Belgium: massive resistance to pension cuts

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

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.