohesion to deal with them. It is clear that the vast majority of workers have opted for unicidade. However certain people would like to see a split in the MFA or in its Superior Council. They raise doubts about the positions of its members and make insinuations about some kind of compromise between the PCP and the MFA, saying that this compromise was against the PS and PPD

The question began to threaten the whole Coalition Government. At a meeting of the Council of State both Sa Carneiro and Mario Soares threatened to resign if the law was implemented. Outside the government the question was discussed feverishly. Various groups published detailed posit ions (see Appendix 14) Over the radio stations support for uniddade was read out in communiquCs from unions, in discussion programmes and in programmes dealing with working class history. Radio Clube Portugues and RTP were strong in their support. In fact, outside of the Maoists, almost every left-wing group supported the demonstration which was rapidly becoming more a demonstration of PCP influence (and of its ability to drag all sorts of 'left' and 'revolutionary' organisations in its reactionary wake) than anything relating to the real interests of the working class. Except for small theoretical groups there was no opposition at all. Three hundred thousand workers from all over the country finally massed in Lisbon for the largest demonstration since May 1,1974

Banners were varied: 'Banks for the People, Now'; 'Against Capitalist Unity of Unions'; 'Struggle to create Popular Power'; 'Workers' Government, yes - Bosses' Government, no'. Banners of Workers' Committees and unions floated side by side in the breeze, epitomising the very different ideas prevailing within the class. Passing the PS headquarters the crowds shouted louder and louder 'Out with the CIA, Out with NATO'. From 7 pm the demonstration wound slowly around Lisbon like a gigantic earthworm, pulling itself and its contingents along behind it, flexing its muscles outside hostile buildings, dragging itself along to the offices of the Ministry of Lab our, where representatives of Intersindical and the Minister of a labour himself, Jose Costa Martins, started to speak. Costa Martins said it was 'no longer a question of which type of unity, but rather whether the will of the majority was going to be respected or not'.

The Socialist Party was not going to be pressurised by such a display of force. Their meeting on January 16 brought out 15000 people to defend the idea of pluralismo. Mario Soares who, over the previous days, had been busy discussing Angola with the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA in the Algarve had returned to Lisbon. He turned on the PCP. 'If the PCP don't play the game of democracy this will be a tragedy for the Portuguese people'. Second-in-command Salgado Zenha claimed that 'this was a decisive moment, the future of democracy and socialism is at risk. The proposed law ahout the unions was not made by the unions. It was made at the Faculty of Law in Coimbra... The Provisional Government never knew its content ... As socialists, we oppose the law. The Minister of Labour is in the hands of Intersindical. We also denounce the PCP, which is sabotaging democracy in Portugal'.

Soares followed up this attack by saying that it was not merely a question of the unions. The radio and TV were also being manipulated. 'To give an example: if there was really a million or so workers in favour of unicidade, why was our offer to debate the question on TV refused? Who is afraid of open discussion?

But all this was demagogy. No one was talking about the real issues. The argument between the PPD, PS and PCP was really about how best to control the workers, in the Portugal of the future. Everyone was showing his true colours. On January 21, 1975 - a week after the giant Intersindical demonstration - the Third Provisional Government voted to pass the law. On paper, this tidied things up. In reality things hardly changed. Relations between unions and Committees remained an open question.

Opposition to PCP domination of the trade unions was not confined to the PS and PPD. There was opposition at the base, too. While the politicians felt threatened by the power of Intersindical, the workers did too, but in a very different way. PCP control of the unions was an obstacle to the waging of the class struggle.

As the class struggle could not be wished away it found other means of self-expression.

Most working class demands, as has been shown, were formulated by the Committees, not by the unions. When it came to organising to get anything done the unions in general, and Intersindical in particular, cautioned against striking, saying it would only help the fascists. At this stage a number of Committees - and even some of the unions - openly attacked PCP domination of the trade union apparatus. This took several forms:

The workers in the chemical industry' had been holding plenarios throughout the summer months and these decided to call for an increase in wages. The union - in which the Maoists had some influence - soon found itself in open conflict with Intersindical and attacked it - and its supporters in the media - for restricting free discussion on the question of strikes. At the end of October the union leadership issued the following statement, which was published in several papers: 'We must alert public opinion against the efforts of certain opportunistic forces who use all sorts of methods to control the existing unions and to carry out their treason of the working class. We know the methods of spreading rumours and of lying. But now we see the principal organs of communication openly collaborating in this process.

The union continued its battle against Intersindical and the Intersindical position on strikes, but later broke up. One part fully reintegrated itself into the Committees movement. Those for whom control of a union was more important set up a new group - the AOC - 'to fight the revisionist PCP'.

Other activities, although triggered by specific circumstances, led to eve n deeper insights. The dock workers of the Port of Lisbon had marched into the town on November 11, calling for economic equality with other workers and denouncing the dockers' union as being an ex-PIDE organisation. (The President of the Dockers' Union had been a member of the ANP). 'A total remodelling is necessary' their communique' said, 'since the union is completely implicated in the old regime. We must continue the struggle outside the unions.


