Thursday, 6 May 2010

A chronology of something unusual in Portugal…

A chronology of something unusual in Portugal…

Friday, May 30th – a shipowners and fishermen’s strike begins in the night of Thursday to friday, inserted in an international shipowners and fishermen’s strike, with the declared objective of obtaining a reduction in the oil’s price. Just to offer some context, in Portugal what always happens during strikes is: some union calls for a strike (usually a one-day strike), the workers stop working, the union calls off the strike, everyone gets back to work.
The strikers constitute flying pickets and do blockades in the places where fish is sold by auction – i.e., no fish going in nor going out. Desperate because they can’t afford the escalation in prices, they say the strike will only end when the oil price lowers. Associations and unions of the fishing sector are involved in the strike.

Saturday, May 31st – every place where fish is sold by auction is blockaded. In Matosinhos angry fishermen invade the warehouse (DocaPesca) where fish is being stored (to be sold Monday, during the strike, at a much more expensive price), and destroy 1 ton of fish, throwing it all over the place. They say the people who want to sell it are trying to fuck with their strike. There are skirmishes between fishermen and cops, who are trying to stop the destruction and expel them from the warehouse. Fish and wooden boxes are thrown at the cops; two of them slip on the fish and fall down; one other cop gets his head broken because of a flying box. The scene is like poetry. No detentions are made; maybe the cops feel it is better for them this way. After all the fish and boxes are all over the place, the cops manage to put the fishermen out. The fishermen remain outside, the warehouse is locked with a padlock.

Sunday, June 1st – groups of striking fishermen, in different towns and villages, remain outside all the places where fish is sold by auction and at the ports. The Minister of Agriculture and Fishing, during a visit to Quarteira, runs away from a small demo carried out by local enraged fishermen with black flags (a symbol of the strike), and declares that the actions done by some fishermen are inadmissible, and that “dialogue with the fishermen is not unconditional”. Maybe some fishermen don’t want to dialogue with him.

Monday, June 2nd – animated by the actions of the Matosinhos’ colleagues, the fishermen from north to south go on with the blockades, demanding drivers to stop the vehicles for them to look inside if they’re carrying any fish into the markets, and close markets with chains and lockpads. The President of the Republic appeals to calm and responsibility and asks for an end to the strike. The leader of the new-age Trotskyist party “Bloco de Esquerda” visits some of the strikers in a village, shakes some hands and poses to the cameras.
There are some skirmishes outside the markets of Quarteira and Vila Praia de Âncora between fishermen and riot cops. In Quarteira the fishermen seize two hundred kilos of fish that was being transported by truck from Spain into the market, and give it to charities. The market is closed with a lockpad. The riot cops keep the fishermen away from it. In Olhão someone runs over two striking fishermen that were in a flying picket at the port.

Tuesday, June 3rd – meeting between the Minister of Agriculture and Fishing and fishing unions’ and associations’ representatives. A lot of chatter about “social measures to help the shipowners and the fishermen”; none of them involves the reduction in the oil’s price the fishermen want.
The strike goes on, as well as the blockades from north to south outside the places where fish is sold by auction and some markets, and at the ports. At night, one hundred posters are glued in and around all the entrances of five Lisbon markets in solidarity “with the wild fishermen”. The posters say: “Fish?! Only against the unions’ representatives, the politicians and the police! Autonomy and proliferation of the blockades, invasions and sabotages! Active solidarity with the wild fishermen! some anarchists animated by rebellion”.

Wednesday, June 4th – in the afternoon the unions and associations call off the strike “as a sign of goodwill and openness to the negotiations with the government”. Some fishermen get angry and disappointed with that decision; most of them are just discouraged.
At night, at least in Olhão a wildcat protest takes place outside the place where fish is sold by auction, in the blockade. The protest is made up of many “small fishermen”, as they underline. They say it makes no sense to stop the strike now: “we’ve been on strike for six days, we can go on for another six; until they lower the oil’s price. This deal they made yesterday may be good but only for the big companies and owners; we can’t live like this. For us, it makes no sense to stop the strike now; our Spanish, French and Italian colleagues are in Brussels fighting for a price reduction, helping us; we should go on with the strike and the blockades here, in solidarity. Our struggle is the same”.
Some union representatives say the negotiations are already in course, so it’s time to get back to work. The police commander arrives at the local and, paternalistically, says they can’t go on with the blockade and that “now everything is already being negotiated, so the street isn’t anymore the place to resolve things”. It sounds like talking to children…
But for some hours, the fishermen remain on strike, and maintain the blockade in the entrance to the port. Against the politicians’s appeals to calm, against the police orders and against the unions’ and associations’ orders; by themselves.
As the night went by this energy started to vanish, and “the reality of all authorities settled in”. At 3 in the morning only a black flag is left on the site, and everything returns to normal.

Thursday, June 5th – around three hundred fishermen from Spain, outside and against the unions, blockaded for three hours, during the morning, the bridge that makes the border between Spain and Portugal near Ayamonte. They did it with banners, very lights, burning tires and boxes and stones. The police kept a distance. They sent a message to the Portuguese colleagues: “we don’t know why our Portuguese colleagues already called off the strike, it makes no sense. They should be here with us, fighting. They live the same reality we live.” Then, they said they were going to look for other key points to blockade, and if necessary “we go to Madrid with reinforcements”. Afterwards they left to Punta Umbria, because they heard that some fishermen weren’t on strike there; when they arrived they saw everyone was also on strike. The Portuguese media were saying, since monday, that almost all the Spanish and French fishermen had already called off the strike and returned to work…

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