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Portugal: A Protest Generation, Foolish and Scraping By

Hostilities have commenced. On March 12, in many cities across the country and outside Portuguese delegations throughout the European Union, youth are taking to the streets. According to the organization, the Geração à Rasca [The "Scraping-By" Generation] Protest is a “non-partisan, secular and peaceful protest, aiming to strengthen participatory democracy in the country” [pt]. It emerged as a spontaneous event on Facebook and, in less than a month it has gathered more than 50,000 [Update: 64.639] intentions to participate:

Poster for the "Scraping By" Generation Protest from the event created on Facebook

Poster for the "Scraping By" Generation Protest from the event created on Facebook

Nós, desempregados, “quinhentoseuristas” e outros mal remunerados, escravos disfarçados, subcontratados, contratados a prazo, falsos trabalhadores independentes, trabalhadores intermitentes, estagiários, bolseiros, trabalhadores-estudantes, estudantes, mães, pais e filhos de Portugal. Protestamos:
- Pelo direito ao emprego! Pelo direito à educação!
- Pela… melhoria das condições de trabalho e o fim da precariedade!
- Pelo reconhecimento das qualificações, competência e experiência, espelhado em salários e contratos dignos!

We, the unemployed, the “five-hundred-euro-ists” [referring to monthly wage] and others, poorly paid, disguised slaves, subcontracted, temps, supposed “independent workers” [hired as such by employers to avoid Social Security payments], intermittent workers, interns, fellows, student workers, students, mothers, fathers and children of Portugal. We protest:
- For the right to employment! For the right to education!
- For the improvement of working conditions and for the end of labor precariousness!
- For the recognition of [our] qualifications, competence and experience, reflected in dignified salaries and contracts!

Underemployment in context

Last December, TSF Radio News [pt] broadcaster reported on a data set from INE (National Institute of Statistics) which pointed out that “more than 300,000 young people have no [economic] activity”. In its website, the same radio broadcaster said, on February 24,  that “23 percent of the youth is unemployed, 720,000 have short-term contracts, and there is a further 14 percent increase in use of recibos verdes [workers earning in self-employed tax regime] recorded in the last three months”.

On the blog Epígrafe (Epigraph), Ricardo Salabert, from FERVE Movement (BOIL, an acronymn for Sick of these Recibos Verdes) [pt], explains this kind of relationship to labor markets:

Os recibos verdes são um modelo de facturação aplicável aos trabalhadores independentes, i.e., às pessoas que prestam serviços ocasionais para entidades várias (empresas ou particulares). São exemplo disso os médicos, os arquitectos (entre outros) que podem passar recibos verdes aos seus clientes, não tendo de se estabelecer como empresa.

Recibos verdes is an invoicing model applicable to the self-employed, ie, people who provide occasional services for several entities (companies or individuals). One example is doctors, architects (among others) that can use them to invoice their customers, without having to establish themselves as a company.

And so grows the share of workers who lack any kind of social protection (in sickness, pregnancy, death of relatives), without any holidays or other types of subsidy. These workers can be sent off by the employer at any time since, by law, they have no ties with the enterprise. There are tens of thousands of Portuguese, from all generations, with the status of “false recibos verdes” who are providing services to companies under the same conditions of those with an Employment Contract, as laid out in the Labor Code (article 12) [pt], that keeps them “precarious”.

Music fueling action

Some might call them the Neither-Nor Generation, as Rui Rocha explains [pt], on the blog Delito de Opinião (Crime Opinion):

Nem estudam, nem trabalham. (…) Tipicamente, esta é uma geração potencialmente melhor preparada do que as que a precederam e, aparentemente, muito segura de si. São, todavia, presa fácil da degradação do mercado laboral e não conseguem encontrar uma saída airosa, nem combater este estado de coisas. Os sociólogos identificam uma característica muito comum neste grupo: a inexistência de qualquer projecto de vida. As manifestações mais evidentes são a apatia e a indolência.

They neither study nor work. (…) Typically, this generation is potentially better prepared than its predecessors and it is apparently very self-assured. They are, however, easy prey to the degradation of the labor market and they cannot find a graceful way out, nor fight against this state of affairs. Sociologists identify a very common feature in this group: the absence of any life plan. The most obvious manifestations are apathy and indolence.

Around the end of January, the musical group Deolinda presented in its tour an unreleased piece that came to stir up emotion, giving a name and a voice to what has become, thereafter, known as the Foolish Generation.

Sou da geração sem remuneração
E nem me incomoda esta condição
Que parva que eu sou!
Porque isto está mau e vai continuar
Já é uma sorte eu poder estagiar
Que parva que eu sou!
E fico a pensar,
Que mundo tão parvo
Onde para ser escravo é preciso estudar…

I am from the generation without remuneration
And it doesn't even bother me this condition
What a fool I am!
Because things are bad and it will continue
Yet I am lucky I have an internship
What a fool I am!
And then I wonder,
Such a foolish world
Where, to become a slave, one must study …
Satire to Isabel Stilwell's article, on the Facebook page "artº 21" (article of the Portuguese Constitution which refers to the right to resist)

Satire to Isabel Stilwell's article, on the Facebook page "artº 21" (article of the Portuguese Constitution which refers to the right to resist)

Deolinda's song, with an increasing number of 345,000 views on YouTube, spontaneously became a hymn to the “(now) foolish generation”.

