Fair Life – Vida Justa
October 21, 2023 the social movement Vida Justa (Fair Life) organized a large demonstration in Lisbon. This was one of a series of demonstrations to demand better living conditions at a time high inflation makes it even tougher for people to meet one’s day-to-day needs. The general erosion of living standards in Portugal is exacerbated for years, but even more since the covid pandemic.
The thousands who took to Lisbon’s streets underline their clear messages. Fair life (Vida justa), we are together, we are strong (estamos juntos, estamos fortes). And: enough of price increases (basta de aumentos de preços), transport for everyone (transportes para todos), increase in wages (aumento dos salários), houses to live in (casas para viver), and against repression in the neighbourhoods (contra a repressão nos bairros).
The Vida Justa movement is made up not only of residents of neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Lisbon, but also of people from numerous sectors within the Portuguese society, such as education, law, science and culture. Together they aim to raise awareness about precarious situations currently experienced. This big movement underline in their manifesto the fact that those who were already the most vulnerable before inflation soared are the ones being the hardest hit by the ongoing cost of living. Hence, they want higher wages, a cap on the prices of essential goods and government action on housing.
The organizers of the October demonstration paint a picture of the difficulties experienced on a daily basis by the majority of the population, which triggered their protest. If the current government were willing to really listen to the people, politicians would not be able to deny their serious problems. Citizens have difficulty in finding a home, or they live in poor housing conditions. Today renting a room costs what they use to pay ten years ago. Moreover, their salaries didn’t increase for decades and are not even enough to cover the basic monthly costs.
The Vida Justa manifesto highlights the importance of empowering people to have a dignified life, demanding a crisis program that defends those who work. According the manifesto the prices of energy and essential food products must be fixed. And interest on home loans must be frozen, speculative rents on homes prevented, evictions prohibited. Additionally Vida Justa argues in the manifesto for a general increase in wages above inflation, measures to support small businesses and local jobs and to economically and socially value the most invisible jobs such as cleaning.
No right to the city
Other facts that Favas.net must report are neighbourhoods that lack public transport, while large investments are made in transport attractions for tourists. The entire central city has gradually become gentrified and inaccessible to ordinary city dwellers. Not only the famous Alfama district, but also Santa Catarina, for example, has been transformed into a tourist domain. The original population can no longer afford housing here and is pushed away to the outskirts of metropolitan Lisbon. They have no right to the city outside of working hours. Moreover, ordinary shops have been turned into expensive luxury boutiques and mini markets. The prices of essential goods in the central area increasingly expensive and even much higher than in the remote areas of metropolitan Lisbon.
Like many other cities, Lisbon is struggling with an alarming housing shortage, which is mainly caused by the liberalization of housing rental and sales. On top of this mass tourism causes an overall transformation of housing and retail. Ordinary homes are withdrawn from the stock and replaced by all kinds of apartments for tourists. The so-called ‘future’ promised by property developers is not for the average citizen in Lisbon. Many of them were forced to leave their home. Evictions became common practice.
The city of Almada
As mentioned, the original inhabitants of the central part of Lisbon has been pushed away to the outskirts of the metropolitan area. But here in the remote areas of Grand Lisbon similar housing problems arise. Speculation increases, since housing is being viewed dominantly as an opportunity for profitable real estate. This is evident, for example, in Almada, the city on the other side of the Tagus River. Gentrification has become increasingly visible in recent years. For example, work is currently underway (as of October 2023) in various places to renovate old residential and retail buildings and transform them into tourist-oriented properties, including high end commercial housing and retail.
Our interim conclusion: Lisbon represents a model for a whole series of cities in Europe (such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Prague, and Venice) in which commercialization of social housing/retail and facilitation of mass tourism coincide and reinforce each other.
Research, text and images by Favas.net (Rob van der Bijl, Portugal, October 2023)
Special thanks to Vida Justa.