Belgium: Mayday 2007 – Committee for Alternative Politics (CAP) starts its election campaign!

Social democratic leaders forced to pose as more left wing as a result

May day 2007 – Belgium

Committee for Alternative Politics (CAP) starts its election campaign!

As the Federal elections take place on 10 June, Mayday activities, organised by the two social democratic parties (the SP.a based in Flemish speaking Flanders and the PS in French speaking Waloonia) and the socialist union (ABVV/FGTB), were centred completely on the elections. Feeling the opposition from below and seeing the CAP developing as a possible competitor on the left, the speeches of the union leaders and from representatives of the social democratic parties were more radical and political then in other years.

The union leaders attacked the growing gap between poor and rich and especially the very big wages and bonuses which were given the last years to the bosses, while workers in wage negotiations had to give in on the question of wages and working conditions. Another point of attack was directed against the plans to regionalise divide and regionalise all employment policy and social security laws. This is clearly seen, amongst the organised working class, as a way to divide the working class and there is a huge distrust against it.

Other issues that came up were the question of the right to strike which came under attack in the last few weeks again, by all parties, with spontaneous or wild strikes that took place at Brussels airport and in the railway, tram and bus sector. The bus and tram workers struck about the question of security and lack of personnel. Airport workers took action over the huge pressure of work and the refusal of management to negotiate with the unions since since privatisation took place.

Social democratic leaders took up some of these issues and said that they were open for some sort of tax on the very highest wages, that the negotiations to form a new government will be extremely difficult and that the working class will need a strong social democracy to act against the right. Specific warnings were made against those who want to "divide" the movement in the next elections. There is no doubt that they were referring to the CAP. They also referred to the elections in France, and said that now all the left forces are backing Royal, this would make it even more likely the right-wing candidate Sarkozy will not be elected. They did this in order to pressurise those workers who are thinking of voting for alternatives, and in particular the CAP to vote for the social democracy.

These type of ideas were simply not believed especially where there broader layers of workers present who had been mobilised by the unions. Members of LSP/MAS who have joined the CAP participated in more then 20 different activities during the day. At some places real demonstrations take place, at others it took the form of concerts and meetings. Everywhere CAP made contacts, sold T-shirts and the election leaflets were very well received. LSP/MAS sold 660 of their monthly newspaper and collected more then 700€ fighting fund. This is a bit more then last year, certainly on the Flemish side of the country where the CAP is most developed and known. One the French speaking side, the CAP and LSP/MAS had to concentrate on the collection of the last signatures which were necessary to be able to participate in the elections. 500 signatures also were collected on Mayday.

The fact that the social democratic and union leaders are beginning to fear these developments was most clearly shown in Brussels. There at the open air activity of the socialist union, CAP members were denied the right to put up a stall and the CAP organiser of the stall was arrested by the police. Immediately CAP mobilised at least 20 other CAP members, mainly union militants also with positions in the unions to protest against these anti-democratic measures. After some discussion they had to let CAP members stay.

When the speeches then started, the PS mayor of the city pointed to the placards of CAP which were being held by people in the rally and said that as far as he was concerned, he had been doing another kind of politics already for years and that everybody should vote PS. He was booed from the floor and he became very annoyed, responding by showing his middle finger to CAP members. Immediately after this, the stall of CAP was flooded and people came to sign-up with the CAP and to buy a CAP T-shirt or give a donation for the election fund.

This CAP activity was the best start to the election campaign that members could imagine. The evening before Mayday, the CAP organised very successful meetings in different places, one of which was reported on local television. In certain regions the CAP branches start to be filled in by a broader layer of activists. Now the party has about 500 members who are paid up and have a membership card. In the next weeks we will test out the ground and build the name and branches of CAP. The point of the need for a new working class political force is on the agenda and will stay on it.

It is not excluded that before June’s elections take place the Opel workers in Antwerp will call for a national one day strike against job losses. At the gates of Opel, the CAP is quite well known. For the last week the CAP campaign bus is present there every day and organises the day-to-day solidarity at the picket. Their strike against job cuts continues until at least next week, when new official negotiations will take place. A leaflet has been produced by the CAP to express its solidarity. National television reports showed the CAP members and CAP bus present at the Opel factory gates. We are convinced that by being present and involved in the day-to-day struggle, CAP can quickly become a point of reference for workers in struggle and in a search for an answer and alternative.

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May 2007