A few days after, the editorial [pt] of a free daily newspaper in Portugal, in the words of its director, Isabel Stilwell, said that “if they studied and they are slaves, they are fools indeed. Fools for having spent their parents’ money and our taxes to study and ending up not learning a thing”. In response she received thousands of comments, multiplying across social media.

The hymn then became the gunpowder that ignited the fuse for everyone who feels is paying for mistakes made ​​by the generation that came before [pt].

Many problems, few solutions

If on one hand this has brought some together in common resistance, on the other hand many others have distanced themselves. It has awoken some semi-dormant debates.

While the blog O Jumento (Jackass) reflects on the inter-generational solidarity (or the lack of it) [pt], Helena Matos, on the blog Blasfémias (Blasphemy), questions the legitimacy [pt] of this generation to claim the same rights as their parents:

Preparam-se agora os ditos membros da geração à rasca não para exigir que os mais velhos mudem de vida mas sim que também eles possam manter esse tipo de vida. Quem vier depois que se amanhe. A prosseguirmos, dentro de alguns anos, assistiremos a protestos de gerações que se dirão bem pior do que à rasca.

The so-called members of the “scraping-by” generation are now getting ready not to urge older people to change their lives but to demand that they too can also maintain that kind of life. Those who come after will manage. Down the line, within a few years, we will see protests by the generations that will describe themselves as much worse than “scraping by”.

Luis Novaes Tito appeals for a change [pt] to the status quo, on the blog A Barbearia do Senhor Luis (Mr. Luis Barber Shop), making a warning though regarding the conflict of generations:

Concordo que, em vez de chorarem pelos cantos embalados pelo faducho do “já não posso mais”, vão para a rua gritar que é tempo de mudar, antes que os mandem embalar a trouxa e zarpar.

I agree that instead of crying in the corners wrapped up in a Fado-like “I cannot go on anymore”, just go onto the streets screaming that it's time to change, before they send you packing and fleeing.

From posts and comments, to editorials and opinion pieces in traditional media, there are also those who keep trying to push society to the heart of the problem: causes and solutions (knowing that it is easier to agree on causes than solutions). So the discussion has extended to the role of the State and the legislator, and also to Universities and institutions of higher education.

And so goes Portugal, “a country of mild manners”, whose basket of conformism may have filled up once and for all. Far from finding a platform for consultation between the political class, civil society and the very Generation in question, the movement that grew and spread against the odds now seeks the path to maturity. Today is its first major test to go through, and, given the fragility of counting on numbers from social networks, we will only know the true extent of this generation's will to change a country when the hour comes. And we wait. Anxiously.

This article was proofread by Janet Gunter.
  • Mattus

    Nice post,

    the Portuguese youth have certainly been made to suffer for the greed, avarice and incompetence of the previous generations, who, instead of working to create an equal, just nation, moving forward into the future together, have instead used Portugal’s membership in the EURO to line their own pockets.

    But there is a silver lining. The Portuguese Youth are finally exercising their democratic right to protest and become part of a vocal, active citizen, something that has been lacking since the carnation revolution. It is up to the youth to keep the fight, and demand great participation within government. They need to stay angry and not settle for a crust. In this way, change will come, and although it will be a difficult challenge, in the end great thing can be accomplished.

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  • João Fardilha

    First of all I’d like to thank you for the well structured text, and the relevance done to this youth movement.

    As a 24 year old portuguese student and full time worker, my situation is not the best, but it’s by far way better than many of the people who marched with me yesterday.
    The way that our system is unbalanced is incredible, receiving by the “recibo verde” I pay my taxes every month, around 40% of my really slim salary, and I’ve no right to free healthcare, no unemployment aid if I go out of job, I pay full student fees, no right to any social security at all. And this is me saying I’m not the worse that is.

    For delays on students aid, we have people starving on Universities. We’ve young people working for 2 years internships AFTER graduating and NOT receiving a wage.

    We’ve people working for years in the same companies, that are never given a contract.

    There are companies whose full workforce consists of interns paid by european union funds, and that renew their interns every year so they don’t have to pay an euro for workforce.

    And at the same time people receiving 3 or more retirement pensions some of them that round 1000 euros given for 2 years spent on some public company.

    We’ve the most expensive gas in European Union, some of the most expensive telecommunication services (although very good infrastructures, I’ve to admit), in some regions of the country you pay to do 2 Km on a “2 ways highway”, our banks offer some of the highest interest rates to small business you’ll find in europe, public spending is off the roof. Government contracts given without any kind of public competition, and (most of the time) to party members. The board of public companies is full of ex government members. Even local power is corrupt.

