The general strike organized by three Belgian trade unions, the FGTB (linked to social democracy), the CSC (linked to Christian Democracy) and the CGSLB (linked to liberals) paralysed Belgium, in this Monday, 12/15.
The strike began on the evening of the previous day when about 80 people, including union activists, members of Belgian left parties and members of the IWL-FI from Corriente Roja (Spanish State), ISL (UK) and PSTU (Brazil) made a symbolic occupation of the Operational Centre of Gare du Midi, the main Brussels train station.
In the Operational Centre, activists made the countdown “10, 9, 8, …, 3 , 2, 1” in the final 10 seconds of the change of operators shift. Someone shouted “push the button” and the trains that were in the station no more would go out, for the current shift abandoned their posts and there was no one to replace them. The next shift would not attend. The huge panel of the Operational Centre showed a line of red lights for each platform, meaning that all the trains were standstill The first general strike in Belgium in 28 years began.
According to the BBC, the strike stopped air transport, with the cancellation of about 600 flights, railways, with the stoppage of all passengers and cargo transportation and road transports. The port of Antwerp also did not work.
The first major reaction of the workers to the austerity plan of the rightist government of Prime Minister Charles Michels shows that the resistance will be fierce. This action had been preceded by regional strikes and a national demonstration with about 120,000 people in 06/11. No wonder. The government’s economic plan wants to cut 11 billion euros over the next five years.
According to a CGTB bulletin aimed at undecided workers, ironically titled “I do not strike,” the loss of workers will be huge:
– Loss of 720 euro/year due to the “leap” of salary indexation according to inflation [for 1 year];
– Wage freeze for two years;
– Increase of retirement age to 67 years;
– Reduction of pensions between 15 and 20%;
– Reduction of taxes paid by enterprises;
– Cuts in public services; among other attacks.
Another threat is the privatization of the railways company, which is currently the main Belgian state owned company, and where the most combative workers sector can be found. An example of this could be seen in the occupation of the Operational Center.
Morning of 15/12, Brussels
The pickets at Gare du Midi began early in the morning. The aim was to prevent the work in the administrative building of the state company. All entries had activists blocking not only the doors of the building, but also its access roads. This prevented any local traffic from passing by.
Throughout the morning the pickets lines were formed, facing the beginning of the European winter, but heated by fires that were lit in drums or on the streets. Their main function was to guide drivers who wanted to know how to get to their destinations due to the blocking of streets or prevent some more daring drives from breaking the blockade. During the whole period only a driver ran his pick-up and bumped into one of the garbage drums placed on the street, crossing the picket.
The police passed by the pickets lines, but at no time tried to take out the obstacles placed on the streets. The only exception was when a “bike rally” in support of the strike came and the police asked to unblock the road and give passage to cyclists. At least a hundred of them, facing the drizzle falling at that time, were welcomed by everyone and received the applause of the pickets, stopping at the next picket line where there was a large tent and music. A festive atmosphere set in.
No public transport bus passed through the streets around the Gare du Midi and the information we had was that the subway was also 100% stopped. On the subway two pickets were formed, by the subway workers and the cleaning workers. The latter was formed by activists on strike for three months due to the dismissal of their union representatives by one of the outsourced cleaning companies. But car traffic did not increase because of this. Instead, it was still less busy than in normal working days. An indication of the success of the strike.
A city official who lives near the Gare du Midi passes through the picket and reports that nobody went to work in his Commune. Certainly all Brussels Commune workers did the same.
It was about noon when the pickets, pleased with the success of the strike, began to prepare a barbecue of sausage and chicken, using the coal formed by the fires. In the country that produces one of the best beers in the world, it could not be left out, and each of us was allowed to drink a “long neck” with a sandwich.
Demonstrations in the afternoon
The unions did not call any demonstration for the general strike day. If they had, thousands of workers would gather in the city center.
But activists called a demonstration by social networks in front of the Brussels parliament, where about 500 people joined, and then, in front of the prime-minister’s party headquarters, the MR (Reform Movement).
Only then there was the first police action. After the passage of a column of activists quickly a blockade was made and, behind it, the riot police stood to keep the headquarters of the ruling party out of the activists reach. After chants against the police action, which showed they are a police and class justice, a shower of eggs was shot, which hit the streets, the buildings, the helmets, shields and clothes of the police. Someone said 60 dozen eggs were bought for that action. Apparently it is a “tradition” here.
The day was complete, the general strike was a success, the capital and probably the whole country were stopped.
In the evening we headed for a meeting with union activists called by the LCT (Communist Workers League), the Belgian section of the IWL. In the meeting workers from Belgium, the Spanish State and England would be exchanging experiences about their struggles against the attacks of the bosses and their governments in this social war that has developed in Europe since the onset of the global economic crisis. If the task of trade union activists was completed by a successful strike, for us this meeting would begin our internationalist revolutionary task: help in building the revolutionary party in Belgium.