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Portugal: A Protest Generation, Foolish and Scraping By

Categories: Western Europe, Portugal, Governance, Labor, Politics, Protest, Youth

Hostilities have commenced. On March 12, in many cities across the country and outside Portuguese delegations throughout the European Union, youth are taking to the streets. According to the organization, the Geração à Rasca [The “Scraping-By” Generation] Protest is a “non-partisan, secular and peaceful protest, aiming to strengthen participatory democracy in the country [1]” [pt]. It emerged as a spontaneous event on Facebook and, in less than a month it has gathered more than 50,000 [Update: 64.639] intentions to participate:

Poster for the "Scraping By" Generation Protest from the event created on Facebook [2]

Poster for the "Scraping By" Generation Protest from the event created on Facebook

Nós, desempregados, “quinhentoseuristas” e outros mal remunerados, escravos disfarçados, subcontratados, contratados a prazo, falsos trabalhadores independentes, trabalhadores intermitentes, estagiários, bolseiros, trabalhadores-estudantes, estudantes, mães, pais e filhos de Portugal. Protestamos:
– Pelo direito ao emprego! Pelo direito à educação!
– Pela… melhoria das condições de trabalho e o fim da precariedade!
– Pelo reconhecimento das qualificações, competência e experiência, espelhado em salários e contratos dignos!

We, the unemployed, the “five-hundred-euro-ists” [referring to monthly wage] and others, poorly paid, disguised slaves, subcontracted, temps, supposed “independent workers” [hired as such by employers to avoid Social Security payments], intermittent workers, interns, fellows, student workers, students, mothers, fathers and children of Portugal. We protest:
– For the right to employment! For the right to education!
– For the improvement of working conditions and for the end of labor precariousness!
– For the recognition of [our] qualifications, competence and experience, reflected in dignified salaries and contracts!

Underemployment in context

Last December, TSF Radio News [3] [pt] broadcaster reported on a data set from INE (National Institute of Statistics) which pointed out that “more than 300,000 young people have no [economic] activity”. In its website, the same radio broadcaster said, on February 24 [4],  that “23 percent of the youth is unemployed, 720,000 have short-term contracts, and there is a further 14 percent increase in use of recibos verdes [workers earning in self-employed tax regime] recorded in the last three months”.

On the blog Epígrafe (Epigraph), Ricardo Salabert, from FERVE [5]Movement [6] (BOIL, an acronymn for Sick of these Recibos Verdes) [pt], explains [7] this kind of relationship to labor markets:

Os recibos verdes são um modelo de facturação aplicável aos trabalhadores independentes, i.e., às pessoas que prestam serviços ocasionais para entidades várias (empresas ou particulares). São exemplo disso os médicos, os arquitectos (entre outros) que podem passar recibos verdes aos seus clientes, não tendo de se estabelecer como empresa.

Recibos verdes is an invoicing model applicable to the self-employed, ie, people who provide occasional services for several entities (companies or individuals). One example is doctors, architects (among others) that can use them to invoice their customers, without having to establish themselves as a company.

And so grows the share of workers who lack any kind of social protection (in sickness, pregnancy, death of relatives), without any holidays or other types of subsidy. These workers can be sent off by the employer at any time since, by law, they have no ties with the enterprise. There are tens of thousands of Portuguese, from all generations, with the status of “false recibos verdes” who are providing services to companies under the same conditions of those with an Employment Contract, as laid out in the Labor Code (article 12) [8] [pt], that keeps them “precarious”.

Music fueling action

Some might call them the Neither-Nor Generation, as Rui Rocha explains [9] [pt], on the blog Delito de Opinião (Crime Opinion):

Nem estudam, nem trabalham. (…) Tipicamente, esta é uma geração potencialmente melhor preparada do que as que a precederam e, aparentemente, muito segura de si. São, todavia, presa fácil da degradação do mercado laboral e não conseguem encontrar uma saída airosa, nem combater este estado de coisas. Os sociólogos identificam uma característica muito comum neste grupo: a inexistência de qualquer projecto de vida. As manifestações mais evidentes são a apatia e a indolência.

