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The Left Bloc national board’s political resolution project
1. A New Protagonist in Environmental Battles
The new political environment, brought about by the legislative elections, has meant that environmental issues have been thrown back into the spotlight, both in general society and in political debates in Portugal. These debates have included the topics of concessions for the exploitation of fossil fuels, the fight against the threat of the Nuclear Power station at Almaraz, recognition of the disastrous pollution in the Tagus and the Ave rivers and public scrutiny of the contaminative danger of glyphosate. The Left Bloc is very involved in these areas, and its anti-capitalist, active, enlightened and progressive perspective, helps it to forge a new path and strengthen its Eco-socialist nature.
The ban on the use of glyphosate presented by the Left Bloc in Parliament and voted down in April by the Socialist Democratic Party and the People’s Party – the Socialist Party abstained - was by no means the end of the glyphosate issue. Only a year earlier, the Left Bloc had presented a similar proposal. Since then, the number of local initiatives has multiplied. The Left Bloc collected data on the use of glyphosate in public areas and pushed the prohibition of glyphosate through in several Municipal Assemblies. Faced with public pressure, several more assemblies have since announced a ban on its use. The national and international lobbying carried out by the multinational companies Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow that supported the continued use of the product is explained by the fact that genetically modified (GM) crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate, and these multinationals simultaneously produce the two products in order to make one dependent on the other. Therefore the ban on glyphosate would be a major setback for the widespread use of GM crops. The government has already publicly acknowledged the possibility of prohibiting the use of glyphosate in urban areas, which is what the Left Bloc has been demanding, but it is still giving in to the agribusiness industry. However, it is important that its use is also prohibited in agriculture, and therefore for the government to take a cautious stance at the European summit in June, where it decides whether or not to extend the license for the use of glyphosate.
Concessions for the exploitation of fossil fuels have been especially noticeable in the Algarve, but in the rest of the country, on land and at sea, huge portions of territory have been allocated to oil and gas exploration. Contracts signed by the previous Socialist Party government (under Manuel Pinho) and the Social Democratic Party/ People’s Party (under Alvaro Santos Silva and Moreira da Silva) left the country’s spoils unguarded, delivering the country at a bargain price to a backward economic activity which effectively contributes to the environmental crisis and to the worsening effects of global climate change, to which Portugal and the Mediterranean are particularly exposed. The opaque concessionary procedures are based on legislation from 1994, made during Cavaco Silva’s government, with the clear aim of throwing the door open to private investors, offering them full control and all the income from any oil exploration, and letting the responsibility for the environmental destruction and social degradation fall on the state and the Portuguese people. The legal system during Cavaco Silva’s government coupled with the lack of obligation to submit to the Environmental Impact Assessment in prospecting for oil, as well as in the extraction of oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbons are, together, a real attack on the Constitution, particularly with regard to the Right to the Environment and the Right of Citizens to Participate in environmental matters. The Left Bloc, an Eco socialist political force and advocate for the decarbonisation of the economy is ready for the new climate context. It has publicly positioned itself against concessions on land and at sea, intervened in the national parliament as well as in municipal and intermunicipal assemblies, and supported the public protests against fossil fuels.
In Parliament, a draft resolution to close the Nuclear Power Plant in Almaraz presented by the Left Bloc was approved. This got the ball rolling on a process that had already started, a huge protest on the 11th June in the Spanish city of Cáceres demanding the closure of Almaraz. The power plant, which has been operational for 35 years, has already had 54 major accidents and 32 emergency stops. There are structural problems in the cooling system, which have been the cause of all the major nuclear accidents to date. Its operating life ended in 2010,but despite this, the Spanish government extended its life by over 10 years, promising the private owners an income of 161 million euros per year, one reason why it continues to operate. This year, incidents have started to take place again in the plant and a safety inspection showed that it does not meet minimum safety requirements to remain open. The Left Bloc is committed to getting the power plant closed down, and will work with other parties and environmental organisations in Portugal and in Spanish to do this.
The levels of pollution in the River Tagus have become evident in recent months, having been reported on by environmental groups, fishermen and travel agencies. Various industries dispose of their waste, unmonitored, in the river, resulting in a huge degradation in the quality of the water and its ability to support any biodiversity. The obvious signs of pollution, a change in the properties of the water, its temperature, colours, smells and authentic foam tides cause mass deaths of fish, crayfish and vegetation. In addition to the pollution that is already in the river when it crosses the border from Spain, coming from waste disposed of by various industries including the nuclear power plant in Almaraz and diffuse infiltration of runoff water from agriculture, there are also several reported cases of known companies disposing of their waste in the river. The companies Intergados and Centroliva have received threats from environmental authorities that they will be closed down, but the Portuguese company that is possibly the biggest polluter of the Tagus, Celtejo, remains unscathed and even has plans to make the rules regarding waste disposal more flexible, in order to continue to pollute the river. The power of the pulp and paper industry, which is responsible for the eucaliptization of the country, has also now been revealed. The pulp industry is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, one of the biggest polluters, and occupies a colossal amount of the country’s land. The protests of local people and protests in defence of the Tagus have earned the full support of the Left Bloc in Parliament and the Municipal Assemblies, having established an important link between the issue of the pollution of the Tagus and the question of Almaraz, which have an undeniable connection.
The Ave River has been used in industrial activity and urban development for decades, as drainage for waste that has not been adequately treated. The change in the colours of the chemicals used in the dyeing of fabric in textile mills was one of the characteristically frequent images of the pollution of the Ave. The investment of millions of euros into the infrastructure has not been enough to overcome the devastating effects of the pollutants. Industrial waste disposal, malfunction of WWTPs, the dangerous mixture of wastewater with waste from different sources all continue to take place. The Left Bloc’s initiatives to try to guarantee that the river basin of the Ave is cleaned have become even more relevant recently. This is due to the gravity of the recent discovery, by a team from the Abe Salazar Institute of Biomedical Sciences, of multiresistant bacteria in the river Ave with features that have never been identified before, which could pose a high risk to public health. Facing new risks and demanding a better quality of environment are the main reasons why citizens are fighting for environmental responsibility, against negligence and predatory attitudes, and for a good quality of life and a healthy and sustainable environment.
