Belgium: Over 100,000 demonstrate against European governments’ savage cuts

What next after this massive protest?

[more pictures from Brussels: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4, pictures from Portugal can be found here]

The 29 September international day of workers’ action, called by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), saw a huge demonstration in Brussels. Delegation after delegation passed through the streets of the Belgian capital with a clear message: “We won’t pay for their crisis”. There were big delegations from the French union, the CGT, but also impressive delegations from Belgian unions and from union activists who had to travel further. After this massive demonstration, there is one key question: what next?

The turnout was bigger than expected by the Belgian trade unions, which had said 80,000 would participate, while the ETUC used the figure of 100,000. The police said 56,000 took part but the organizers put it at “at least” 100,000. This makes it the biggest demonstration in Brussels over the last decade (the last biggest was a 2003 anti-Iraq war demo and a 2005 protest against pension “reforms” – with 100,000 taking part in each).

During yesterday’s protest, there were international delegations and participants from all over Europe. The French CGT had a strong presence, and there also were sizeable turnouts from Germany (DGB), Netherlands (FNV), Britain (RMT) and from further away (Italian, Spanish, Eastern-European, Greek…trade union militants all strengthened the protest).

Marching behind the international delegations were the Belgian trade unions, whose turnout differed from sector to sector.

The scale of the protest made it clear that there is a preparedness to take action to stop working people having to pay for the crisis of the system. At the same time as the Brussels demonstration was taking place, there was a successful general strike in Spain, with 95% of the industry shut down (all the big factories were shut down) and demonstrations in other countries, such as Portugal. The discontent is deep and wide across Europe and the message is clear: the politicians, who want to make us pay for the crisis, are not doing this in our name.

This leads to crucial issues arising from yesterday’s protests. It is important to have a large demonstration, but this will not be enough to stop the attempts to make working people and youth pay for the crisis with savage cuts. Many demonstrators wonder how to stop government cuts policies. The answer is not simple. While the workers are prepared to move into action and while the solidarity between workers of the different countries is present, the trade union leaders barely do anything with this mood.

The fight-back will require answers in both the industrial and the political field. The determined attempts to attack our living standards have to be met with determined workers’ actions. We will need a plan of action that is discussed amongst the rank and file and that involves European-wide actions.

Brussels demo shows potential

A huge demonstration shows the potential, to build on this potential it is necessary to build towards general strikes, both in individual countries and on a European level, to take the struggle forward.

This needs be accompanied with the building of our own political instruments. The demonstration in Brussels showed weaknesses on this point. Even from those countries where new left political formations exist and have a certain electoral support, there were no initiatives or clear appeals from these countries’ delegations during the demonstration. Where were the appeals and demands from Die Linke (Germany), NPA (France), the SP (Netherlands) or the Left Bloc (Portugal), to take these struggles forward?

The CWI had a strong presence during the Brussels demonstration; with many supporters from its Belgian section as well as CWI supporters from other countries, as well (France, Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Britain). We defended the idea of continuing the struggle, by building towards a European-wide general strike. We defended the need of an action plan, to mobilise workers, and to pose who decides policy in the trade unions – simply a small layer of “leaders” or a broad layer of activists and members? The plans of action should not be limited to the national level; savage cuts are being pursued by governments all over Europe, combined with attempts to divide the workers. The best reply is to unite all nationalities and sections of the working class – German and Greek workers, young and old, immigrant and other workers etc.

Role of youth

CWI activists also played a key role in the youth contingent at the start of the Brussels demonstration, promoting the idea of local ‘youth marches for jobs’, something which has already begun in Belgium.

We distributed a CWI leaflet to protesters in four languages (Dutch, French, German, and English) with a clear message: the austerity measures will be hard fierce, so our reply needs to be determined, as well. The leaflet concluded: “The union leaderships should stop relying on Social Democracy or, as in Flanders, on Christian Democracy, to offer a political alternative. They must cut the official ties with those bosses’ parties and build new, democratic and combative workers’ parties or assist new formations to develop in that way. This should enable workers not only to stop the attacks on their achievements, but also to offer a socialist alternative to the capitalist chaos.”

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