View from Portugal: Strike adds to plunging confidence

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The Independent Online

Tired of paying the price for the country's financial troubles, hundreds of thousands of Portuguese workers walked out on strike yesterday in protest against government plans to raise taxes, freeze pensions and cut public sector salaries. Factories halted production, trains sat idle, schools closed and air traffic was grounded at Lisbon's airport in Portugal's largest general strike for 22 years.

The strike, led by the nation's two major unions, representing 1.5 million people, comes as the Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates attempts to restore investor confidence in the country with a second round of deficit-reducing measures. As its bond ratings take a beating, the Portuguese government is trying to escape the fate of Greece and Ireland, where debt crises led to near financial collapse and bailouts. But Portuguese workers fear the austerity measures will fuel unemployment and hurt the poorest sectors of society, who are forced to pay the price for investor jitters.

"It's the workers who are paying for the crisis, not the bankers nor the shareholders of big companies," Leandro Martins, a 65-year-old pensioner, told Reuters.

"People are outraged by the injustice," a trade union leader, Manuel Carvalho da Silva, said.

That anger stopped 80 per cent of the country's trains running, all of Lisbon's metro lines, and nearly 45 per cent of health workers stayed at home.