Portugal - The Impossible Revolution? -- Phil Mailer
IX. URBAN STRUGGLES
The greatest movements of population in Portuguese history took place during the second (1959-1964) and third (1965-1968) Development Plans. From 1968 on they gained momentum, following the intensification of the wars in Africa. They took the dual form of emigration and of an internal drift to the urban areas.
Emigration has been a permanent feature of Portuguese history since the seventeenth century. In the century before 1968 some three million people probably left Portugal. Between 1900 and 1930 about 750,000 Portuguese settled in Brazil, while another 250,000 ended up in North America. Over half a million people emigrated between 1961 and 1967, and this figure probably doubled between 1967 and April 1974. During the last decade or two, Europe (particularly France) has come to replace the traditional destinations (such as Brazil and the African colonies). Perhaps a million Portuguese are at present in France. Most emigrants leave the northern provinces, the highest figures being recorded from the districts of Viseu and Braganca.
An internal migration has also taken place. The shift from the countryside to the urban areas accelerated during the period of economic expansion, beginning in 1959. In 1960, 16.75% of Portugal's population were to be found in Lisbon. 46% of the people lived in four towns (Lisbon, Porto, Braga and Aveiro). Half the urban population was concentrated in the capital.
The flight from the land and the 'housing' policies of the Salazarist regime led to the formation of shanty towns in the Lisbon suburbs and around Porto and Braga. Salazar's early promise of 'a house for every Portuguese' had, by 1956, been reduced to discussions about 'dualistic development'. Sedas Nunes, a fascist author, could write that 'two societies coexist in Portugal and the "modern" is rapidly overtaking the "traditional".' The contradictions of capitalist development were attributed to the 'traditional' attitudes of the agricultural population, or 'explained' by homilies about 'habitual' poverty. Such concepts allowed the authorities to close their eyes to what was really happening.
Glimpses of reality filtered through the official statistics. In 1960, for instance, 34,000 families were said to be living in shanties (18,400 in Lisbon and 1900 in Porto). Some 136,000 families were quartered in 'sublets' and 'parts' of houses. 330,000 families were in overcrowded conditions'. Allowing 4 members per family, some 2 million Portuguese (a quarter of the total population) therefore 'officially' lived in substandard housing. (Expresso, February 22, 1975.) Thousands of families lived 6 to a room, in wooden shacks, without water, drains or electricity. Imagine the strains, poverty, misery, deaths. Such was the fascist heritage.
In contrast the middle classes had it good, especially in Lisbon and Porto. Overvalued land sites and housing programmes devoted to the building of expensive homes had gradually forced the working class out into the suburbs. Schemes to create municipal housing estates were not only hopelessly inadequate in terms of need but merely camouflaged the relocation of workers in the outer districts. Boroughs (Bairros Camararios) designed to house state employees came to constitute some 10% of the total housing provision in the country. Insecurity of tenure ensured control over the inhabitants.
The situation worsened in the early sixties, when only 4.3 units per 1000 inhabitants were built (the lowest rate in Europe). By 1974 the percentage of families without a house had reached 33%. Such people had three options: to buy or rent a shanty, to move into an already rented house, or to emigrate, if they could.
Shanty towns: These had been built illegally, usually of wood or tin. Families of 8 or 10 would live in a single room. The land was often privately owned and a 'landlord' would charge rent, which would vary from 200 to 400 escudos a month. The buildings would be erected either by potential dwellers or by people already in the shanty towns, to be sold or further rented as the 'owner' wished. Misery exploited misery. Monopolies within the shanty towns were not unknown. Although predominantly a Lisbon phenomenon, shanty towns also existed in many other parts of the country
Sublets: A building would often be rented by an entrepreneur, who would then sublet it (on a room by room basis) making a fat profit in the process. The 'landlord' generally cared little for the conditions in which tenants lived. Thus 3 or 4 families would be squeezed into an apartment of 4 or 5 rooms. This was the predominant housing pattern in Porto and Braga but was also widespread in Lisbon (in particular among families from Cabo Verde).
Property owners: Most new housing was put up by private companies. By limiting the amount built (and thus influencing rents) they dominated the supply situation. Only 35,000 units were erected annually during the period 1960-70, while the deficit in 1960 required that over 50,000 units be built each year. Rents rose as demand increased. Only the petty-bourgeoisie got anything from the new housing. The poor became yet poorer, in terms of what they could buy.
