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Belgium: Massive resistance to pension cuts
THE BELGIAN establishment was shaken by the second trade union-organised national day of action in the course of three weeks. On 7 October a general strike paralysed the country followed by a partial general strike last Friday and a national demonstration in which more than 100,000 workers took part.
Geert Cool, LSP/MAS (CWI), Belgium
The strikes and protests were provoked by government plans to increase the age for early retirement from 58 to 60 years, and this only applies to those that have worked for 35 years. Having to work longer, (despite increasing labour productivity making Belgian workers the most productive in Europe), is unacceptable for most workers.
The government dismisses the resistance as 'meaningless', saying the measures will go ahead anyway. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt even left to go on holiday last week. But that approach will not stop growing anger amongst broader layers of working people.
The determined attitude of workers, shown last Friday, was bolstered by the attacks of politicians and bosses on the right to strike. During a recent strike at 'Case New Holland', in Zedelgem, (where 1,800 work) bosses obtained a court order, imposing a penalty charge of E1,000 for every hour an employee, "who wanted to work", was prevented from doing so by pickets.
Many rank-and-file members of the ABVV/FGTB (social democratic unions) and the ACV/CSC (Christian democratic unions) will have been pleased at the union unity on display at the demonstration on 28 October.
In contrast to the situation in the run-up to the general strike on 7 October, both trade union federations campaigned energetically for the demo. The ACLVB, a smaller liberal union, also took part.
During the 28 October demonstration, most workers agreed that action taken so far should be one step in a broader movement against the 'Generations Pact' (the name of the government's document which includes an attack on the early retirement schemes). Unfortunately, during the 28 October rallies, the union leadership did not announce a plan of action or call for more protests.
Like many other issues, the establishment parties are united against the workers on the pensions debate.
The lack of political representation for workers was a key point that LSP/MAS (the Belgian counterparts of the Socialist Party) highlighted when we participated in the demonstration. Our appeal for a new, mass workers' party got a positive response.
In The Socialist 3 November 2005: