Saturday, July 25, 2009

Portugese Railway Workers in Major Struggles Against Privatization

Railways in Portugal/European Union: The Union Perspective Against Privatization

by Mike Tolochko

As most U. S. railway travelers who look forward to rail travel in Europe and parts of Asia know, similar experiences in the U.S. are rare. The "fast trains" of France, the TGV, are reaching ever corner of the European Union countries. This is both good news and bad news.

Jose Manuel Oliveira, President of the Railway Workers Union [SNTSF], reports this mixed experience.

On the positive side, there are plans to link Lisbon in two ways to the rest of Europe. The "fast train" link would be to France and up to Paris; and the other would be a direct link to Madrid, Spain. These are fully supported by the SNTSF. Another project which does not have their support is to put a similar "fast train" on the cost of Portugal, linking Porto to Lisbon and then South. Oliveira said that the current travel time for that route is already quite short; so the use of valuable resources to reconstruct that line would be a mistake.

There is a problem with the rail gauge between Portugal and the rest of Europe. The Portuguese gauge is narrower; so, it would have to be rebuilt in conformance with the rest of Europe.

The main problem part of these projects is what has not been determined: if these expansion projects would be: fully public; joint ventures with other governments such as the Spanish; or would they be fully private. Regardless of who runs the lines, public money would be main, if not only, financing of the expansion.

After the Dictatorship

The Portuguese system, called the CP system, since the end of the dictatorship in 1974, has been completely public. In a note, Oliveira said that since that same date, all the buses were also made fully public. That meant that there is a fully articulated system between the public trains and buses that needs to be maintained as we go forward, he said.

But, over the past years the public bus lines have been severely cut to the rural areas. This has forced people to buy cars. This has come as a result of EU directives and the government of Portugal going along. It is against all environmental and climate change imperatives.

Suburban train lines are under attack. The new train between Lisbon and the town of Setubal was built with only public moneys but it was turned over to a private company for its running. And, the practices of those running that suburban line are to strongly discourage those workers from joining the union. Security cameras document the activities of the workers and especially if these workers are being engaged by the union.

Wage Growth

From 1993 to the present time the union has been able to win 23 wage increases for the workers; but at the same time the managerial personnel's salaries were increased by 120%.


Olivier said that his work in the World Federation of Trade Union's Trade Union's, Trade Union International [TUI] for the International of Rail and Transport unions is essential to their work. He is the President of that TUI and the General Secretary is from Brazil. With powerful political organizations such as the European Union making decisions that directly affect workers lives, the WFTU-TUI on this issue can help deter those most dangerous attacks on workers rights and solidarity. Of course, the EU is just a part of the G8's efforts to maintain the goals of the neo-liberal agenda.

This TUI is an independent formation whose members come from the WFTU and the more centrist International Trade Union Confederation ITUC.