Working class and petty-bourgeois housing: Because of high rents (new houses coming onto the market fetched up to 1000 escudos per room, per month), working class and poorer middle class people had to make big sacrifices just to get or keep a roof over their head. Rent alone accounted for at least 40% of the family budget in the Lisbon area (and in some cases for much more). In old working class districts rents could only be increased every five years, and only on a percentage basis. Here rents remained lower. In other areas new families moving in were exposed to the worst forms of exploitation. Many were forced out into the 'dormitory towns', in the suburbs. Living there entailed all the hardships of poor transport, fatigue, separation, and internal pressure on the family unit itself. Workers would leave in the morning, spend up to an hour getting to work, return home at night tired and irritable, watch TV, fight with their relatives and grow more frustrated every day.
Health servzces etc Under the former regime, 6.5% of the wage was deducted each month for the Caixa da Previdencia, supposed to operate as a social service. From 1970 on most of this money had gone to finance the colonial wars, through loans to the state. State hospitals existed, but the waiting lists were long and various charges restricted access. Only the private clinics were reliable and these cost more than any working class family could afford. In most capitalist countries there is some sort of health service, designed to keep working people in reasonable condition. In Portugal only a minimum infrastructure existed. Portugal had fewer doctors (0.85 per 1000 people) than any other Western country. What doctors there were attended their wealthier patients and left the workers to fend for themselves. Infant mortality rates were high (84 per 1000). Only half the childbirths were carried out under medical guidance. Back-street abortion was rampant. According to Combate some 150,000 such 'operations' took place each year. Corruption was the norm and while the workers received virtually no help certain directors of the Caixa da Previdencia did extremely well.
April 25th saw an explosion of information as to the 'state of the nation'. The new government made feeble attempts to right some of the wrongs belatedly discovered. Departments were reshuffled. The 'Junta for Internal Colonisation' became the 'Institute for the Reorganisation of Agriculture'. The FFH ('Fund for Housing Development') was restructured and purged. On May 14, 1974 the Junta issued a statement dealing with the spontaneous seizures of empty property which had taken place in the first few days. The 'undisciplined occupations of houses' were seen as 'reflex actions against the ineffectiveness of official departments which never found a solution to problems'. The Junta 'would not now call for their evacuation, but would not legalise these occupations either'.
Decree No.217/74 froze all rents at what their level had been on April 24,1974. A law was passed soon after, allocating some 5 billion escudos to housing and granting certain tax exemptions to builders. The government was clearly supporting the private construction industry as a means of coping with the housing shortage. It was hoped this allocation would result in an increase in dwellings of 10 to 25% in a year, but even this was hopelessly inadequate.
The workers' reply was a spate of further occupations in May and June 1974. This forced the government to introduce a new law, on September 12, limiting to 120 days the time during which any house could be left vacant. The authorities even spoke of publishing lists of empty houses. The landlords weren't worried. They easily got round the threats by producing a series of fake rent books and contracts. In November 1974 decree no.663/74 was passed. It further subsidised the private building industry by granting it yet more tax concessions.
Following the reshuffling and purging of the FFH (Fund for Housing Development) certain 'progressive' officials created a Mobile Service for Local Control (SAAL). This was a semi-governmental agency, geared to 'assisting the urban struggle'! The local authorities in Lisbon set up the Cabinet for Housing (CTH) and the Empresa Publica de Urbanizacao de Lisboa (EPUL). These bodies, in turn, appointed Brigades for Local Support (BAL) in the Lisbon area. The original ideas behind both SAAL and BAL were similar: to defuse the explosive housing situation with a series of promises, and control things from above.
Many revolutionaries joined SAAL, radicalising it considerably. SAAL's unconditional support for occupations, for example, was not at all what the government had in mind. An endeavour to split the organisation took place in November 1974, with an attempt to set up a parallel but more reformist group (SAC). Despite its left image it was only after March 3, 1975 (and the purging of the new conservative president of the FFH) that SAAL actually sought to take on a mobilising role, helping in the setting up of Neighbourhood Committees. SAAL denounced the housing estimates issued by FFH (according to which only 60,000 units needed to be built in 1975 and 90,000 units in 1978). SAAL also criticised the proposal that the state should pay 40% of the cost of each house, leaving the future residents to pay the balance through loans repayable at 7½%.