In January 1975 it was decided, on the initiative of Efacec-Inel, to set up a Federation of Workers' Committees under the name of Inter-Empresas. This linked 24 firms, among them the largest in Portugal, 'to aid and support workers' struggles . Inter-Empresas formed a bloc on a par with Intersindical and in many ways soon became more popular. The companies represented were: Efacec-Inel, TLP, TAP, Lisnave, Setenave, ENI, Siderurgia, Cergal, Plessey, Timex, cabrica Portugal, Rebel, Dyrup, Tecnividro, Soteenica, Applied Magnetics, Acta, Bertrand, Nitratos de Portugal, Messa, EIP, Pfizer, Xavier de Lima and INE. The workers in many other companies gave support. Some of the firms involved were part of large combines and the workers proceeded to contact their mates in other companies within the combine. The Ministry of Labour didn't help at all, preferring to deal with Intersindical, of whose political support it was sure. The Minister of Labour and the leaders of Intersindical were, anyway, both in the orbit of the PCP.

Inter-Empresas had no political or judicial status either within or outside the production process. Yet the problem of political intervention did not go by default. When NATO forces were scheduled to arrive in Lisbon on February 7, 1975 the government forbade all demonstrations, explaining that the visit was purely a routine one and had been organised a year eadier. Inter-Empresas was not convinced. Nor were thousands of other workers who saw it as an attempt to assert an authoritarian presence in Portugal.

Inter-Emp resas called a demonstration. The govern-ment initial y prohibited it, saying the moment was 'inopportune. The PCP attacked the proposed demonstration viciously, comparing it to the activities of the 'silent majority' on September 28. The PCP then organised a 'carnival' for the same day, which was a traditional holiday. Inter-Empresas remained firm. It reiterated its call or cople to demonstrate both against NATO and against the high level of redundancies. 'We cannot separate redundancies from imperialism. The question of redundancies is not a question of bad management. It is the direct result of a system - the capitalist system - supported by imperialism. We cannot allow NATO, the shock troops of imperialism, quietly to land on our soil'.

On February 6 the 'Federation of Southern Unions' (one of the main sections of Intersindical) put out a statement denouncing the Inter-Empresas call as 'yet another attempt to create confusion among the workers'. But the demonstration went ahead as planned. Some 40,000 people took part. A huge banner, stretching from one pavement to the other led the way. It read:

'Redundancies are the inevitable consequence of the capitalist system. The workers must destroy this system and build a new world'.

The demonstrators made for the Ministry of Labour. Security police arrived in force, but retreated seeing the size of the crowd. COPCON then turned up, and followed the demonstration in jeeps.

As they passed the American Cultural Centre the demonstrators shouted loud and clear: 'Out with NATO, out with CIA'. The soldiers of RAL-I (Light Artillery Regiment no.1), instructed to guard the building, were bewildered. This was no right-wing demonstration. When the demonstrators shouted 'the soldiers are sons of the people' they echoed the slogan, raising their fists in solidarity. It was a sight to melt any proletarian heart. The demonstrators were in seventh heaven.

Outside the Ministry of Labour (deserted by its PCP incumbent) a worker from Efacec-Inel read out a manifesto. He called Intersindical an organisation for class collaboration and said: 'the task of the working class is not to negotiate with the ruling class but to destroy it'. Cheers from the audience. He then gave an accurate description of what was happening. 'The demands in the factories are increasing and the workers are beginning to relegate their union organisations into second place. The Workers' Committees came into existence as the means chosen by the workers to further the class struggle. Reformist and revisionist organisations are attempting to take over the unions and to emasculate the Committees'. Repeated attacks on the PCP were made, though the Party was never referred to by name.

The demonstration certainly had an impact. NATO troops in uniform were refused permission to land, most of them having to spend the week on their ships. February 7 had marked the entry of Inter-Empresas onto the political scene. Its demonstration had been supported by all the revolutionary groups. But Inter-Empresas didn't form a political organisation of its own. The Federation remained economic. Polities, for the moment, was left to the politicians.


The politicians, meanwhile, were looking after their own interests. Major Melo Antunes' Economic Plan was approved by the government on the very next day.

The plan had first been presented to the 'Assembly of 200' on December 6, 1974... as a 'second programme of the MEA'. The 'left' within the Assembly denied, however, that they had had full knowledge of the Plan They sought refuge from the need to commit themselves either for or against the plan by reiterating their confidence in the Supreme Council of the Revolution -'conscious that they would carry out the MFA pro-gramme to the end, namely its anti-monopoly strategy which would help the working class'. Seven days later the government arrested the administrators of three banks (Banco Intercontinental, CrCdito Predial and Sociedade Financeira) ... as well as the former administra-tor of Torralta, the tourist complex (under self-management, anyway). Its anti-monopoly drive then petered out.

The new Economic Plan included 70 short-term measures. Talking about the plan (Dictrio Popular, February 28, 1975) Melo Antunes elaborated on his vision of socialism. 'It excludes the socialilemocratic control of the management of capitalism ... but it does not exclude a pluralistic society ... the class struggle now under way must take into account the alternative role which the middle classes can now play'.Through CIP,47 000 companies announced their support for the new plan.

The demonstrators of February 7 had demanded 'the destruction of the system and the building of a new world. All the government could dish up was a mixture of small-scale nationalisation and a vague Third Worldism: a 'revolutionary' recipe for maintaining capitalism.