Speech by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary, Session/Debate «2018 State Budget - Advances and Limitations: The Struggle for a Patriotic and Left-wing Policy»

2018 State Budget - Advances and Limitations: The Struggle for a Patriotic and Left-wing Policy»

2018 State Budget - Advances and Limitations: The Struggle for a Patriotic and Left-wing Policy»

In these two years of the new phase of national political life, launched with the struggle of the workers and the decisive action of the PCP, it was possible, although to a limited extent, to carry out measures to restore the rights, wages and income of workers and people, and answer some of the problems most felt by the Portuguese people.

This action was, once again, very obvious in the debate on the State Budget for 2018 that has just been adopted - the third State Budget of this new phase of national political life.

A Budget that takes new steps along this same path of restoration, defence and achievement of rights, new advances inseparable from the contribution of our Party and, of course, from the struggle that was carried out by workers and populations, demanding the restoration of rights and incomes that were confiscated in recent years by policies of the right, SGP, Pact of Aggression, and particularly as a result of the last PSD/CDS government's action that furthered the long-standing offensive.

It is true that the country's situation, the extent of the problems accumulated, the structural response the country needs does not meet the full response required in this Budget.

Despite being a budget that is still far from responding to the necessary answer to recover the levels of degradation of living conditions and far from taking the necessary steps for the country's fundamental problems, this does not belittle what the State Budget holds in terms of new advances.

It consolidates and confirms what has been achieved so far, and new measures are set down in a course favourable to the rights and interests of the workers and the people.

Measures and advances that a PS majority government would have never adopted, as it has never in the past adopted.

Advances and measures that do not go further only because the PS government remains bound to options and commitments that limit and prevent a more substantial response to the structural problems of the Country.

We have stated that one should look not only at what has been achieved, but what we would have faced today if the role and initiative of the PCP had not been decisive in stopping the action of the PSD/CDS government.

This being entirely true, it is also necessary to register what was possible to restore and achieve, the significance of the answer that was given (limited it is true) to the problems of the workers and the people.

All you have to see is the discomfort in some circles of commentators and analysts about the "sin" of this State Budget. The new advances despair them. But what despairs them more is what they define as consolidated expenditure, and which will remain for the future, enshrined as gains for workers or pensioners.

PCP's contribution towards further advances was truly decisive.

A contribution that goes beyond and much beyond, the value of our intervention in the speciality of the Budget where it was possible to improve the State Budget with more than 40 proposals adopted from among the 125 proposals that the PCP Parliamentary Group presented.

That which is most decisive and important in the 2018 State Budget had already been included in the Budget Proposal with the intervention of the PCP.
Those which are 3 of the most important features of this Budget are indissociable from the action and insistence of the PCP:
- The new special increase in pensions;
- The cut in the Income Tax for workers and pensioners with the creation of two new brackets and the increase of the so-called "minimum of existence";
- The unfreezing of career progression, which together with the replacement of the value of overtime, night work and quality hours, continues the elimination of restrictions on workers' rights.
To which we must add three important measures, which were assumed as commitments with the intervention of the PCP and implemented in the specialty - the elimination of the 10% cut in unemployment benefit, the increase in the tax on large profits (State surtax from 7 to 9%) and free textbooks.

The 2018 State Budget is worth for what it re-writes, for what it continues in the advances adopted in 2016 and 2017 and for the expression reached by many of the progresses made.

There are many proposals in the Budget for the coming year that will address the problems of workers, pensioners, youth and other layers of the population.

In the field of social aid we have, among other things: in addition to the elimination of the 10% cut in the unemployment subsidy that benefits more than 90 thousand unemployed, the extension of aid to the long-term unemployed; the counting of compulsory military service for retirement purposes; the strengthening of aid for people with disabilities.

Also in the field of the rights of those who work, it includes besides what I have already mentioned regarding the unfreezing of career progression that will benefit more than 400 thousand workers and the matter of overtime, the consecration of the revision of the pay scale of the operational assistants; the elimination of obstacles to teachers' progression and the return of the right to the full Christmas bonus in 2018. Through the initiative of the PCP, this achievement was defended, which, under the pretext of the troika, they tried to eliminate, by disguising the cuts in salaries in 12 monthly payments and increase in taxes.

The new special increase in pensions means that in two years more than 1 million pensioners receive an accumulated increase of more than 22 euros and about 900 thousand more than 13 euros.

In the area of fiscal policy we have taken further steps towards greater fiscal fairness with the proposals of the PCP. With the two new Income Tax brackets, the tax relief for two million and eight hundred thousand people will be guaranteed, with a real tax cut in 2018, which can amount to € 198 or € 293 per person, depending if the 2nd or 3rd bracket is applied and with the increase of the "minimum of existence" we have the exemption or reduction of the Income Tax of up to 480 euros for another 190 thousand workers and pensioners.

In addition, we have the elimination of the Income Tax surcharge and the increase in taxes on companies with a profit in excess of EUR 35 million.

But also proposals to respond to problems in other areas, with an impact on the productive sectors, such as the proposal that was adopted to change the costs of the social tariff of natural gas or that which guarantees the reduction of costs with statutory audit of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises or the renewal of support for agriculture and fisheries previously created with the proposal of the PCP.

