Neo-liberal policies expose reactionary party’s ‘worker-friendly’ rhetoric
On Saturday, 26 November, the Vlaams Belang (VB, the re-named Vlaams Blok) organised a national conference in Ghent to discuss its economic policies. The preparations for this conference made clear that the party is trying to prove to the bosses that they are “reliable”.
Earlier this summer, LSP/MAS (cwi in Belgium), and the student and youth campaign, Blokbuster, started building for a counter-demonstration during the VB conference, to show how the neo-liberal programme of the VB are the opposite of the party’s rhetoric about being “friendly” towards workers and their families.
In its draft manifesto for the conference, the VB stated it supports giving more wealth to the bosses (6 billion euro in tax reductions), while workers should worker longer and harder. It is no coincidence the VB says the neo-liberal ‘Lisbon Agenda’, which EU leaders agreed to in 2000, should be carried out. The VB has also stated that the ‘Generation Pact’ (the government’s measures against early retirement schemes) does not go far enough. The VB opposes the role of the trade unions and wants to limit their rights. The way forward, according to the VB, is austerity policies, like in Germany, where the introduction of social cuts – including the new unemployment rate of a mere 345 euro a month – were “relatively painless”, according to the VB.
At a preparatory meeting before the conference, Vlaams Belang MP, Dirk Laeremans, said the Flemish economy should follow the example of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ in Ireland and even the so-called ‘Chinese Dragon’ model. Other VB representatives said that a neo-conservative model should be followed. Inside the VB, there is a lot of praise for President Bush and former US president, Ronald Reagan.
VB switches position on neo-liberalism
While the Vlaams Belang continues to pretend to be a party defending workers and their families they now support the neo-liberal policies demanded by the bosses (many of which are carried out by the coalition government). They hope to assure the bosses that they would be ‘acceptable’ as a coalition partner in local authorities after the local elections in 2006.
Our demonstration on 26 November was aimed against the neo-liberal policies defended by the VB, against the Generation Pact, and against the policies of the government.
On Wednesday, 23 November, the Belgian daily paper, ‘De Morgen’ commented: “This government is facing a very strong opposition outside parliament, but that movement of the ‘street and the work floor’ is finding no echo in parliament.”
All the parties in coalition government support attacks on workers’ living standards, while the official parliamentary opposition of Christian-Democrats and the VB think the attacks are not going far enough!
The CWI in Belgium (LSP/MAS) and Blokbuster campaigned for a demonstration against the Vlaams Belang Ghent conference. We received support from several organisations, including both the Social Democratic and Christian trade union federations. During the demonstration, LSP/MAS, with a few hundred, were the biggest contingent.
Despite terrible weather, around 700 people decided to march through the snow and rain. This included trade union delegations, including metal workers, and the national president of the social democratic metal workers’ union, Herwig Jorissen. A week ago, Jorissen was under intense pressure, when bosses’ weekly paper, ‘Trends’, revealed how Jorissen was involved in a far-right group of street fighters when he was 17 years old. The 55 year-old Jorissen replied that he is now on the other side of the barricades. He made this point clear by going on the 26 November demonstration.
At the start of the march, there were two speeches. First, Mil Kooyman, Secretary of ABVV-Scheldeland (the regional section of the Social Democratic ABVV/FGTB federation), spoke for the trade unions. He warned that VB stands for ‘Vlaams Bedrog’ (Flemish Deceit) instead of defending workers’ interests. He explained how the unions, therefore, had decided to support Blokbuster in its appeal for demonstrations against the VB and its policies. Kooyman was followed by Jo Coulier, a senior shop steward at the VUB University, in Brussels, and a founding member of Blokbuster, in 1991. He explained that VB is against unions and the needs of workers and their families.
The demonstration went through a workers’ area of Ghent town. The bad weather made it impossible to have a long demonstration and so we held a short demonstration and ended with two speeches. Boris Van Acker spoke for Blokbuster, and Bart Vandersteene spoke for LSP/MAS (CWI).
The two comrades explained how the anti-racist movement is in a new period of struggle. Fourteen years after the first breakthrough for Vlaams Blok throughout the Flemish area of Belgium, we have to be optimistic in our fight against the Vlaams Belang. This party is not actively involved in the workers’ movement and is more and more exposed as defending the bosses’ system.
An active opposition against the neo-liberal policies of the Belgian government will need political representation. The VB has shown that it is not the political alternative which workers and youth need.
The call for a new mass workers’ party is crucial for anti-fascists. In Germany, the WASG/Linkspartei has shown how it is possible to win back former far-right voters. In Saxony, the neo-fascist NPD party lost half its electorate since September 2004, while the Linkspartei won 8.7% nationally. This potential is also present in Belgium. The Belgian CWI’s campaigning encourages discussion on the need of a new workers’ party.
The demonstration against the economic policies conference of Vlaams Belang was a huge success, despite extremely bad weather which meant it was mainly people already in organisations who participated. We will continue to build on this success, to give the anti-racist movement a new dynamic, alongside workers’ continuing resistance to the attacks of the government.