Belgium: Fighting attacks on education
As Socialist Students national organiser I spent a week working with Linkse Socialistiche Partij (LSP) / Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste (MAS), the Belgian section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), and the student organisation Active Left Students (ALS).
I spoke at French and Flemish speaking universities across Belgium about New Labour's neo-liberal attacks against students and workers, which governments in Europe want to replicate. These discussions focused on the experience of fighting back against university fees, cuts and privatisation, as well as the future attacks that the ruling class in Belgium want to introduce.
I explained how Labour's attacks on public services in Britain over the past decade included the introduction of university fees, under-funding for universities, cuts in services and privatisation. Fees have resulted in students getting into unmanageable debt while New Labour is creating a two-tier education system where good quality education is becoming a privilege for the rich.
I reported on the role of Socialist Students in building the Campaign to Defeat Fees in universities and colleges in Britain.
In Belgium, university principals and government ministers are arguing for following the 'Anglo-Saxon model' of fees, cuts and privatisation.
Students at the meetings spoke about the under-funding of some courses while more money is put into degrees that benefit big business, the privatisation of university services like canteens, and the increase of fees in certain universities and for international students.
ALS has led struggles against the 'Bologna agreement' for privatisation and commercialisation of universities and colleges. The experiences of these struggles were recounted to new activists who were interested in joining ALS.
ALS has campaigned with education workers' union ABVV, including organising a demonstration of 1,500 workers and students, despite the efforts to block a campaign by trade union and student union bureaucracies.
I was involved in a discussion with AVBB activists who asked questions about the struggles of public sector workers in Britain, the National Shop Stewards Network and Campaign for a New Workers Party. The workers explained how they were preparing to fight attacks on their conditions, social security and more privatisation.
Belgium is still without a government as the capitalist parties have been unable to form a ruling coalition. The capitalist class is trying to use the national question to divide workers and young people and drive through neo-liberal policies.
Budget cuts and fee increases will be implemented differently between French and Flemish speaking areas in the universities and schools.
ALS and LSP/MAS are explaining the need for a united struggle of workers and youth to defeat these attacks.
There is a need for a political alternative to Belgium's capitalist parties. LSP/MAS is involved in the Committee for Another Policy (CAP) which includes community activists, trade unionists and young people. I attended CAP's conference to decide campaigning principles and elect a national leadership.
LSP/MAS put forward the need for building a new party that fights for the interests of workers and young people, with democratic structures that allow participation at every level. Over 100 activists attended the conference.
It was inspiring to see that in Belgium there is a new generation of young people coming into struggle and towards socialist ideas. This was clear on two demonstrations.
The first was a counter-demonstration to a Flemish nationalist march planned by a neo-fascist group with a history of brutal violence.
LSP/MAS and anti-fascist youth organisation Blokbuster led a loud demonstration of 300 people through the centre of Bruges. Only 60 people took part in the nationalist march.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) organised a climate change demonstration in Ghent with 100 school students taking part. Stickers that said "destroy capitalism before it destroys the planet" were plastered everywhere.
The march went through the centre of Ghent attracting a lot of attention. There was a protest outside the Liberal party offices, followed by a rally where I spoke alongside ISR members and school students. The demonstration received coverage from the local press and regional television news.