    But austerity measures cut on our parents salaries, on our grandparents pensions. Never on those who matter.

    We as youth are given an warning that this is enough. I’d really like for the power in charge to listen to us. The situation is unsustainable and there aren’t few the ones talking about more violent methods than the PEACEFUL manifestation of yesterday.
    I really hope things don’t escalate.

    We are asking for respect. We are proving ourselves through education and work ethic. It’s not that much. We’re asking politicians to do their job, which is serving the best interest of the people, not only “their” people.

    • Mattus

      João,

      thanks for your comment on this. It appears that there is a lack of protection for workers, and this is pretty amazing considering that the EU thinks that Portugal over-protects its workers. With the Austerity programs now being rammed down the throats of the Portuguese, I can see the situation getting worse.

      But here are a few things that I think the Portuguese need to start doing to make things better.

      1) Stop working for companies that refuse to pay what is earned, boycott them outright and protest them. Make an example of them on TV.
      2) Demand that Portugal develop a labor board who’s sole responsibility is to protect the rights of the workers.
      3)boycott all toll roads and/or Develop a car pooling system (This is a great business opportunity, for people such as yourself to buy a van, and create wealth. carpooling is a growing enterprise around the world, and not only will it help the environment, it is a great way to make money and create work opportunities for others)
      4)Make use of the Media as much as possible, be audacious, don’t waste one chance to humiliate a member of the fat elite – that goes for businesses and government – here in Canada, there is a tradition of throwing pies in the faces of politicians. Create your own organization to expose all tyrants, there are many ways for funding including donations from abroad. Portuguese communities here in Canada and the US will be more than happy to help your cause, get in contact with their leaders and create a fund, it’s easy and only requires a phone call.
      5)expose the people who are screwing the system, paste their names on newspapers, make it a weekly post.
      6)Take your protest to Brussels and humiliate your politicians on the world stage.
      7) be creative, get together with others and think of new ways in which you can better your lives and the lives of other Portuguese people. This may include weekly trips to help the elderly and poor, weekly rallies all over the nation, billboards, road signs, television commercials, newspaper articles (The funding is the easy part, there are many ways to do so). The possibilities are endless and you will be helping all Portuguese people. Remember, united you are more powerful. Take every opportunity to to gather with like-minded people to continue the fight.

      Good luck.

  • João Fardilha

    Marcus first let me thank you for your answer. I really appreciate you taking your time to write it. And first let me explain you a little bit of myself so you can understand where I’m coming from:
    I’m a 24 year old finalist of Electronics and Telecommunication Masters in Aveiro’s University (public university). My degree was considered in the year I got in University, the top electronics degree in Europe. The headmaster of my degree, José Carlos Pedro has been engineer of the year by the IEEE two or three years ago, still I earn 500€ a month for being two courses away from graduating. I’m doing qualified work, exactly the same I’d be doing if I had graduated already. I’ve no access to social security altough I pay 20,5 percent to it every month (on the 500€ I receive). I pay my 990 per year tuition fees from my pocket, I know that this value must seem really low for someone in the US. but I lived in Austria for half an year, and I know for a fact people didn’t use to pay anything for it then, and when the government announced they would be asking 60€ for tuition fees I saw 30000 people on the street protesting. I’m not complaining on how much superior education here costs, I’m saying that the return is ridiculously low. My colleague who’s better paid right now (working in Portugal I mean) earns 1200€ less taxes, his house rent is 600€, in the end of the month he saves about 100 euros if lucky, and he’s certainly not a big spender. His and mine career opportunities right now are working hard for 3/4 years, be a senior and earning 1500/1700€ for working in one of the most valuable jobs in our country. Imagine that 10 years ago, people coming out of my degree would earn in average 1800€, now count the inflation… it’s tough. Now imagine people who come from less specialized jobs, and you’ll understand why our marketplaces have perhaps the best qualified staff in the world, full of bachelors and masters.

