Demonstrators across Portugal are protesting austerity measures, even as the unemployment rate there tops 15 percent. Lisa Mullins gets the view from Lisbon with Barry Hatton, author of the book “The Portuguese.”
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Lisa Mullins: I am Lisa Mullins and this is The World, the co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. It’s not just the Middle East where tensions are high these days. People in Portugal are angry as well; not about a prophet but about profits or lack thereof. We’re talking money. The Portuguese unemployment rate is now 15.7 percent and the government is slashing spending to reduce its deficit. Well today, Portugal’s Prime Minister said he feels the people’s pain. He suggested the government might soften planned tax hikes. Journalist Barry Hatton lives in Lisbon and he’s the author of the book “The Portuguese” released last year. He says there are a number of issues driving the unrest.
Barry Hatton: Well, the main one that is really annoying everybody is that social security contributions that are taken out of your monthly salary they have gone up a heck of a lot for workers. In fact, most workers will lose a month’s pay next year. In the meantime, the government is asking companies, employers, business leaders to pay less social security contributions and they’re hoping that the companies will use that extra money, kind of a windfall if you like, to start hiring more people. Of course, people just say that they will just use it to pay that improve their bottom line and pay higher dividends to their shareholders. So, I’m just saying that nobody is happy about it. Even the business leaders don’t like it. The trade unions hate it. The opposition parties hate it too. So, the government has been pushed into a corner and it’s very likely they will retreat on it.
Mullins: Who has been doing, generally, the demonstrating? I mean, who is out there?
Hatton: The last two major demonstrations we’ve had here have been organized just by the general public on Facebook. We had one last year which was a huge one organized by four unemployed students or recent graduates. The one we had recently here in September was again organized on Facebook by a group of intellectuals. Obviously, you have the trade unions and politicians, but you also have pensioners with their grandchildren, for example, because going to university here, going to college no longer guarantees you a job and even if you do get a job it doesn’t guarantee you a well-paying job. There are middle-aged people…middle class people who have taken the brunt of these austerity measures in fact are in danger of losing their home; increasing amount are asking for food aid from the food banks. So there’s a sense of a broad outrage building across societies. This is not just political, it is people standing up and expressing their anger.
Mullins: That’s reporter Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal.
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