Occupations had two main purposes: to put a roof over one's head or to establish a political office. The second kind was usually supported by COPCON. One occupied and then phoned them. They in turn informed the police.
Squats were a very different matter. When on November 26, 260 families from a shanty town moved into an empty apartment block at Chelas, near Lisbon, COPCON ordered them out. The families held their ground. COPCON had to back down. Other occupations quickly followed. The paper Revolucao described statements made to it in Lapa, a mainly bourgeois area with a shanty town in its centre:
'Here some houses have been empty for 18 years and are still in good condition. Eighteen families who occupied such houses have signed contracts with their landlords. But some landlords won't do it. Some get court orders. Some see their lawyers and decide to rent the houses. Rents vary from 500 to 1500 escudos per month. If the Residents Committee (set up to defend the occupations) could be legalised we could summon the landlords and if they refused to turn up we could penalise them, even arrest them. But, as things are, we can't go any further as we don't have the powers. If they've kept their houses empty for so long and never made improvements it must mean they don't need the money. We are the ones who need the houses. We are on the brink of a revolution. In my view there is going to be bloodshed between landlords and occupiers. I have six kids and a seventh in my belly. I will go with all seven and a house will have to be arranged for me. The house I'm in now is owned by a guy who owns banks in Brazil. He says he wants to demolish it and has permission from the Council. This shows that the rich still have the law on their side. They have influence inside the Council... Nobody, at this moment, should evict us. If the police tried or started shooting it would lead to riot, COPCON would then have to decide which side they are on.'
In Bairro das Fonsecas shanties had been broken up by the police before April 25th. A special 'housing' police force backed by the PPS had been used. In Porto, where the sublet situation was critical, the residents of Block 402, Rua de D. Joao IV, put out a manifesto to the workers of the city;
'Sublets are still sanctioned by law and we can be put out of our homes. We are 15 families here: with 20 children, a total of 100 people. The building has no amenities. There is not even a bathroom, we have to go to the Municipal Baths to wash. The ceilings are falling in. There is only one toilet and no flush. It's wet right to the basement. A pig wouldn't live here. We pay rents of 600 to 1000 escudos for small rooms where our families live. Our landlord, Maria de Costa Pereira, owns many buildings like this. She refuses to fix anything. The electricity in the house is very dangerous... We refused to pay the September rent saying we'd only pay after the necessary work on the block had been d one. We put the money aside. She took us to Court and now we are faced with a dispossession order. We went to the FFH. We went to the government. They all said they had no authority, they couldn't do anything. They also said they thought we'd lose our case. They said sublets were legal. The law protects them, like it protects all those who exploit the workers. Is this fair? Everyone told us to be patient, to be calm. They told us to write out 'papel selados' (official petitions, on blue paper, bearing a government stamp). How can we be calm and patient when we've lived in this misery for so long? Only those with no problems can afford to be patient. We would like to solve the problem legally, but we see that the laws are not on our side. We have no time or money for lawyers. And anyway the laws defend the parasitical sub-letters, not us. This isn't a democracy: this is fascism. Given this, we shall make our own law and take our rights. 1) We won't allow anyone to be thrown out of the block. 2) We demand that the work be done quickly, starting with the electricity. 3) We want the end to sublets and a contract between us and the owner. 4) We want all workers to unite and fight for good houses. Down with subletters and capitalists. Rua de D. Joao IV, 402. Porto, 23/10/74
On October 26 the residents of this block invaded the Camara (Council) in Porto, together with residents from other sublet blocks. Their rents were waived for the months of September and October.
House occupations increased during January and February 1975. LUAR and MES played important roles in obtaining buildings for 'Workers' Centres', 'infantirios', 'Creches' and 'Popular Clinics'. The luxurious private clinic of Santa Cruz, near Lisbon, was seized by its workers and renamed 'the Hospital of April 25'. The local population and LUAR helped with the arrangements and certain doctors offered their services free. For a while the clinic functioned but eventually ceased to do so for lack of financial support. The workers, however, remained in occupation. Similarly FSP opened a 'Popular University' in Porto, aimed at 'helping the development of revolutionary groups and the discussion of political texts'. There were no exams, no fees, no diplomas - but few workers enjoyed this kind of diet .Children and adults could attend. Mansions and palaces around the country were taken over by various groups as offices. In general the buildings had been empty for years. The occupations were not legalised and no rent was paid.