    1)We can’t refuse to work for companies who do this kind of thing if there are no other jobs available, otherwise how do we eat? The point is this malpractice is general, we are already migrating in force to other countries, but excuse me for refusing to do that, this is MY country, I was born HERE, I refuse to be obligated to leave my country when there are people with a lot less common sense than me in responsibility positions not doing their jobs to help those they can. It’s not conformism it’s structure. I won’t leave my country when the person next to me doesn’t have what to eat. And I promise you I would rather defend fairness and equality in my country with my life than to flee. I might sound a bit radical, but this is part of my character, it is the way I was brought up, and I believe in honor.
    2) Most of our syndicalistic people circulate between the government and syndical positions. When you take in consideration things like the reform on the public education system the syndicalists defended the position for the end-of-career teachers, not the young ones who work for 10/15 years without getting fixed to one school. In my personal point of view that is not the answer.
    3) Protests have been happening, some of them more active (burning the highway toll system for instance) although none of them violent. I myself use public railroads everyday to go to work, there are people who can’t do it (for lack of a well structured public transportation system). The sharing of cars although not too common is getting more and more users by the day, obviously. But that was just an example. What I meant for the highway is and giving you my personal experience, from my house to Porto (Oporto), all my life I spent around 15/20 minutes to get there. Now to avoid a car toll that charges me for 1,5 Km of highway I’ve to get around through residential zones and take the double the time. To pass on a road that existed since the 1970′s. At the same time, in Lisbon you’ve more than 800 Km of non paid highways, it is not a matter of me finding ways not to spend the money, is a matter of excess of centralism in our country. I don’t mind using public transportation. What I mind is paying more per a ticket than my friends who live in Lisbon and who earn an average of 1,5 times more than me. I don’t want to turn this a “Lisbon vs rest of Portugal” kind of thing, but the policies are over centralistic, and Porto as the second city is once again not the worst case. I don’t mind paying car tolls if EVERYONE pays them. that’s my point, I don’t mind how much I pay (inside reasonable values, obviously) for a public transportation system if EVERYONE pays the same. Democracy means equality, right?
    4) Well nowadays the media is paying attention to the protests (they have been too many not too). But thank you for your advice, I mean, I’m not a leader of anything, (and quite honestly I obviously do not possess the qualities to be so), but I think you’re right on the point and will pass the word around.
    5) That happens almost everyday, but our law system is horrible (actually although everyone has their fair complaints I also have to admit that public school and healthcare systems work rather nicely obviously a lot of things could work better, but in its essence they work ok…) cases take years to solve, and every time they involve someone with some influence they rarely come to an end.
    6) We should you are right, but until now we’ve been unorganized and most of the ideas have been just “napkin written” on coffee houses if you know what I mean. I hope things change from here forward.
    And I would like you to understand something, I know our public spending is off the roof, I know we’ve a massive debt to pay, I know sacrifices have to be made, what I/we are asking, is for respect, and equality on the work world, we’re not asking for anything else. I want Portugal to honor its commitments to the world, even if I personally don’t believe that the way world monetary system works is the way it should. My code of honor obligates me to fulfill my agreements and I wish my country’s reflected that rule as well.
    We don’t need Ms. Merkel to send more money to Portugal right now, and if the international monetary fund re-enters in Portugal, I wish they stopped the international money faucet. We need to tidy our house first, and pay our debt, and after that we might think about big investments. We need ethic and responsibility first, without it every euro that gets on our country is a wasted euro.
    7) We had a revolution in 74, from there the associativism was always present in Portugal. People here in general give what they have and what they don’t have to people who need more than them. That is something that has been allowing the situation not to be considerably worse than it is. What I’m really ashamed is that no government ever took advantage of our giving spirit.

    I’m really sorry for this wall of text, I got carried on, but I really appreciate your suggestions and I just wanted to clarify some points.

    • Mattus

      Thanks João, for elaborating on some of the points I made above, it certainly sheds new light into this discussion. I had no idea that the there was a discriminatory policy regarding regions within Portugal, as it relates to the toll roads, and perhaps other areas as well? I see too that wages are lowest in Northern Portugal, I’m intrigued by this, is there a discriminatory policy in place in Portugal between regions? Here in Canada, for instance, the Maratimes (Canada’s East Coast) has the lowest wage and standard of living outside of the Northern Territories. Much of that stems from high unemployment due to seasonal work. Is this a similar issue affecting Northern Portuguese or is there another reason for such disparities in the way different regions are governed?

      I congratulate you for remaining in Portugal, although it must be difficult, it’s important for other Educated Portuguese to stay and help restructure their public institutions. All steps should be made by your government to reduce the brain drain into other parts of Europe and the Americas.

      One last point, you said that you are not a leader, but your grasp of English is impressive, your ideas are very clear and concise, suggesting to me that you are a leader (There are many Canadians who could not write as eloquently as you do). The very fact that you care enough to share your ideas with me, a complete stranger, about your hopes for a Portugal that is fair and just tells me that Portugal can use more people like you in places of power.

  • http://saritamoreira.com Sara Moreira

    Happy to see this discussion here!
    Thanks Mattus for all the suggestions you have shared and João for such a personal testimony.

    “Great things can be accomplished”, indeed, if one know how to take advantage of democracy. Personaly I wouldn’t call on people to be “angry”, though I totally understand what you mean. I prefer the “being awake” solution. When people aren’t awake for democratic practices, they are often dragged to a semi-dormency state that makes them think there is nothing to do, or even worse, that nothing can be changed. This was stirred up by last saturday’s protest for sure.

    Thus the paradigms that have lead us to where we are must be questioned, so that new solutions for a better life are to be found.

    • Mattus

      Sara,

      Thanks so much for your input, I am learning a lot about the plight of the Portuguese Youth specifically, and the Portuguese people in general. I too would not encourage violence in any way, it is not the right solution. That said, I believe that there is a need for solutions beyond protests and sit-ins. This can include getting organized politically, why not elect your own Youth into a position of power, it can be done.

