Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Portugal 1974/75: Radio and Revolution

In April 1974, left leaning military officers overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship and ended its colonial wars in Africa. For the next two years Portugal was in turmoil, with workers taking over workplaces and many hoping to push the revolution further. The radio stations were one of the key sites of struggle, in particular RĂ¡dio Renascença.

The Revolution Started with a Song by John Hoyland (Street Life, November 1 1975):

'3 am, April 25 1974. By prior arrangement with the rebel Armed Forces Movement (AFM), a DJ on Lisbon's Radio Renascenca plays 'Grandola, Vila Morena', a popular song of the day whose possible subversive meaning had escaped the censor's ears. The song is a signal for a military uprising that, with scarcely any opposition, overthrows the Caetano Government, and brings to an end 50 years of fascism in Portugal. The next day, the people pour into the streets, and give the soldiers red carnations. The soldiers stick the flowers in their guns...'

Tuesday August 26 1975

A visit to Radio Renascenca (RR), the radio station that the workers took over from its owners, the Catholic Church. As well as broadcasting news of workers' struggles and discussions with workers and peasants, it plays a lot of good music — including the best rock music in Lisbon — and has an hour a day in Spanish, beamed across Portugal towards Spain. A couple of the workers describe the history of their struggle to take over the radio station from their bosses — how the AFM sent a unit of COPCON [a military organisation] to hand RR back to the Church, and how the occupying workers broadcast a call to the people of Lisbon to help them — with the result that thousands of workers gathered outside the building to defend it, the COPCON soldiers refused to obey their orders, and in the end the AFM was forced to ratify the occupation.

The workers — both young guys, one of them with extremely long hair — go on to say that they are currently linking up with all the Lisbon Workers' Commissions, with the idea of forming a city-wide co-operative that would control the radio-station, and also finance it. "Then we won't have to take any more advertisements, not even from the nationalised industries." (At the moment a radio talk on the concept of Popular Power and the Class Struggle is liable to be disconcertingly interrupted by a bleep and a jingle for Seven-Up.) Before the April 25 coup, Radio Renascenca was on the air six hours a day, whereas now it's 24 hours a day. "We're the same number of workers, so we've multiplied our work-load by four. But you have to. The situation changes here so fast, each hour in Portugal is like a day. Since the coup, we feel as if we've lived through about 30 years . . ." In spite of this, they seem very sprightly and determined people. But they aren't particularly optimistic: "Lisbon is a red island in a sea of reaction. We don't think the conditions for revolution exist in Portugal yet. Nor is there a party that could carry it through. In our view, the parties here' are still too concerned about their own power, and not concerned enough about the needs of the workers'.'

Portugal: the Impossible Revolution by Phil Mailer:

'The radio station had been owned by the Catholic Church. Gradually, during May, the workers concerned had taken it over, disliking the line being pushed. Their communique of June 6 outlined what was at stake: "The complete history of our struggles at RR would bring together arguments and documents which a simple communique' cannot hope to do. When our story is written many positions will become clearer, as will the ways in which they relate to the overall politics of the country. The Portuguese people will then be able to judge the counter-revolutionary politics of the bosses, the immoralities of all sorts committed in the name of the Church, and the many betrayals carried out by capitalist lackeys in our midst. In their latest delirium the Management Committee (i.e. the Church) completely distorted our struggle and attacked the MFA. Of 127 lines, 73 were devoted to denouncing the government...

When they speak of the violent occupation of the radio station they forget to mention that the only violence was when Maximo Marques (a member of the Management Committee) attacked one of our comrades, who didn't respond to the provocation... The management argue that we are a minority of 20, whereas 30 would be more correct. Radio Renascenca is a private company owning a radio station, a printing press, a record shop, two cinemas, buildings and office blocks, etc. In the station we are about 60 workers. The management say we are trying to silence the Church's mouthpiece, and prevent it from reaching a large section of the population. If by this they mean we are trying to silence fascist voices, they are right. Words like truth, justice and liberty lose all meaning when they come from the RR administration. We remember the time when the priests managed the station and censored encyclicals, Vatican texts and even the Bible (!!) We propose that the management show their concern for liberty by supporting the current liberation of RR, now in the service of the workers and controlled by the workers. The workers of RR, June 6, 1975".

The struggle at Radio Renascenca was widely supported. The options were fairly clear: to side with the Workers' Committee or with the Church. Vasco Goncalves and other members of the Revolutionary Council decided to hand the station back to the Church. The decision was bitterly opposed by some 100,000 workers. A demonstration was held on June 18 at which Lisnave and TAP workers stood outside the gates and warned that RR would only be returned to the Church 'over their dead bodies'. 400 Catholic counter-demonstrators had to seek refuge in the house of the local Patriarcado. The determination of the workers caused the Revolutionary Council promptly to reverse steam. It found a way out: to decree the nationalisation of all newspapers, radio stations and television networks'.

In November 1975 the station's radio transmitters were blown up, effectively closing the station down before it was handed back to the Church in December.

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