In Campo de Ourique (Lisbon) there were some 400 empty houses and the local Neighbourhood Committee began to take them over. It fixed a 'social rent', to go towards improvement. The government, alarmed at the extent of the occupations (which by April 1975 had reached 5000 in the Lisbon area alone) moved to a harder line. It refused to legalise some of the occupations. The Coalition parties (including the PCP) began to forbid their militants from taking part in this sort of activity. Nuno Portas, Secretary for Housing, ex-MES, ex-PCP. condemned 'spontaneous' occupations because they were 'outside of state control.
Two types of autonomous organisation were thrown up in response to the housing crisis. The first were the Autonomous Revolutionary Neighbourhood Committees (Comissoes Revolucionarias Autdnomas de Moradores, or CRAM). They were usually based on the older working class and lower middle class areas. Although they had a general critique of private property, they were more concerned with how to use empty houses and with the setting up of community services such as creches, etc. After March 1975 it was these Committees (some 38 existed in Lisbon alone) who initiated most of the occupations. The Committees would be elected in General Assemblies grouping all the residents of a given area. The assemblies were usually large, up to 500 people attending. They wbuld discuss the problems of the neighbourhopd and make suggestions as to what should be done. Clearly, party politicA struggles took place within these bodies. But most Committees were not dominated by any particular party. Such was the popular aversion to party-politicking that those elected to the Committees often had to hide their political affiliations.
The other organisation thrown up had a different origin and was a response to a more pressing need. The 'Inter-Comissoes de Bairros da Lata e Moradores Pobres de Lisboa' brought together delegates from 30 different shanty towns. It came to represent some 150,000 people and saw itself as the non-party and independent organisation of shanty town dwellers.
'Inter' was critical of CRAM whom it termed 'bourgeois'. This was not strictly true, though the respective areas of concern were clearly different. 'Inter' would have nothing to do with 'parties who come here to ruin the work which we ourselves have done'. It consciously avoided being trapped into relationships or deals with local government offices, because 'these only serve bureaucracy and talk, and are staffed by individuals who live in good houses and know nothing of our problems'.
On February 15, 1975 'Inter' nevertheless presented a list of demands. It also came out against the government's plan for 'self-help in building', whereby the authorities would provide free bricks to shanty town inhabitants to build their own houses. 'Inter's document speaks for itself;
'At meetings, it was seen that the Brigades (BAL) could not resolve our problems (drainage, water, refuse, etc.). Neighbours in some areas decided that the struggle would have to be taken into their own hands. They decided to occupy houses, even though the government had decided that such occupations were illegal. This was forced on us by necessity. As workers we all know that it is we who produce the wealth of this county, and that despite this we have no right to a decent house which we could rent with our wages, no right to creches, to schools or gardens for our children. Because of this thirty Neighbourhood Committees came together. We demand that new boroughs be built in places which concern us, where we live today, and where most of us were born. Workers are being moved to the outskirts of the city because others want to build shops and offices in the centre. The government speculates on land. They offer to lend us 60,OO0 escudos per house, at an interest of 7.5%. 60,000 escudos won't get us anywhere, let alone pay back the interest on this loan. With respect to these subsidies we cannot forget that they represent only a tiny part of the surplus value which we produce daily at work, and of which we are robbed by the capitalist class. We don't have to whine for what is ours by right. We demand that our problems be solved. And they must be solved without our need fattening those who exploit us. T his happens when speculators and those who exploit land through indemnities help capitalist building firms. It also happens in the case of 'self-help in building'. People say that 'self-help in building' is good, that we build our houses ourselves. In reality it means a double exploitation. After a day's work, filling the pockets of capitalists, we are expected to work up to our eyes building houses. 