      I wish you all the best, last Saturday’s protest was a good start, but now the hard work begins.

  • http://anitacee.wordpress.com Ana Vasquez

    Hello everyone!
    I couldn’t be more happy to see the ongoing debate around this post and subject. Mattus, João, Sara, thank you for sharing and improve the conversation with your ideas. The demosntration was a huge success! Contrarily to the perspective and projection of many, we ended having even more people on the streets than expected. 280 000 in Porto and Lisbon only, and around 20 000 spreaded through other district capitals around the country and the autonomous regions (Azores and Madeira). Unfortunately we still don’t have a firm response from the government, expect the (of course) empty promise to create new youth policies. I am on the look and expecting to see what comes next, while actively participating in everything that can lead us to change. As you say, Mattus, “Saturday’s protest was a good start, but now the hard work begins”. Your ideas are a great asset – thank you! I’ll keep you posted…of course! ;)

    • Mattus

      Thanks Ana,

      I’m just glad that I can add something to this discussion. I hope that Portugal can get through this crisis and land on its feet, and I think that it will. The number of intelligent people, with great communication skills that make up the Portuguese community makes me confident that the future will be a bright one, it’s only a matter of convincing the politicians.

  • João Fardilha

    Mattus, thank you again for your answer, and sorry for getting your name wrong last time. And Sara, I totally agree with you.
    Mattus there isn’t a clear discrimination between regions, but it exists. During the last 20 years or so our successive governments have practiced a “self spread” policy model, in which they advocate that due to the size of our country, public investment in Lisbon will make all other regions benefit from it, besides highways and some municipal infrastructure investment (in form of theaters that are closed most of the year or sports pavillions in regions with a serious lack of young people) most of the public investment is done in Lisbon area and some on Porto as well.
    Understand that I’ve no resentments against people who live in Lisbon, it’s not their fault, and I can even admit that the principle that guides this kind of policy might have been well intentioned, Some countries in central Europe work somewhat like that.
    As I see it the main problem is not even public investment alone.
    The northern region was until the 1980′s the economic (economic) powerhouse in Portugal, mainly due to its fabric, shoes and furniture industries that employed most of the people here. Some of the most important banks were relocated from Porto into the Lisbon area due to ministeries proximity. At first one might think that due to our size this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it actually is. The first stock market in Portugal was in Porto because it was the place where most investors were living and working in.
    People with money here invested mainly in industry, generating employment. During the 1980′s with the relocation of the banks, and the investment in the financial system, what happened was that banks had other ways of making money with foreign investment instead of loaning to the industry sector. Interest rates for industrial loans obviously grew. Personal credit was the way to go to the financial system.
    Portugal was suddenly channeling its efforts into being a services and tourism country, because politicians believed our industry was strong enough to live by itself. After getting in the european union, the rising of salaries here and the soviet block fall generating cheaper wages there (and nowadays with China and India), together with banks skyrocket increases on industry loans interest rates most of the industry on the North either closed or relocated somewhere else in the world. It wasn’t our lack of good planning that generated this by itself, it was a combination of factors. I understand that. But what would someone with common sense do seeing industry in a country falling? Decide on strategic planning and create an investment plan for a few years, right? Maybe investing on our huge sea economic area which is by far the biggest in Europe, maybe taking advantage of our relations with Brazil and Angola?
    Govenrment was receiving european funds, they could have used it on that, right? So what did we do instead?
    Great investments like Expo 98 and Euro 2004 to attract foreign tourism and mantain building industries.
    In my opinion this was at the time, plain lack of vision. Portugal has gained more tourists with the appearance of the low cost airlines than with either of those big investments, and building industry doesn’t generate exportable goods. That was not the way to go, altough I reckon this is easy to see now, maybe at the time it wasn’t so clear (altough I say this with a pinch of irony, but I’m not being completely sarcastic while saying it).
    Also the way old government members started getting positions in some of the companies that benefited with their policies doesn’t help much in a country that already doubts their transparency… We had three successive governments which didn’t see the end of their mandate (one of which was directed by Durão Barroso who gave up office to become president of the European Comission). Neither of this helped.
    All this to say that altough there isn’t a declared policy against the rest of the country step by step it ends up happening. And I’m not complainting for Porto itself, I’m complainting for Minho, Trás os Montes, Beiras, Alentejo regions that have been almost politically forgotten. We need more local power, and again I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about resources to actually make something out of what we already have.
    Also people stopped caring about politics, as they did mostly around the world. Most of us here don’t recognize our points of view in any of the political parties the country has to offer. And most politicians in Portugal are professional politics, what I mean by that is that they end their degree, work they way on the political youth parties until they get a position in some public institution or some other power position, and get to the naitonal assembly or to the govenment without even getting a job outside the political world. I, from a personal point of view, see this as unethical and non sensical, and I believe that is part of Sara is referring to by saying this paradigm has to be questioned. It has to. Obviously. We need apolitical politicians in the sense that we need independant people who do things besides politics. But eh, that’s just me, together with at least 280 000 people saying it.
    I’m not one to defend to throw out our government… yet. They were democratically elect, and this problem is not created by them alone. More than that, I can agree with the fundaments of some of their project, but not with the way they applied it… For instance the investment in technological industries is necessary, we are a creative people, we have some really great designers, we are natural engineers (one of my teachers back in Austria used to say that MacGuiver might have been portuguese, because we could do mostly anything with a swiss knife and a linux prompt line :) ) and pretty trendy people. What the government did was selling low price computers to students in primary schools and high schools, and having school programs introducing calculators in a phase in which people can’t do some of the basic math operations for instance. Add some teachers that come from dubious superior schools who have more pedagogical knowledge than the actual subjects they are teaching, and the next generation will be in trouble. I’m really worried for them.
    My suggestion is obvious but hard, and I’ve given this thought a few years to grow. What I propose is the creation of a shadow government, a shadow constitution and a shadow political model, runned by independents, who have their jobs and also work on our country. This shadow system would run side by side with the actual political model without spending tax payers money. People would focus hard on planning a new justice model, strategic investment and payment of the public debt, and THEN, with actual proposes in hand to show, ask for international and popular help to substitute the paradigm in place. Let me just add, I don’t refuse the existance of political parties as doctrine and knowledge institutions, but I surely can’t agree with them as political career launchers. People first have to prove themselves on their private life, and just then be able to assume power positions. I know it takes really hard work to do something like that, but I see it as a necessary method. If we throw our government down it won’t solve anything at all. We don’t have real alternatives, and I don’t really believe in “fighting from the inside” People have been trying to fight from the inside since 74 and it didn’t work.
    Once again I got carried on, I’m sorry. I’ll conclude.
    I believe we have a beautifull opportunity to build a better system for tomorrow. We were visionaries once and launched ourselves to the unknown oceans, I refuse to believe that that part of us has died.

