Belgium: 50,000-strong Brussels demonstration joins 300,000 other trade unionists across Europe fighting for jobs

Now workers’ all-European action plan for jobs needed!

Over 300,000 workers marched all over Europe following a call of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Around 150,000 marched in Madrid, 100,000 in Berlin, 50,000 in Brussels and 30,000 in Prague. These official figures exceed all expectations, which gradually rose as the date of the demonstrations neared.

A look at the joblessness figures across Europe explains the numbers that marched. In the euro-zone, well over 20 million workers (8.9%) are out of work, with 17% in Spain alone. Their numbers increased by 626,000 last March alone, 24% higher than in March 2008. Furthermore, it is estimated that the recession will destroy 8.5 million jobs by the end of 2010! No wonder that hundreds of thousands workers responded to the long overdue call of the ETUC.

In Belgium, the demo over jobs marked the first trade union mobilization since the beginning of the recession. One year ago, in June 2008, thousands of workers demonstrated for wage increases, following an earlier spontaneous outbreak of struggles in over 200 workplaces over wages in January 2008. This was never followed up, partly because of the outbreak of the economic crisis. The trade union leaders dropped wage demands and agreed a very minimal collective agreement. Since then, trade union activity was on the defensive, mainly concentrated on limiting the damage faced by workers. But the ETUC demo in Brussels illustrated that it is possible to mobilize also in times of crisis. It is true there were important international delegations, but the bulk of the demonstrators came from Belgium.

The ETUC correctly stated that demonstrators were demanding “ambitious action for employment”. However, few workers think the ETUC demands are sufficiently “ambitious” to fit the ETUC claim to “Put People First”. The demands are unfortunately no more than copy-pasted proposals made earlier by the representatives of the main political parties; the same people that until recently declared the supremacy of the “self-regulating” market system. The ETUC warns against protectionism, make calls to “invest heavily in services and industry” and to “offer a future to car industry and textile”. It argues for “stronger regulation of the financial markets”, believes Europe should “construct social rights instead of destroying them”, “aim for green growth and green jobs”, “stop reducing the role of the state, non-profit and social economy” and fight tax fraud.

Most of those marching in Brussels, and elsewhere, have a different agenda. Their main message was “We are not prepared to pay up for their crisis!” “Socialism or Barbarity!” read a banner of the DAF car workers. “United against capitalism” read an Audi workers’ placard. “Let’s refuse to pay up for the capitalist crisis” was the message carried by the Brussels public transport workers. The francophone socialist trade union campaign slogan “Capitalism is bad for your health” was a major success, including amongst many Flemish demonstrators. The official demonstration speakers had to reflect that mood and verbally attack “casino capitalism”. This expresses a growing anti-capitalist mood, which creates big possibilities for the left.

Members of Linkse Socialistische Partij / Parti Socialiste de Lutte (the CWI in Belgium), with the help of Offensief members (the CWI in the Netherlands) ran three stalls during the Brussels demonstration, distributing thousands of leaflets and selling hundreds of papers.

Opportunities but also dangers

There are, however, not only opportunities but also dangers inherent in the situation. Anti-capitalist rhetoric unrelated to concrete action can stimulate an anti-political mood that aids the far right and populist elements. We believe last week’s ETUC mobilization should not be a one off, covered support for the political “allies” of the so-called left, but the beginning of a real European action plan aiming to culminate in a European general strike.

Such an action plan would need to be build on the basis of demands that can really offer solutions: a generalized reduction of working hours, without loss of pay, to combat unemployment; no participation in the stock market casino by companies active in key sectors such as energy supply, public transport, post, telecom and finances and their nationalization, under control by workers and consumers; the re-nationalization of former public services; and introduction of public control over research for clean production.

Unfortunately, the ETUC demands are miles away from this. Not even a rejection of Europe’s programme for liberalization and privatization, the Lisbon Treaty, was included in their demands. As if the ETUC did not know the EU is primarily a bosses’ club which is against workers rights and has one main aim – to transform Europe into the world’s “most competitive region”.