400,000 people are today unemployed, thrown onto the streets and into misery by capitalists. Work must be given to these brothers. Why not employ them in civil construction? Plans for housing cooperatives are a way out for the government. Through such plans the government can avoid having to pay for the building of new houses. It allows them to control our just demands... The neighbours of various shanty towns and the poor of Lisbon and its suburbs are fed up with all the false promises to solve the housing problem. We reject all the anti-popular measures which only seek I to con the people, and to delay the solution of our problems. 'Inter', uniting the various Committees and cooperatives takes the following stand. We demand the following concrete measures: 1) that new boroughs be built in existing areas 2) the expropriation of free and occupied land, within existing boroughs, as a way to rehouse the people. We want a definite answer as to which lands can be taken over and when 3) a reply as to when work will start in the building of new boroughs, and what they will be like 4) the right to decide the type of houses to be built 5) the right to organise in cooperatives. Loans should be repayable at 2% over 25 years. 6) in the case of boroughs which choose social housing, rents should not exceed 10% of the wages of the head of the family (without 7) information about funds to be allocated to the shanties by the council,with details as to what they are for,so that those concerned can control the funds 8) that all urgent cases presented by Committees (including BAL and EPUL) be immediately dealt with 9) a reply to demands already made by other shanty towns 10) that as long as adequate houses are not built the occupation of empty houses be ma de legal 11) that a member of 'Inter' be present at the various meetings between the Lisbon Council and EPUL 12) that house distribution, either by the Cabinet, or by EPUL, or by Foundations, or by any other official body be controlled through representatives of the inhabitants We reject. 1) Self-help in building' 2) Renovation or recuperation of existing boroughs, as well as the use of pre-fabs 3) the existing legislation about cooperatives, which is merely a method to fool the people and delay solutions (for example the need to muster 200 members, etc., when the general law only requires 50).' Inter-Comissdes, 15/2/75.
Although widely referred to in the national press, the document was ignored by the government, whose members at this time were more interested in the elections than in concrete problems such as those being raised.
By the beginning of April some 20,000 occupations had been reported throughout the country. On April 14, 1975 the government, alarmed at its lack of control over the situation, passed a law (DL 198-A) which legalised all collective occupations (creches etc.) but forbade squats. The left lined up against the centre (PCP,PS) to fight this law.
CRAM called a demonstration on April 19. This was supported by various groups though none were allowed to carry banners. Another demonstration on May 17 called by 'Inter', also condemned the new law and called attention to their demands of February 15. This demonstration brought some 10,000 shanty town dwellers into Lisbon, chanting 'Houses, yes, Shanties, no'.
INTER, CRAM, SAAL AND THE SHANTIES
The differences between Inter-Comissbes and the Neighbourhood Committees (CRAM) are worth dwelling upon, for they illustrate the complex dialectic operating within the class. 'Inter' fully realise that the situation of those it spoke for was different from that of workers already housed. But by its demands and organisation it revolutionised the latter. Other Neighbourhood Committees (whether related to CRAM or not) had a more mixed membership (embracing teachers, office workers, etc., as well as factory workers) and therefore tended to look at things differently.
For the shanty town dwellers, a house was crucial. More important, for workers already housed, were questions of the control (or abolition) of rents and of the control of space. Such workers could not be dismissed as 'privileged' just because they had a roof over their heads.
Still deeper problems existed. The shanties were not united. Some owners of shanty 'property' actually 'rented it out to others. Within the same town, black (Cabo Verde) shanties might exist quite separate from white Portuguese ones. The families who lived in shanty huts worked in different industries. In general they were workers without contracts, casual labourers, or navvies in the building industry.
While in many shanties the setting-up of Neighbourhood Committees was enthusiastically greeted, in other areas apathy prevailed. This can't be explained solely in terms of 'habitual poverty' and other such reactionary interpretations. Apathy might also imply that those concerned felt their struggle was being directed by others.
