A Greve Geral, or General Strike for all of Portugal was called for March 22. Our tiny village of Salir do Porto was not going to be Greve central so I was following the build up on T.V.
In Caldas da Rainha banners were announcing the greve for weeks, on T.V. public service ads featuring real workers were talking about why they were striking. You had to be living in a cave to not realize that March 22 was not a great day to use a bus, train or subway, go to school, the hospital or post office. Any city or county business would be either closed or working with very little staff. Turns out many people do live in little caves and were stuck on train platforms and bus stops.
March 22, I jumped out of bed and turned on the news expecting to see thousands of workers walking arm and arm down Lisbon and Porto’s grand boulevards, rallying for economic justice. So many Portuguese the government could not ignore them. I was looking forward to seeing a peaceful bunch of communists and socialists telling their government to stop placing the burden of E.U. economy on them. At last, I will be able to see the first amendment being respected, how fun!
It was a bit disappointing, seemed everyone is too busy working two or three jobs to keep up with the cuts caused by austerity, they didn’t have time to strike. Yes, the ports were closed, TAP the national airline was grounded for a while, buses, trains and subways didn’t run. Hospitals were only open for emergencies and many schools were shut as were the factories. But, there weren’t the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese demanding economic justice on the ruas. There were thousands, a good number, but not what I expected of my tough little country.
There was even a “bad cop” incident that looked very much like my home country, the U.S.A. Policemen in riot gear were a bit brutal and beat up a French photographer assigned to cover the story. A few others were bloodied as well, that was the only violence, and it was by the police, none by the demonstrators. I say get out the red carnations and start stuffing the gun barrels again. No buildings were damaged, no windows broken by the demonstrators. When President Aníbal António Cavaco Silva apologized, very sincerely on behalf of the government for the brutal behavior by the police I was relieved. Can you imagine Obama behind the podium saying “Whoops” over broken heads caused by Capital police during demonstrations in Washington D.C., it would never happen.
And this is one of the reasons why I live in Portugal, we really do have the right to public assembly, and it is good.