Article from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Belgium - Successful general strike against anti-worker attacks
By Laura Fitzgerald
A GENERAL strike in Belgium on 7 October closed all major workplaces in the private sector. In the public sector there was a full rail strike, a 90% stoppage of buses and trams, and a strike by half of all postal workers (a full postal strike was thwarted by the union's rotten deal with the bosses).
There are two main union federations, the social democratic union federation (ABVV/FGTB) with over 1.3 million members, and the Christian union federation (ACV/CVS) with upwards of 1.6 million members. Shamefully, the leadership of the ACV/CVS did its best to prevent its members from participating in the 7 October strike - many angry rank and file members ignored their desperate plea, striking anyhow. The union leaders under pressure from militant rank and file members organised a national day of action on 28 October which saw around 100,000 workers take to the streets of Brussels.
The struggle by thousands of angry workers has demonstrated the only way in which the government's neo-liberal agenda can be challenged - through mass-action of the organised working class. Workers in both the private and public sector have shown themselves to be unwilling to passively accept the government's planned assault on social gains of the working class, most notably pension rights. The government intends to implement the "Generations Pact" of counter-reforms and cutbacks, which includes increasing the age for early retirement from 58 to 60 years, and to add insult to injury, this would only be available to those who have already worked for 35 years. Belgian workers who comprise the most productive workforce in Europe, are exhausted by the intensive work expected of them by the bosses, and are refusing to accept such a fundamental attack on their rights.
The major unions, whose leaders support "social partnership" are linked directly to the ruling social democratic party and the Christian democrats. Both of these parties support neo-liberal attacks on workers.
Members of our Belgian sister organisation, LSP/MAS, participated in the demonstration and received a positive response from workers when they raised the lack of political representation for workers in Belgium. They highlighted the need for a new mass-workers' party, independent of the bosses, in contrast to all existing parties and have called for another general strike to stop the government's attacks.