This was a dilemma which the 'technical helpers' of SAAL were well aware of. SAAL, after establishing the original contacts, generally lay low, rarely intervening in the assemblies. Those seeking to work through SAAL were limited by the whole slowness and bureaucracy of the state apparatus (in relation to finances, etc.). The manifesto of Inter CRAM faced different problems. The Neighbourhood Committees were subject to party political interference (from PRP, UDP, etc.) in the sense that those who were more 'political' got into leading positions. Those on the platform would use a specialised
'political' language which was off-putting for the others.Some refused to speak,because they would not talk this way. The party 'ideologues could thus rise to 'leadership' all the more easily. Even the Committees, manipulated from the platform, could take over meetings by rejecting or dismissing motions.The issues raise during meetings of the Neighbourhood Committees were of a wider kind than those discussed in the shanties. In general the function of CRAM was to collect information on the area and then occupy all the available houses. But the PRP-BR's preoccupation with 'building the Party' through the Committees (the PCP, MES and UDP were doing much the same thing) was hardly conducive to unity. In general these groups, while they helped in the sense of supplying paper for leaflets, calling meetings, etc., had a negative effect on the dwellers themselves. Once a Committee was felt to have been taken over by a particular group, many left it.
The Neighbourhood Committees were moreover limited by the very structure of space and work in Portugal. The vast majority of workers lived in one area and worked in another. This allowed but little contact between the factories and the living areas. The Workers Committees were attended during the day, the Neighbourhood Committees during the evening, if at all.
Shanties surrounded by bourgeois housing estates (like in Cruz Quebrada, near Lisbon) were often prone to bourgeois pressures. Here, individualistic solutions often lay just below the surface. In the Falgueiro shanty, for example, a woman who could not pay even the minimum rent (£2 per week) was criticised by the other dwellers.
A number of shanty town dwellers began to construct their own homes over the wooden structures. They would build one wall this weekend, another the next, until a house was formed. This happened on a big scale near Odivelas, one of the Lisbon dormitories.
The shanties were the 'great shame' of Portuguese capitalism. They were an obvious eyesore and everyone was intent on 'getting rid of them at all costs'. But thinking seldom went beyond this. What would the shanties be replaced by? What would the new communities be like? Such problems were hardly ever aired in the Assemblies. There was here a universal paralysis of imagination. Would the 'pressures' in the new houses (if and when shanty town dwellers ever got them) really be less than in the old huts - or merely of a different kind? These questions were never openly discussed, because never openly admitted as relevant. The silence of the left on these issues could be heard for miles around.
The shanty town dwellers wanted a quick solution to their problem. They wanted to keep their culture, built up over decades, intact. The conditions in which they lived (no water, no electricity, no drains and all the pressures of living in overcrowded space) had to be changed for the better. But how and to what end? To make of them 'better workers', so that they could be more efficiently exploited? By getting them to accept ideas which allowed a greater extraction of surplus value from them by the ruling class (whether represented by the state or not), as in the various programmes for 'self-help in building'?
At the beginning of June 1975 the overall situation was still open. The dominant class was still in power. But it was having difficulty in maintaining its rule. The working class (housed or not) continued to press for all it could get, as and when it could get it.
MACHISMO AND THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT
No discussion about housing and urban struggles would be complete without specific reference to women. In societies where most women stay at home it is they who bear the brunt of bad housing. The situation will be described realistically and without false optimism. It was riddled with contradictions. The urban struggles were very positive. The feelings of hope and joy which they gave rise to are difficult to describe. They had so many facets: freedom on the streets, freedom to come and go, tiny changes which made a great difference to everyday life. Women felt this freedom. A woman from 'Tinturaria Portugalia' (a dry-cleaning firm), when asked about the greatest change she had experienced after April 25th, had said: 'Before, I was locked up in my house. I don't know why. After, I came out onto the streets, in the demonstrations... There's no describing the joys I have lived since April 25th'. My ex-neighbour too was exhuberant in her confidence. She began to criticise me for not having gone to demos she had attended. These were real changes.
But there was another side to the coin. Women were second-class citizens. 1975 may have been 'Women's Year' elsewhere in the world. It was not so in Portugal.
The real problems of women in Portuguese society were immense. Before April 25th they were legally disadvantaged in many ways. Divorce was forbidden. Contraceptives could only be obtained on prescription, and so were not available to the poorer classes. The glories of motherhood and fertility were widely proclaimed in an effort to supply future white rulers and soldiers for the colonies. I clearly remember a pregnant fisherwoman near Nazare', before April 25th, patting her belly and saying resignedly 'This is for the war'. Abortion was illegal, even when the woman's health was threatened.
Matrimonial relations were almost feudal. A husband could legally open his wife's letters. She couldn't leave the country without his written permission. All economic decisions were by statute in his hands. In law she remained a serf to her husband's wishes.
