Belgium: New step in the direction of a political alternative

Successful second CAP Conference

On February 2 the Committee for a Different Politics’ second conference took another good step forward towards building an alternative for workers and youth in Belgium.

The conference decided to participate independently in Belgium’s June 10 federal general election and taken the first steps towards a programme that corresponds to the needs of a fighting anti-neoliberal formation today. The Left Socialist Party/Movement for a Socialist Alternative (LSP/MAS), the CWI in Belgium, has played an important role in helping the CAP to develop and also in this conference.

Clarity about the course of CAP: Forwards!

The conference was called to debate the CAP’s programme and whether or not to take part in the June election. It discussed a proposal of the Flemish Greens to have members of CAP on all of their election lists. In the Flemish press a lot of confusion was created about this initiative. There was a lot of fuss that Jef Sleeckx (a well known former MP for the social democratic SP.a and initiator of the CAP) would not himself stand in the elections, that CAP would collaborate with the Green party, …

A lot of people are looking at the CAP within trade unions, but also in other sections of society. However they will not cooperate and join this initiative if it does not represent a serious step in the direction of new anti-neoliberal formation.

The conference made things a lot clearer. The more than 250 people present at the conference decided overwhelmingly to participate independently in the coming election and to build CAP. In the first part of the conference a discussion took place about the election programme of CAP. In the different branches of CAP there has been a discussion about a proposal drafted by a special commission. Amendments had been proposed by branches and individuals to change and complete the programme discussion.

A fighting programme to defend the interests of workers and their families.

The draft programme was originally drawn up by Danny Carleer, a trade union militant; Lode Van Outrive a former MEP; David Dessers, SAP/POS and Anja Deschoemacker (LSP/MAS).

There was some discussion about the nature of the programme. Eric Byl defended an amendment from LSP/MAS to include an ideological framework in the programme. The amendment proposed to make clear that CAP opposes the current neoliberal system, does not want to participate in neoliberal coalitions and offers an alternative vision on society. “An ideology that is focused on changing the production system to satisfy the needs of working people and their families.” The LSP/MAS calls this democratic socialism. However Eric Byl immediately added that this is not something the LSP/MAS simply wanted to push through the conference or the CAP. We wanted to discuss this issue and if there is no consensus on this issue we proposed to organise a special ideological conference in the future.

Anja Deschoemacker (LSP/MAS) summed up this part of the conference and stated that there are still a number of differences within CAP. It is not easy to combine a social and a green programme. There is discussion within the organisation how to combat racism in society. But a good programme is the result of discussion and in that matter CAP is quite unique.

The programme of the traditional parties is today mostly the result of spin-doctors and marketing people and not the result of an open discussion within the organisation. We can go forward with the issues we agree on and on the basis of our involvement in the elections and with discussion we can deepen our programme. A majority of 98% voted for the proposed programme and gave a mandate to the commission to finish the programme based on the discussion and the amendments made to the text. The final text will be voted on a conference in April.

A different election campaign

Raf Verbeke explained what happened since the last conference, held on October 28 last year, when we decided to open up discussions with everybody who opposes the neoliberal system. On the initiative of trade unionists in Antwerp there was a discussion with the maoist PvdA/PTB party. That discussion went nowhere since it was clear that they were only interested in the person of Jef Sleeckx. Afterwards the Greens made a proposal to create a red belt on their lists, in all the provinces the CAP would get places 4 to 7 on their slates. The Greens even proposed to give material support. There was a leading member of Groen! (Flemish greens) in the conference audience to report the results of the discussion to his party.

Bart Vandersteene (LSP/MAS) told the conference that “different politics” would only be credible if that also meant that CAP would do politics in a completely different way from the traditional parties who are interested in mandates, power and personal gains. The CAP is about strengthening the resistance against policies of traditional parties that voted for the European Constitution and the misnamed “Pact between Generations”, the austerity plan that provoked two one-day general strikes in 2005. Bart continued and said that unlike traditional parties who get their money from the state or big businesses the money for CAP will have to come from working class families.

After the discussion a number of issues were voted upon: ‘Do we participate in the elections?’ ‘If so, how?’ ‘Do we ask people who stand on lists of CAP to sign an agreement that if elected they would only earn the average income of workers in Belgium and donate the rest towards the movement?’ The last issue that had to be voted was the composition of a national leadership body for the CAP.

There was little discussion about the proposal of the Green party, which has been in coalitions with the traditional parties. Mon Steyaert, one of the founding members of the Flemish Greens, but now active in CAP told the conference that it was strange that they suddenly decided to speak with CAP. Filip Debodt (LEEF Herzele) told that he was in favour of the proposal of the Greens since in order to change things you must get elected.

Others were against the participation in the elections. The small SAP/POS, linked to the French LCR, is against participation of CAP in the next elections because the elections come too soon, and they say a good result is absolutely necessary for the CAP’s future.

In the discussion members of LSP/MAS explained that the current situation is different compared to other initiatives on the left. Today there are a lot of chances as a result of the gap between the social-democrats and the trade unions due to 18 years of social democrats being in government. There are no guarantees for a good election result, but people who want to spoil the chance we have today with the CAP take a big responsibility. The search for something different is large and cynicism is probably the biggest enemy of CAP. That is also a reason why it is so important that we participate independently in the elections, without support or connections with the traditional parties.

Several French-speaking members of CAP told the conference that there are also opportunities in the French speaking part of the country even if the CAP has more limited resources. It is important to move forwards instead of limiting the discussion to being between small far left organisations and former members of far left organisations. In the province of Hainaut, south of Brussels, 50 people have so far joined CAP.

After the discussion a large majority of the conference voted to participate in the elections independently in both sides of the country with CAP lists (Comité voor een Andere Politiek/Comité pour une Autre Politique.)

Sleeckx

The conference was closed by Jef Sleeckx who said he did not imagine that the small committee that he had set up after the acceptance of the new European Constitution and “Pact between Generations” would have grown into this. Sleeckx told it was time to participate in the elections. “ For some people it will always be to soon to participate in the elections. We have spoken at meetings across the country. The potential we have with this initiative is much larger than that small committee some people joke about. People said at those meetings something new was needed. We have done that. We have to deliver on our engagements. Together we have to collect the two sets of 5000 signatures needed to participate in the elections, Forwards!!!”

The conference of February 3 was an important step forwards in the construction of CAP and a left alternative to the neoliberal policies of the traditional parties. The conference has proven that it is possible for people from different backgrounds, Dutch speaking and French speaking, organised, unorganised, youth and elderly, members of both the socialist trade union federation FGTB/ABVV and the christian trade union federation CSC/ACV, to work together on a programme and the construction of an organisation, that lets room for political differences and discussion while keeping unity in struggle. Now the campaign has started to collect the necessary signatures to participate in the elections.

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