They neither study nor work. (…) Typically, this generation is potentially better prepared than its predecessors and it is apparently very self-assured. They are, however, easy prey to the degradation of the labor market and they cannot find a graceful way out, nor fight against this state of affairs. Sociologists identify a very common feature in this group: the absence of any life plan. The most obvious manifestations are apathy and indolence.

Around the end of January, the musical group Deolinda [10] presented in its tour an unreleased piece that came to stir up emotion, giving a name and a voice to what has become, thereafter, known as the Foolish Generation.

Sou da geração sem remuneração
E nem me incomoda esta condição
Que parva que eu sou!
Porque isto está mau e vai continuar
Já é uma sorte eu poder estagiar
Que parva que eu sou!
E fico a pensar,
Que mundo tão parvo
Onde para ser escravo é preciso estudar…

I am from the generation without remuneration
And it doesn't even bother me this condition
What a fool I am!
Because things are bad and it will continue
Yet I am lucky I have an internship
What a fool I am!
And then I wonder,
Such a foolish world
Where, to become a slave, one must study …
Satire to Isabel Stilwell's article, on the Facebook page "artº 21" (article of the Portuguese Constitution which refers to the right to resist) [11]

Satire to Isabel Stilwell's article, on the Facebook page "artº 21" (article of the Portuguese Constitution which refers to the right to resist)

Deolinda's song, with an increasing number of 345,000 views on YouTube, spontaneously became a hymn to the “(now) foolish generation”.

A few days after, the editorial [12] [pt] of a free daily newspaper in Portugal, in the words of its director, Isabel Stilwell, said that “if they studied and they are slaves, they are fools indeed. Fools for having spent their parents’ money and our taxes to study and ending up not learning a thing”. In response she received thousands of comments, multiplying across social media.

The hymn then became the gunpowder that ignited the fuse for everyone who feels is paying for mistakes made ​​by the generation that came before [13] [pt].

Many problems, few solutions

If on one hand this has brought some together in common resistance, on the other hand many others have distanced themselves. It has awoken some semi-dormant debates.

While the blog O Jumento (Jackass) reflects on the inter-generational solidarity (or the lack of it) [14] [pt], Helena Matos, on the blog Blasfémias (Blasphemy), questions the legitimacy [15] [pt] of this generation to claim the same rights as their parents:

Preparam-se agora os ditos membros da geração à rasca não para exigir que os mais velhos mudem de vida mas sim que também eles possam manter esse tipo de vida. Quem vier depois que se amanhe. A prosseguirmos, dentro de alguns anos, assistiremos a protestos de gerações que se dirão bem pior do que à rasca.

The so-called members of the “scraping-by” generation are now getting ready not to urge older people to change their lives but to demand that they too can also maintain that kind of life. Those who come after will manage. Down the line, within a few years, we will see protests by the generations that will describe themselves as much worse than “scraping by”.

Luis Novaes Tito appeals for a change [16] [pt] to the status quo, on the blog A Barbearia do Senhor Luis (Mr. Luis Barber Shop), making a warning though regarding the conflict of generations:

Concordo que, em vez de chorarem pelos cantos embalados pelo faducho do “já não posso mais”, vão para a rua gritar que é tempo de mudar, antes que os mandem embalar a trouxa e zarpar.

I agree that instead of crying in the corners wrapped up in a Fado-like “I cannot go on anymore”, just go onto the streets screaming that it's time to change, before they send you packing and fleeing.

From posts and comments, to editorials and opinion pieces in traditional media, there are also those who keep trying to push society to the heart of the problem: causes and solutions (knowing that it is easier to agree on causes than solutions). So the discussion has extended to the role of the State and the legislator [17], and also to Universities and institutions of higher education [18].

And so goes Portugal, “a country of mild manners”, whose basket of conformism may have filled up once and for all. Far from finding a platform for consultation between the political class, civil society and the very Generation in question, the movement that grew and spread against the odds now seeks the path to maturity. Today is its first major test to go through, and, given the fragility of counting on numbers from social networks, we will only know the true extent of this generation's will to change a country when the hour comes. And we wait. Anxiously.

This article was proofread by Janet Gunter [19].