Some things changed after the coup but it is difficult to imagine army officers being particularly sympathetic to women's problems. A movement to make divorce possible grew and campaigned throughout the country.
MDP-CDE gave it support. The law was finally altered, although abortion continues to be illegal. Contraceptives can still only be obtained on medical prescription.
A decree passed soon after April 25th said that the state would henceforth be responsible for children: 'the nationalisation of children' as one woman doing her shopping in the market called it. In fact the decree removed from the family (and from the father in particular) their right to do what they liked with the children. It established penalties for child-beating and ill-treatment.
Housewives were called do nas de casa (the mistress of the house). Especially in the North, they were often called 'the boss' by their men. This wasn't only condescension: it was real in a limited way. But because it was limited, it was derogatory. Many terms insulting to women existed in the language: a girl who slept with men was a puta (prostitute) while a man who had sex with girls was a stud to be admired.
In the period 1969-74 the number of working women increased rapidly because many potential male workers were abroad, fighting. But their wages were lower. Even after April 25th the CTTs (work contracts, established for each trade) were loaded against women. In the PCP-dominated cooperatives (around Beja especially) the women worked from 6 am to 8 am in the house, then went to the fields, picking olives, etc. Between 7 pm and 10 pm they did more housework. Yet they were paid less than the men who worked from 8 am to 7 pm. In other, more independent, cooperatives, near Lisbon or in Setitbal for example, the women received equal pay for their farm work.
Machoist attitudes die hard. The men often defended their higher wages by claiming that their work was more productive. But when the women pointed out that picking olives was a job the men wouldn't want to do, the argument seemed somewhat shallow. Such questions were never really resolved and machoism persisted.
On January 13, 1975, there had been a meeting in Parque Eduardo VII sponsored by the MLM (Movement for the Liberation of Women). About ten women carried posters and placards. This sparked off one of the most reactionary counter-demonstrations ever seen. The women had stated:
'We shall burn objects which are examples or symbols of the oppression of women. We shall destroy, for example, the Civil Code and the Penal Code of Portugal, which are now in force, as well as the Labour legislation. All of them endorse an inferior position for women and the subjection of women to men. We shall burn pornographic magazines which use the female human body as a sexual object; dusters and brooms which symbolise the women as slaves in the home, as domestic servants; books in which the image of women is presented in a totally deformed way, created by men, and in which she becomes everything he has made her; nappies as a symbol of the myth of the woman as mother-who-makes-all-the-sacrifices (the father is the lawmaker), who does the hard work, who faces the sleepless nights; toys which, from an early age, show children very clearly the roles in society to which they are destined, depending on whether they are boys or girls, toys which in boys are conducive to aggressiveness and violence (like machine guns and tanks) and which condition girls to the passive roles of mother and housewife (like dolls and little pots and pans). 'We hope that 1975, International Women's Year, will at least call attention to the scandal which these facts represent, and to the fact that half the world's population (53% in Portugal) are subjugated (controlled, mastered) just because they are women'.
The proposed demonstration was publicised in the most trivial manner. A Capital (a serious paper on the national level, an don most other subjects) treated the whole thing as a joke. It only announced the 'bra-burning' episode. Like all other newspapers it promised a 'striptease'. The MDM (PCP-controlled women's organisation) violently denounced the demonstration. Crowds of men turned up and began to boo. They jeered and taunted the girls. The women only escaped by a hair's breadth from being severely manhandled.
Reporting this demonstration, 0 Seculo flustrado (January 17) condemned the men:
'lt is probably the same people who applauded the glorious victories of Caetano, who spread flowers on the streets for the little dictators to walk on, who congratulated themselves on the massacres in the colonies and diligently informed the PIDE, who for half a century supported the brairnwashing and the oppression, who are today opportunistically demonstrating for democracy. Good democrats, all'.
The MDM, although involved in women's struggles, was more intent on defending the family than in discussing more basic problems of women. It directed struggles into channels which, while important for families (like creches, financial assistance for children, parks and so on) were not primarily related to women themselves, or to the roles assigned to them in class societies.
After the break-up of the MLM demonstration radical women were genuinely frightened of engaging in further political action. A whole area of the struggle for liberation had been successfully gagged.