We also highlight the measures taken to defend and promote public services.

Particularly important was the adoption of PCP’s proposal to unlock investments in healthcare, education and transport, excluding them from Budget captivations, as well as the recruitment of workers after an evaluation of the needs of public services.

But also the freezing of judicial costs and in healthcare, among others, the increase in the number of healthcare units in the community.

Also in the field of improving access to education and culture, progress was made with the adoption of PCP’s proposals, in particular with the extension that ensured free textbooks for 200,000 students in the 2nd. cycle, to include the first six years of schooling, benefiting a total of 555,000 children; with the reduction of the number of students per class; strengthening the means of special education; with the improvement of the conditions of schoolrooms in public network pre-schools; with the emergency programme for cultural heritage and a cut in VAT for musical instruments.

In the framework of the Integrated Fire-fighting Programme and out of the 44 proposals by the PCP to support the victims of forest fires, forest protection, valorisation of family and rural agriculture and promotion of regional development, 10 were adopted.

This set of measures of advances is not negligible, but do not conceal a central issue: the State Budget now adopted is a budget under the responsibility of the PS government. It is a budget conditioned by the option of the PS not to face the European Union’s impositions or to break with the interests of big capital, and that this prevents going further as was necessary.

Other necessary and indispensable measures have not yet been achieved, such as:
- the extension of the family allowance for children over 3 years of the 4th. bracket of income and its universalization to the 5th. and 6th, brackets;
- due taxation on movable assets, mandatory aggregation of incomes, capital gains and dividends;
- a level of public investment capable of ensuring the development of the country.

Many other limitations remain that within and outside the State Budget are explained by the PS's options to maintain its commitments to big capital and the European Union.

The option of the PS government to submit to the Euro and refuse to renegotiate public debt, eliminate public-private partnerships, or promote fiscal justice are obstacles to improving the people's living conditions and the Country's development.

And this is why it is necessary to continue the struggle to make a break with the right-wing policy, to respond to the structural problems of the Country and to demand the implementation of the measures and possibilities opened in the State Budget.

Measures that go beyond those enshrined in the State Budget, such as the valuation of labour and workers, namely the repeal of labour legislation, Labour Code and labour legislation of the Public Administration, in particular the expiry of collective bargaining contracts and the reinstatement of the most favourable treatment to workers, as well as the replacement of the rights which were meanwhile withdrawn. But also the general increase of wages and of the National Minimum Wage to 600 euros, in January 2018.

It is very hard to live on the National Minimum Wage of 557 euros per month (495 net).

In the last two years, there has been an increase in the Minimum Wage, inseparable from the workers' struggle and PCP's action, but it is not enough and the increase to 580 euros in 2018 is insufficient.

Refuting employer confederations, the increase in the National Minimum Wage contributes to economic development and job creation, as evidenced in recent years.

The increase of the Minimum Wage to 600 euros is not unrealistic. It is rather indispensable for a fairer distribution of wealth, for the improvement of living conditions, for the increase in the amount of pensions in the future and for facing the situation of those who become poor while working.

The increase of the National Minimum Salary to 600 euros contributes to economic development, stimulates the domestic market, creates jobs, valorises productive activities and services, increases the degree of national incorporation and the value of exports.

The increase of the National Minimum Wage to 600 euros enables to increase Social Security revenues contributing to its financial soundness and to the increase of social benefits.

There is no reason why the National Minimum Wage should not be set at 600 euros in January.

The contribution made by the PCP is visible, without which the essence of what has been achieved would not have been possible.

Without belittling the advances, it is clear that a different policy is needed to provide a structural response to the country's structural problems.

The country's long-standing problems persist and continue to condition its life and development, particularly structural weaknesses and deficits, enhanced by the continued loss of instruments of sovereignty and the absence of a development option based on the affirmation of sovereignty and independence.

The backwardness and weaknesses of the productive apparatus, the shortages in public services, the evolution in the monopoly sectors against national and workers' interests, the daily drainage of tens of millions of euros abroad in dividends and interest, the offensive of big business against workers' rights, low wages and precariousness, social injustices and inequalities, are expressions of a reality that demands political answers different from those that have been applied in the country in recent years and which the present PS government essentially maintains.

Portugal needs to follow a different path, in rupture with right-wing policies. It needs to raise to a higher level the answer to core problems.

It needs a policy that faces the constraints to which it is subject: an unsustainable debt, the submission to the Euro and to the monopoly groups.

It needs a policy capable of overcoming and surmounting its structural deficits - in addition to the productive, energy, scientific, food, demographic deficits - causes of its prolonged decline.

Portugal needs a patriotic and left-wing policy and the PCP affirms itself as the great force carrying this alternative policy that the country needs.

It is affirming the need for this patriotic and left-wing alternative policy that we continue to develop our action and intervention, in close connection with daily life, and the permanent struggle we fight for raising the living conditions of workers and people.

But it is in the struggle of the workers and the people, now-a-days in a better position to develop given the change in the correlation of forces, that lies the decisive condition to continue on the path of defence, restoration and achievement of rights, and demand a different policy to respond to their aspirations and ensure the sovereign development of the Country.

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