Six months after a huge trade union demonstration with 40,000 in Brussels, a new demonstration mobilised two times as many on Wednesday 16 May: 80,000. The anger against previously taken measures and new plans of the right wing government on the pensions is huge. The pension age went up from 65 to 67, access to early retirement was limited and now the government is planning to go even further by slashing pensions with a new calculation method aimed at forcing people to work longer.
After the demonstration in December, the trade union federations started an information campaign with the distribution of one million ‘pension newspapers’ explaining the present situation, the attacks of the government and the trade unions’ demands, including a minimum pension of €1500 a month, reducing the pension age back to 65 and making state pensions 75% of the average wage instead of 60% today. This pension newspaper was an excellent initiative. Unfortunately however, there were no specific meetings called for trade union members, no rallies or workplace assemblies to discuss its content and the protests. Many people are worried about their pensions and this time, the unions have a common agenda.
The demonstration united workers from different sectors, both older and a remarkable number of younger workers. In the past weeks, different workers went on strike to protest over workload. In the supermarket, Lidl, a spontaneous strike movement led to a substantial promise to add 42 working hours per shop. Pilots at Brussels Airlines went on strike for wages and working conditions, which was only their second strike in 16 years. The pilots also protest against the rising in their pension age to 67, while European legislation rules that pilots have to be younger than 65. The growing work pressure in general makes the rising of the pension age even more unacceptable in many sectors. A poll earlier this year indicated that 92% of the workers don’t see themselves working until 67.
While the right-wing government said it was not impacted by the demonstration, it had to add that the planned new measures will only be implemented after the next general elections in May 2019. It is clear that the government has a problem because of its attacks on pensions. Even layers who are affected by the divisive and openly racist neoliberal propaganda of the biggest government party, the right-wing Flemish nationalist N-VA, are opposed to the pension measures.
The main question now is, how to go from a broad support for the protests against the pension measures to real victories. In the leaflet of the LSP/PSL (CWI in Belgium), of which we distributed 2,500 copies, we explained: “If we have a strong presence on the demonstration, all remains possible. It will be necessary not to stop, but to continue with a serious plan of action.” The leaflet added: “There is a potential for a strong movement, not only on the issue of pensions but also on the issue of the unbearable work pressure as shown in the victory of the spontaneous strikes at Lidl or the strikes at B-Post, Brussels Airlines, the federal civil servants and others. In order to fully use this potential we will need a meticulous preparation at all levels.”
The trade union leadership is looking towards the elections. In our leaflet we explained: “The trade union leaders know very well that in order to realise our demands we will need a left-wing majority that is prepared to break with the austerity of this and previous governments, and with the austerity enforced on us by Europe. To take our demands seriously, means that the unions give active support to political partners who are prepared to break with austerity and break all links with those who are not prepared to do this. To consolidate our demands, we will need a society where production is aimed at the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people, not the accumulated profits of a handful of capitalists.”
The LSP/PSL had a strong presence on the pension demo. Dozens of party members came with their colleagues. We had 4 stalls, distributed 2,500 leaflets, sold 142 papers and 6 subscriptions, and we collected hundreds of euro fighting fund.