    • Mattus

      Hi João,

      Thanks for that amazing answer, its really great to get this type of insight, which is just not available through other means, like TV or Newspapers. And no worries on the name, it’s just a name lol.

      Your reply did raise a number of important questions that I have, most specifically though, regarding PM Socrates current bad press and lack of support from many Portuguese. Yet, it seems that much of what had been done wrong, like the Euro and Expo 98 were done before Socrates came to power, correct? I’m wondering if he is somehow taking too much blame for things that are not entirely his doing. I see that he has implemented the education initiative like you mentioned, but also the green energy movement which will undoubtedly help the Portuguese in the future.

      My question is whether or not there is an unrealistic view of what Socrates is able to do during his tenure as PM and if the Portuguese people demanding that he step down will set in motion a changing of the guard, to be replaced by someone like Passos Coelho who won’t be in any better position to deal with the austerity program being demanded by the EU.

      I’m wondering if the Portuguese are also considering the possibility of what a decision like this would cause for the current debt restructuring and possible need to look at the IMF if Socrates is booted out.

      My understanding is that this must be a precarious situation for most Portuguese who can see that there are many ways in which it can go down the same road as Greece or Ireland, and lead the country into even more hurtful austerity programs that will set Portugal back for the larger part of this decade.

      Thanks again for your insight.

      • João Fardilha

        That Sócrates is being blamed for things that are out of his power there are no doubts. If his government did some good things? That is obvious. The major problem with his government isn’t the intention of some of their plans, it is rather:

        1) The lack of curriculum of Sócrates to be in the place he is now. Sócrates got in power after the dissolving of our national assembly. And was chosen as the “lesser evil” (that is way common in Portugal, you don’t vote on the program, you vote on the politician, and you don’t vote on the politician you like the most, you vote on that that you dislike the least). Between him and Santana Lopes at the time it seemed a good idea to vote for him (I didn’t, but I can understand the thought process of those who did). Nevertheless Sócrates has always been a professional politician, only exercising his profession (civil engineering) for a really short period, only working his way up the socialist party. After being elected, some justice problems and insinuations of corruption were brought on, too many maybe…

        2) The way his government does things. In the beginning of his government, education was the way to go. He presented some reforms that made some sense (at least to me) like having an evaluation system of the teachers instead of automatic career progression. Having substitute teachers when someone can’t give a class fixing every teacher for 3 years on the same school instead of moving them every year, the introduction of a new course to improve teamwork. It made sense on the paper but there were some improvements that could be made. But once the negotiations with the syndicates started all hell broke loose because the minister refused to negotiate at all. When 60 000 teachers went to the streets protesting the minister said “that was just a few people, it’s not relevant”. Oh yeah, and this after her public statement that “teachers a bunch of lazy people who don’t like to work”. That is plain disrespect.
        When one of the 2 public open channel tv stations started opening the news with the trial of a judicial case in which Sócrates was supposed to be involved it took about a month for the anchor and the chief of information of the channel to be fired.
        The government officials often announce things on the tv without consulting their staff or opposition and without legislating what they say, generating some legal mayhem.
        But he got reelected. That will always be something I won’t understand, he pulled a George W. Bush that not many were expecting, blame it on the social democrats, blame it on their candidate, blame it on who voted. He won a democratic election (with almost 40% not voting but that is each ones fault). We can weep all we want but that is truth.

