Belgium: 10,000 youth protest on 15 october in Brussels

Clear opening for radical ideas developing

Brussles was amongst the 981 cities, in 85 counties, all over the world that saw a huge demonstration on 15 October. There were about 10,000 demonstrators after a call out came from the Indignados. It is the first time, after four years of political crisis and debate between the two different language communities in Belgium, that new and radical protests are erupting. Social issues are being put back on the agenda by thousands of furious young people.

Following the demonstration on 15 October, calls have been made for occupations in the major Belgian cities of Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels and Leuven. The slogan “occupy the world” brings forward the idea of a global day of action on 11 November. How this call will further develop can’t be predicted. But it’s sure that there will be action.

During May 400 Spanish youth organised a protest in front of the Spanish embassy in Brussels. They wanted to support the protests in Spain. This was followed by a demonstration of 1,000 people on June 19th from ‘Place Flagey’ (a square in Brussels) to the European Parliament to make clear that the traditional politicians do not represent us. On 8 October a march of Spanish indignados arrived in Brussels.

The militancy of the demonstrators wasn’t suppressed by the police despite their attempt to clear the camping from a public park in Brussels. The police hoped to provoke violence in order to criminalise the movement. The protesters responded with slogans like "the police on our side" and "you have also been affected by the cuts ". Some days later a police officer brutally attacked a Greek protester. This was videotaped and shocked many television viewers. During the week before the demonstration of 15 October, there were numerous discussions and debates, in three languages, about, for example, ‘The struggle in Greece: Reform or Revolution’. At these debates, there were always several hundred attendees. Leading up to 15 October it was already clear that the demonstration would be a success.

10,000 demonstrators in Brussels

A couple of days before 15 October, the indignados still agreed that a demonstration with two to three thousand participants would be a success. However many more people participated, probably close to ten thousand. This success is a clear expression of the growing idea that the capitalists and their politicians have no solution for the crisis of their system, and can offer us nothing but a miserable future. The movements across the world have had a clear impact on the consciousness among youth. But what has also been decisive amongst Belgian youth was the €4 billion bailout of one of Belgium’s biggest banks, Dexia. This was coupled with the announcement of hundreds of people losing their job at ArcelorMittal, a profitable steel multinational.

During the demonstration, there was a lot of support from the local residents. The demonstration kept on growing, for example while marching through the so called Maritime district in Molenbeek, where 60% of the youth cannot find a job. In the Brouckère square, there was a big banner saying “We won’t pay for their debts.” The demonstration also passed the building of Dexia, where people protested against the fact that community resources are handed over to the bankers.

A contingent of the ‘Active Left Students’ and the ‘Left Socialist Party’ (LSP, CWI in Belgium) was present, together with people from ‘Rood!’, the new workers movement in which LSP also participates. It was a significant and militant contingent, who distinguished itself with slogans declaring solidarity with the workers from ArcelorMittal. These slogans were even taken up by a lot of other protesters. A meeting of the indignados a couple of days after the demonstration even decided to mobilise to for a demonstration against the loss of 1000 jobs in the factory of ArcelorMittal in Liège.

‘Marx is back’ at the universities

The ‘Active Left Students’ had exceptionally good meetings at the start of the academic year. At six universities, we held meetings with the title ’Marx is back’. The big attendance indicated that Marx is back indeed: at the six meetings combined, there were over 220 attendees. This clearly shows the radicalisation and the increase of anti-capitalist ideas among young people, and the search for an alternative to the capitalist system. It was even remarkable that the discussions at those meetings didn’t focus on the contradictions within capitalism itself, but that young people preferred to discuss and ask questions about what the alternative to this rotten system could be.

At 4 universities, we also organised a second meeting about the European protest against the budget cuts. On these meetings we were able to let two important speakers address the attendees: Donna, a Greek student and member of Xekinima (CWI in Greece), and Clara, a Spanish student who participated in the indignados’ occupation of the ‘Catalonia Square’ in Barcelona. At these 4 meeting there were about 150 attendees.

The combination of both meetings encouraged dozens of people to become a members of the ‘Active Left Students’. Both meetings featured an introduction about how the ideas and methods of Marxism offer a better understanding of the current capitalist crisis, and the necessity of a socialist society. Both were also followed by a discussion about how to realise these ideas through struggle.

Changing mood

In Belgium big austerity measures haven’t been implemented yet like they have been in the rest of Europe due to the political crisis. Despite this, last week a layer of Belgian youth made clear to the capitalists and their politicians that they don’t want to pay for the crisis of the capitalists and their system. The latest events in the world economy are putting pressure on the Belgian politicians to speed up their negotiations to try to form a government so that the working class can be forced to pay for the crisis through austerity measures. Belgium has been without a government for more than 500 days.

Young people are already showing that they are ready to organise the fightback. The crisis of capitalism has shattered a lot of illusions in the system and will open up new opportunities for socialist forces like the LSP/PSL. It will be crucial for the youth to get the support of broader layers among the working class and unify their struggle. The demonstration on Wednesday with the workers of ArcelorMittal will therefore be an important step.