The ecological crisis will leave its mark on a large part of the national and European political agenda in the coming months. The recent leak of documents by Greenpeace Netherlands, which exposed the most recent TTIP negotiations, reveals plans to end rudimentary environmental protection measures, and places environmental activism in the front line in the battle against the TTIP.
The Left Bloc recognizes the work of the environmental organisations and associations such as the Plataforma Transgénicos Fora (Transgenics Out), Plataforma Algarve Livre de Petróleo (Oil-free Algarve) and Plataforma Não ao TTIP (No to TTIP). No to the Transatlantic Treaty is committed to taking on a new role in environmental battles. In support of this, the National Bureau has decided to:
- Keep the pressure on and continue action against parliament and local authorities, in order to ensure the prohibition of the use of glyphosate.
- Monitor and participate in protests that will take place in the upcoming polls and on fossil fuel exploration in the Alentejo and the Algarve.
- Strive to make the protest "Close Almaraz, Rest in Peace" successful in Cáceres on the 11th June.
- Promote a popular environmental protection initiative based around the Tagus River in the summer.
- Promote public discussion of the TTIP and put Portugal untying itself from the agreement on the political agenda.
2. Refusing to respond to blackmail from Europe. Improving the recovery of income and workers’ rights.
The second trimester of the year is marked by the drafting of National Stability Programmes and National Reform Plans for the Member States of the European Union. This is a corrupt process. It meets one of the requirements of the European Semester, which was created in 2010 as a result of the inaction of the European Union with regard to changing the rules of the financial system in response to the financial crisis, and to impose austerity measures on countries. The rules and targets that this process abides by are not a result of shared responsibilities within the single currency, but rather a consequence of the policy to rescue banks at the expense of the welfare state and labour income.
Stability Programme after the Stability Programme was imposed and still the various governments, but also international institutions (including troika), have always failed to achieve all the proposed targets. They failed because they were trying to meet unattainable targets, which only serve to blackmail countries. To require fiscal consolidation without economic growth in the short-term, in the midst of an international financial and economic crisis is a form of pressure against democracy.
This debate cannot be analysed if only the external pressures are taken into account. Stability Programmes provide significant information about the options that several governments had. In 2015, the Social Democratic Party/ People’s Party government’s proposals included cutting 600 million euros per year in pensions. The Left Bloc recognizes that the current government has distanced itself from this, in compliance with the agreement of the parliamentary majority.
There are, however, signs of concern in the government about the Stability Programme due to an absence of change in response to the problems in the financial system and a lack of investment and continued reduction in the number of civil servants. In the debate on European goals and constraints, the Left Bloc put forward contributions to an economic strategy that creates jobs, a sustained recovery of wages and pensions and the protection of public finances and the country’s economy from external shocks.
Pressure from Europe on Portugal is growing. Whilst trying to influence the elections in Spain, and prevent the formation of a government that is opposed to austerity, the European directory attempts to discredit the Portuguese parliamentary agreement for the recovery of income. The Left Bloc rejects blackmail and continues to dialogue with the government and the parties in the current parliamentary majority so that its social achievements can be even greater.
The Left Bloc is committed to the Working Group, which it participates in with the Government and the Socialist Party, achieving its social objectives in the short term and defining alternatives and convergences to prepare plans for the State Budget for 2017. The Working Group will present reports in July, although a consensus on some advances in socially sensitive areas may even arise before then.
The protests on 1st May were an important event, demanding the reversal of the troika attacks on the labour market. The strength that workers showed that day was notable, joining trade unions, associations and national and international movements to reject job insecurity and demand workers’ rights.
The struggle of dockworkers is an example of the fight against the job insecurity in the working world. What is at stake is the creation of a port labour pool (Porlis) created by the Port of Lisbon Authority, in order to have a pool of workers who are not covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means that they earn minimum wage and do not have dockworkers’ rights. This creation came after the dismissal of workers, and aimed to drive down the wages of all workers, remove rights and promote insecurity. The Left Bloc is opposed to this project designed to bring instability to port workers and recognises their struggle.
State workers require that their 35 hours of work per week be reinstated, as stated in the agreement made by the parliamentary majority. The Left Bloc is committed to ensuring that this happens as quickly as possible, and ensuring that all workers, regardless of their employment status, are included.
3. Defending State Schools
The existence of “Contracts of Association”- contracts made between private schools and the government, in areas where state schooling did not meet minimum requirements for the government to partly fund the school – that now times have changed and state schooling has improved, simply double what is on offer in the area, is an abuse of state resources. While millions are paid into private schools, state schools lose all their students, teachers are laid off and the resources, which are now doubled, are wasted.
The criteria used to establish “Contracts of Association” should always be defined through an analysis of the society in which it will function, as well as criteria based around economic rationality and public interest.
The Left Bloc respects the constitutional freedom of public and private education, and the freedom to choose private education for those who want to pay for it. However, it refuses to allow public investment into education to be wrongfully used as extra income for the owners of schools.
4. The X Left Bloc Convention
The X National Left Bloc Convention takes place on 25th and 26th June 2016, in the Casal Vistoso Pavilion in Lisbon, with the motto: "More Power to Win". On the night of 24th June, there will be an internationalist session focused on activism and social movements.
Translated by Luci Ruas for esquerda.net/English.