The austerity policies of the very new right-wing government in Belgium have led to the biggest trade union demonstration in the country since 1986. On Thursday 6 November over 120,000 demonstrated in Brussels. This was the biggest workers’ protest since 1986 when 250,000 came onto the streets resulting in an end to the rightwing governments of the 1980s. Early elections in 1987 brought the social democratic parties into the federal government coalition, where they remained until the last elections in May this year. Now we again have a right-wing government, going for an open attack on our living standards.
The measures of the government are drastic: pension age up from 65 to 67, an attack on wages by non-implementation of the automatic indexation, an open attack on public services and working conditions in the public services, etc. There is massive anger in the country . Despite the media campaign saying ‘we all have to make an effort’, ‘there is no alternative’ and ‘strikes don’t change anything’, more than 120,000 people participated in the first round of the action plan of the three major trade union centres. The next steps in this action plan involve regional strikes on 24 November, 1 December and 8 December leading up to a national general strike on 15 December.
The demonstration of 6 November was seen as a first step towards the strikes of the coming weeks. Tens of thousands demonstrated for the first time in their lives, thousands of others couldn’t make it to Brussels because all trains were full, others were looking to their colleagues representing them on the protest. This was not a usual trade union demonstration; it was an expression of massive resistance against a hated government. The protest showed the strength of our numbers.
Of course the media were jumping for joy when a small number of people got involved in riots at the end of the demo. The traditional media immediately found its headlines and main focus. This is a desperate attempt to isolate the broad support for the resistance against the rightwing government. We shouldn’t accept the attempts to divide us and to give our movement a violent image.
The demonstration itself had a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds. The demo was headed by a youth bloc in which the Active Left Students (ALS, student organization of LSP/PSL, the Belgian section of the CWI) participated. At the school student strike in Ghent on 22 October the general assembly of school students voted to participate in this demonstration, some 130 Ghent school students came to Brussels.
This demonstration was an important and strong first step in the action plan towards the general strike of 15 December. It is possible for the strikes to continue until the government falls. The Thatcherite government came with the argument that ‘there is no alternative’. The social democrats, despite participating in the trade union demonstration, indeed accept austerity. Former Prime Minister Di Rupo (PS, Francophone social democrats) said in an interview that 70% of the measures of the present government were already taken by the previous one. Replacing this right-wing government by a another coalition government led by Di Rupo is no alternative.
The LSP/PSL intervened on the demonstration with the slogan: “Strike to finish the government and all austerity policies”. The biggest Belgian companies sit on 240 billion euro of unused cash. The same companies are involved in tax evasion schemes in Luxemburg. Why should we pay for their crisis? We explained that instead of this anti-workers government we need a workers’ government implementing a policy based on the needs of the majority of the population, not the greed of a tiny minority.
Our members got a very positive response. Besides our participation in the youth bloc and dozens of our trade union activists participating in the blocs of their colleagues we had 5 big stalls on the demo. We distributed 10,000 leaflets, sold 617 papers and collected over 800 euro fighting fund with badges and support for the paper.
The first step in the excellent action plan was already impressive. If we can build on this, the right-wing government has a serious problem. It is possible to bring the government down, but let’s not stop there. We should use the momentum to build a powerful force offering a socialist alternative.