Michaela Merz

Strike in Lisbon

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I had an exciting day ahead of me. In the afternoon I should meet the Portuguese VAT authorities to discuss their new measure for enhancing tax honesty and from 5 to 7 pm I had a lecture at the “Universidade Catolica Portuguesa Escola de Lisboa” on compliance efficiency. I was really looking forward to both events.

At Zurich airport it was clear that even the departure from Zurich was uncertain because public servants were on strike in Lisbon. In the last 12 months I somehow magically had attracted strikes and demonstrations. One only had to look where I was going in order to know where one better should not go on a certain day. I was blocked by the demonstration of medical staff in Madrid, in Prague, when the employees of the transport company blocked the main arteries, in San Francisco when I was woken during one week every morning by chanting trade unions and then there were the strikes in Lisbon and Istanbul. Even though I was never responsible for the strikes, the strikes nonetheless hit me every time one way or another.

I departed from Zurich with considerable delay and managed it to the meeting in the ministry and was also in time for my lecture. The number of demonstrators which I saw in front of the ministry seemed very small and I could not imagine that such a small crowd could block a city to such extent. But obviously I did not see everything.

I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in the taxi for the main arteries were blocked. And the taxi driver told me a lot about today’s Lisbon. I don’t speak Portuguese but his pronunciation was so distinct that I could hear his Russian accent. When I asked him in Russian, an unbraked exciting avalanche of words was the answer. He was from the Ukraine, from the Bukovina and had come to Lisbon years ago to work in the construction industry. There was a lot of work and he earned well. Then the standstill came and the construction industry was dead. He had to look for a new job and found the job as taxi driver. He works 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, always during night time. According to what he said, Portuguese people don’t like working during night time and thus he has mainly colleagues from Romania, Moldavia and the Ukraine. He earns enough for living and saves for building his own house in the Bukovina, where he would like to return one day with his Ukrainian wife and their 2 years old daughter. He told about the difficulties in the Portuguese health system, where one has to wait for two years for operations, about pickpockets in public transport and advised me to use a certain line, whose number I forgot immediately, only with extreme caution. When he got to know where I am from he also told me that his father had been visiting as very young soldier in a tank in 1969 and that it had been very difficult for him because he had felt the hate of the people. At the end of our journey the taxi driver made sure that I did not forget anything, absolutely nothing in his taxi.

But the worst picture was at the airport. On the following day when the strike was already over it looked like after a disaster. Countless people, endlessly long queues, sleeping, crumpled, overtired people everywhere, on the floor, on the seats and suitcases. Stranded passengers from the day before with the goal to continue their journey on that day.

Strikes and demonstrations lead to collateral damages. You can react in both ways. Try to understand the reasons or showing incomprehension for them. But your reaction will not change the fact of the existence of it.

In fact, I was not directly affected by it at that time. Lisbon is a fascinating and interesting place. A sunset walk at the bank with view of the bridge and the Statute of Christ is magnificent. The evening could be completed with diner at the “café in”, where you can enjoy delicious fishes. As an additional benefit, the money of tourists strongly supports the struggled Portuguese economy. That is why you should not hesitate, visit that place! According to the newspapers, the police arrested 226 protestors. Those persons managed with their unauthorized manifestation to tie up the traffic all over the city. As a consequence, they may be condemned to imprisonment up to five years. According to the labour unions, the austerity policy eliminated almost 300’000 jobs within the country so far.

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