Tens of thousands of people have pledged to take part in public demonstrations on Saturday 12 March against the lack of jobs, poor wages and unjust working conditions. The move comes after more than 37,000 people responded to a national Facebook appeal for Portugal’s ‘Desperate Generation’ to publicly vent their frustration at unemployment and other social issues by taking to the streets of Portugal’s major cities. This news emerged as the prime minister, backed up by his finance minister, this week suggested Portuguese taxpayers could be asked to tighten their belts even further as the crisis shows no sign of easing its grip on the nation’s economy.
A Facebook page created to air the plight of the nation’s struggling working class and unemployed by organising protests has had a mass response.
At the time of going to press, 37,039 Portuguese Facebook users had pledged their presence at one of the staged protests, while a further 32,293 said they ‘maybe attending’.
The ‘Demonstration of the Desperate Generation’ appeal was first posted on 11 February.
Describing the initiative as “nonpartisan, secular and peaceful”, Paula Gil, one of four organisers who created the Facebook appeal, told Lusa News Agency they were surprised at the surge of interest in the first social network appeal of its kind.
“We didn’t expect such a rapid growth” of support, she said.
The two main demonstrations will take place along the Avenida da Liberdade and in the Praça Luís de Camões (Lisbon), from 3pm, and also in Oporto’s Praça D. João I, from 3:30pm.
It is believed other smaller demonstrations will be staged simultaneously throughout the country.
A mission statement on the ‘Protesto da Geração á Rasca’ Facebook page reads: “We, the unemployed, the €500-earners and other poorly paid [employees], the slaves in disguise, the subcontracted, the temps, the fake self-employed, the intermittent workers (…) mothers, fathers and children of Portugal. We protest: For the right to employment, for the right to education, for the right to improved working conditions and an end to instability; for the recognition of qualifications, competence and experience, reflected in contracts and dignified salaries.
“Because we don’t want to be forced into emigrating, dragging the country into an even deeper social and economic crisis!”
The demonstrations are set for one week before a day of protest called by the country’s largest labour confederation to denounce government austerity policies, including cuts in public employee salaries.
Ms. Gil said some Facebook activists were considering expanding the initiative to other Portuguese cities, including the capital of the Azores Islands, Ponta Delgada.
Meanwhile Prime Minister José Sócrates unveiled a five-point plan last Friday, 25 February, to boost employment for Portuguese youth, including an increase of nearly 38% in the number of paid work internships.
Sócrates, speaking in parliament, said the government would boost internships this year to 50,000 from 37,000 in 2010.
Other announced measures are the inclusion of internees in the social security system and prohibiting unpaid internships.
Noting that youth unemployment had increased world-wide, the prime minister said he did not accept the “false and dangerous idea” that education had ceased to be a source of employment and social mobility.
“Portugal has chosen a path: the path of more education, more qualifications, and more science, innovation and technology”, he told the lawmakers.
While reaffirming his administration’s top priority of balancing the country’s public accounts, Sócrates vowed that austerity policies would not derail efforts to “modernise the economy and society”, especially in “creating more opportunities for youth”.
Recent statistics relating to the fourth quarter of 2010, released last week by the National Statistics Institute (INE), show that the largest sector of Portugal’s jobless citizens is aged between 15 and 24.
Unemployment in Portugal in January this year was 11.2 percent, the same as in December 2010, affecting more than 600,000 people.
Of the different age groups affected by the lack of employment, young people were hardest hit.
Twenty-three percent of young adults aged between 15 and 24 in Portugal are currently unemployed, 27.5 percent of whom have a university degree.
This is nearly double the amount of people in the 25-34 age group who are unemployed (13.6 percent), as well as being more than twice the number of 35-44-year-olds who are without work (9.6 percent).
Senior members of the UGT trade union have termed the current unemployment figures, particularly the number of young unemployed people, as “alarming”.
“These are alarming figures, which greatly concern the UGT”, Luís Correia, a member of the UGT’s Permanent Committee told Lusa News Agency, adding that the expectation is for the concerns to continue throughout the rest of the year.