        3) The soundbytes. Socrates is somewhat an arrogant person. That is not very good for a politician, but honestly I do not care much, what I want for a prime minister is for him to be competent, personal defects are the least of my worries. But Socrates has terrible timing. For instance when newspapers here reported that his degree was dubiously acquired due to this technical english class in which he got special conditions to deliver his work, he appears on Columbia University saying he is going to speak in the universal language that is “bad english”.
        I honestly couldn’t care less if my prime minister speaks english or cantonese, translators and interpreters exist exactly for that, what I want is for him to have common sense, Sócrates obviously lacks some.
        When an opposition party presents a “censure motion” (I’m not certain if that is the correct translation) against his government he says that the country is doing wonderfully, and that the crisis is being very well managed, that there shouldn’t be worries, later on the week the finances minister announces he’ll have to cut pensions.
        Not to mention he has been caught on a lie more than once.
        He mocks the opposition openly in debates, and not cleverly even, mostly on the base of “we are here you’re not, deal with it” really childish attitudes, but eh, at least that makes for some interesting tv moments…
        Again, that’s a personality issue, and I wouldn’t mind much if he was doing his job well. What I can’t tolerate is that he lies. That is going too far.

        4) Not talking about some really “popular” measures like cutting salaries but allowing public companies to pay more to their board of directors, or announcing the cutting of pensions last Friday without consulting the opposition or the President of Republic and then cutting the taxes on golf courts from 23% to 6%. Attributing public contracts directly to companies without the obligatory time to receive proposals (some of them with members of his party on the direction board).

        He’s done enough wrong. But the situation isn’t entirely his fault, that is a given fact.

        Since 2001 that we’ve been “tightening our belts”, but that has always been politician language to “raise taxes”, never to “cut public spending”.
        And honestly I think it is enough. There are plenty of places where the government could cut. As I told you before, we don’t need money, we need discipline, we need to tidy our house first. Successive governments lower salaries and raise taxes to most workers, and then wastes money on ludicrous stuff.
        And honestly I’m for the entering of the international monetary fund. Doesn’t matter how much Socrates fights against it, truth is we’re paying 7.6% of interest rates on national debt. We can’t do it. Portugal doesn’t have way to generate that income in the future, and Socrates is revealing to be in a world apart from everyone else.

        I don’t blame him for the whole situation, but he’s actually not doing anything at all to make it better.
        But Passos Coelho doesn’t seem to me that different. I mean as a person, yes, he seems calmer and reasonable. But I don’t see him as capable of avoiding worse times. I can’t speak for all portuguese on this but I don’t believe that change will come from our political model, I’m not saying people in it are all bad, but I think we need a new paradigm without parties and with more local representation that is why I defend the creation of a shadow political system.
        Regarding what you say about we not thinking about the effect his government demission might have, you are right, then again, Socrates here is only a gimmick, he goes to Brussels gets his orders, comes back puts them in practice, mocks the opposition and goes back, I honestly don’t believe that Ms Merkel takes him seriously, or anyone in the European Union for that matter. When I say he pulled a George W. I don’t mean the reelection alone. George Bush was the guy that no one ever took seriously, but who sent a country to war twice against all international community. No one takes Socrates seriously but step by step he takes his will forward, and delays the entering of international help at the expense of our future debt (and some more money wasted).

        Oh and just for a laugh, the biggest Socrates soundbyte in early 2009 was “The crisis has come and passed, and we didn’t even feel it see?”. Quite the visionary, no? Then again one of his campaign promises was to do everything for a “poorer country”… I guess he achieved that, too bad he didn’t achieve the “150 000 work places” he promised…

        • Mattus

          Hi João,

          Thanks again for clarification on this issue, it does seem that Socrates has done some good, but not enough of it. The recent lowering of VAT on the golf industry is poorly timed, and sends the wrong message to the Portuguese public, that while lowering the standard of living for the working citizen, the wealthy tourist gets a break on its tee-off. This type of legislation is both shameful to the image of Portugal locally and globally, it makes the Portuguese seem like a bunch of nutcases.

          The problem that I think exists is that there isn’t anyone who can do any better than Socrates, not that he is a great leader but that the other candidates are not any better.

          A paradigm shift in the way things are done is essential. You were mentioning the shadow government, unfortunately, shadow governments aren’t exactly viewed as a positive thing, but more on a conspiratorial spectrum, I think more mistrust will stem from a program such as that, even though it may offer good insight, it may be political suicide both on a Portuguese and European spectrum.

