Strikes? My contact in Lisbon had mentioned that there were a number of strikes happening around the country, and that it was rather like the 80s. The same could be said of the UK: for all the talk of Margaret Thatcher facing down organised labour, there were still an awful lot of days lost to strike action on her watch.
Well, maybe the strikes aren’t back in the UK yet – unless you’re a frequent flyer with BA – but they’ve reappeared with a vengeance in Portugal. And today brought a fairly typical slice of strike action, with a national public transport strike. There was some serious disruption, but it was possible – straightforward – to get round it. And thereby hangs the problem for the workers involved.
All the privately run bus and coach services around the country were unaffected. Even Carris, the bus and tram operator in Lisbon, was running a near normal service. So when I found the trains weren’t running, I had a Plan B ready, featuring a Rede Expressos coach, along with a local bus to finish off. This worked fine, and the only benefit for the strikers is that someone else got my custom, and my money.
And there’s the problem: folks can switch from rail to coach without a significant time penalty: Portugal’s main motorways are toll roads, and coaches can cruise at maximum speed for much of their journey, as traffic is nowhere near as heavy as the UK. The strikers, among other demands, don’t want a pay freeze, but if they push for more money now, things will be much, much worse further down the track.Apparently truck drivers are limbering up for a dispute of their own, which may feature road blockades. Now that will be serious – but equally futile, given the economic situation and Portugal’s debt level.