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Today, what can our answer be when an unemployed person asks: “why?”

The new state budget begins the recovery of income for the lowest earners. By Catarina Martins.
Photo by Paulo Novais/Lusa.

The Left Bloc can be held accountable for the new budget. Although it is the Socialist Government’s budget, not the Left Bloc’s, it has just been made possible; mostly by our vote - and we don’t do things by halves when it comes to taking responsibility. We hold ourselves accountable. The Left Bloc doesn’t hold itself accountable to anonymous sources in Brussels, or to employers angered by the increase of the minimum wage. We hold ourselves accountable to our most trusted creditors, those to whom the Left Bloc Members of Parliament are dedicating and will continue to dedicate all of their efforts throughout their term in office. One million Portuguese people are unemployed, the vast majority of whom have no state support; one million people whose lives were put on hold because of the wrong decisions made due to unfair policies, because of austerity.

Today, what can our answer be when an unemployed person asks why? Why is the Left Bloc supporting a Socialist Party budget for the first time? The unemployed are the hardest to answer if they ask these questions. These are the people who lack simple necessities, who often survive below the poverty line, and they can’t see enough change in this budget.

Even with the planned agreements between the Socialist Party and the Left Bloc: the introduction of improvements to social aid - unemployment benefits and child allowance – (proposed by the Communist Party and the Left Bloc) and automatic access to a special social tariff which lowers the cost of electricity bills, the people whose lives lack so much are not seeing enough change. Strict measures which should have been taken some time ago, for example the widespread availability of unemployment benefits, require, as the Left Bloc has always said, the courage to make bigger changes such as the renegotiation of debt, something which policy changes and the balance of power still does not allow.

This is therefore my first answer to the unemployed people who ask me why. If this budget provides some hint of positive change, it is due to an agreement between the left wing parties and the Socialist Party. We came to this agreement by respecting our mandate, but there is no confusion between the two. The Left Bloc has not put aside their main goal, which is to defend the unemployed of this country, to renegotiate debt and to make the necessary resources available to support all those who had their jobs stolen by austerity.

My second answer to the unemployed of this country, those who are here and those who have had to emigrate, is that this is a budget that initiates the recovery of income for the lowest earners. Through Pensions and wages and by combating job insecurity, this plan can start pumping oxygen back into an economy that was asphyxiated by austerity.

There are no jobs in a country where the economy is in tatters. You don’t get creative austerity, or redistributive austerity, never mind leftist austerity. Austerity is to transfer labour income to the capital and therefore out of the country. To get income back for those who have the least, those who would never put the money in an offshore account, but would spend it here on the things they need the most. This is the first step towards breaking the vicious cycle of bankruptcies and job loss. To restore the income of those who work, and who have worked for all of their lives, is to revive the economy, to revive the job market.

So it is worth asking, what would the Right-wing budget look like for 2016? We know it well. It is the budget that was suggested implicitly in the stability plan that the Social Democratic Party / CDS – People’s Party government gave Brussels. A budget that would protect the IMI (Municipal Buildings Tax) and investment funds, and through tax increases, cuts and freezes would deprive families of two thousand million euros. 

Quite the opposite, the budget that is now being debated in detail goes in a different direction. Admittedly, it makes small steps in the recovery of wages and pensions, but major problems still persist in public procurement, health, education, and culture, and we are critical of many of the government's options for solving these problems. The answers we can give to those who most urgently need change are meagre. But nowadays the majority of Members of Parliament have a clear commitment to the country. Their priorities are to restore employment income and to respect the constitutional rights. It is in this direction that the state budget will go, for the first time in many, many years, and showing no false modesty, the Left Bloc is proud of its contribution to this result.

This text was Catarina Martins' final intervention in the discussion of the state Budget for 2016, on February 23rd 2016. Translated by Luci Ruas for Esquerda.net/English.

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