          But I’m all for a new way of thinking, for example, there are many countries that Portugal can borrow constitutional reforms from, you don’t need reinvent the wheel. Look to Canada, for example, although not perfect is still a very good model to use as a point of reference. In fact, there are many points of reference that can help in any re-evaluation of the Portuguese constitution.

          For me, I think that there doesn’t necessarily need to be a wiping of the slate, but just tweaks to the over-all system. For example, my understanding is that the Portuguese constitution guarantees ‘work for life’ to all of its civil servants. If this is the case, this would be a prime candidate for removal. The way I see it, the Constitution of any country should be based upon the laws and rights of people, but should not extend so far out into public life, including employment.

          Outside of the Constitution, other issues to tackle are the revamping of the legal system, so that there is no revolving door for criminals.

          Revamp Immigration policies so that you encourage entrepreneurs and the educated, while discouraging lower and non-educated individuals who will ultimately put a strain on the welfare system.

          Revamp toll road schemes, making them fair throughout the nation. Perhaps by eliminating tolls during specific hours of the day in order to lessen the burden on the transportation sector and commuters (For example, if a commuter is carpooling, they can be given special discounts).

          Decentralize public administration, giving regions broader powers of self-governance, this could go hand in hand with the reduction of the number administration regions, which according to my research is ridiculously large for such a small country. This also means a new way in which to distribute wealth within the country.

          Limit the salary that public company executives can earn. No executive should ever earn more than the PM and this includes kickbacks too, remove those as well.

          Reclaim the shipping industry, Portugal, a country with such potential in shipping is has virtually no shipping fleet, there should be more money invested in this region. Portugal could become a world leader in Shipping, which would add substantially to the GDP.

          Better road signage (which is a big problem in Portugal, for tourists anyway) Often the impression that you make on a potential investor is made outside of the confines of a meeting room, the image Portugal should forward is that of a modern country, no nonsense and sometimes its the small things that makes all the difference.

          Lastly, and possibly the hardest thing, is to get away from the cafe culture that many Portuguese have grown accustomed. That means that to compete at a global scale, extended work lunches should be reduced, punctuality should be a national obsession.

          These are just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so much more that can be done, but everyone needs to do their part.

          • João Fardilha

            Mattus, I like your program suggestion, it makes sense and it would get the approval of the majority of the people here. Maybe you could be our leader, eh? We’re going to have elections soon so you have a chance I’ll gather the signatures if you want to. ;)

            I agree with most everything you say, but I’d like to correct you on just one thing. You say that shadow governments are negatively connoted, I tend to disagree, the U.K. always functioned with a shadow government formed by the opposition, it makes sense, you always get a counter proposal to the political program, and discussion is the basis of a democratic system I believe.

            With that said, yeah we could import some other model, I just want a model that works. I’m no political scientist, neither sociologist, the choice of a model shouldn’t be made by me, obviously, but by the society itself.

            What I can assure you is that we don’t need professional politicians, we need technicians in power.

            We can’t have the career from the youth parties to the party to a place in the government, that makes no sense.

            I just hope that now without Sócrates (at least until next elections because he really might win again… I hope not, but…) people can focus on what we really have to do from now on. And I also expect the people to keep going to the street to make their voice heard.

  • Jen

    Thanks for this article, it does a great job of putting things in a broad perspective. I am a recibo verde worker, too, and I agree completely that it is unfair and unsustainable to have a workforce built on temporary workers and interns. I also think that the protesters need to see the systemic problem for businesses in Portugal who are severly punished for hiring full time workers. It is a case where workers are overprotected, and not at all protected, at the same time.

    On the one hand, employers are unable to get rid of employees, seemingly ever– if they stop showing up for work, if they are not doing their job competently, if they don’t fulfill their job description. That is a big reason why businesses do not employ more full time workers here. So, who is punished? Young people entering the job market for the first time. It is not fair, but the answer is not MORE entitlement, MORE limitations on businesses.

    In my opinion, Portugal needs to have a balance between protecting workers by not allowing these temporary contracts, false recibo verdes, and requiring that businesses be accountable for Social Security, etc. I also think that there needs to be a loosening of restrictions on businesses in order to give them some viable way to employ workers, and legally get rid of those who are not performing. After all, if you are employed and doing your job properly, you should have nothing to fear of being fired! But it is no good for anyone in an economy, businesses or employees both, if there is so much job protection that it strangles the success of small to medium enterprises.

  • João Fardilha

    I have to admit Jen is absolutely right regarding the rights of some workers. Specially when you are talking of public workers who can’t for instance be fired. I don’t defend that model, neither do many of those who manifested last Saturday. Once again, I, for myself, am not asking for money, I’m asking for respect and equality, that doesn’t mean I want the same rights they have, I want everyone to play for the same rules.
    What I could never defend is that those rights are maintained while people who are contributing to pay it have almost no rights at all.

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