Belgium

The solidarity campaign for Rawal Asad (who has been held in custody since February on the scandalous charge of sedition after attending a peaceful protest in Multan, Pakistan) shows no sign of slowing down. On 4 March, comrades and supporters of the International Marxist Tendency coordinated a day of pressure against the Pakistani state by picketing, protesting and telephoning Pakistan's embassies all over the world, so the regime knows the world is watching, and we will not stop until our comrade is released. 

Comrades and supporters from around the world are continuing to put pressure on the Pakistani state to release the Marxist student activist, Rawal Asad, who is still being held on the scandalous charge of sedition and has been denied bail. Meanwhile, protests are ongoing in Pakistan, where comrades, students and workers are demanding that Rawal be immediately released.

On 8 November, the student council of the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB) refused to recognise a student Marxist society, set up by the IMT in Brussels (Vonk – Marxistische jongeren), on the grounds that our organisation is… anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-fascist! We reiterate: this was a decision taken by the majority of the student council, not the university bosses.

The German Revolution of 1918 ended the First World War. During a little-known episode of the Revolution, German soldiers liberated Belgium from a brutal military occupation before the armistice of the 11 November was signed. This revolutionary movement was also crucial in pushing through a swift introduction of universal general suffrage in Belgium.

The former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, once again resides in Belgium. He first fled to the country in order to escape conviction for sedition and rebellion by the Spanish state after he (formally) declared the independence of Catalonia on 27 October 2017. Ever since, the Spanish government and judiciary have tried to convince other European states to arrest him and send him back to Spain for trial. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Following a short period during which he was under arrest in Germany, Puigdemont is now back in Belgium.

Belgium, the country where compromise and moderation seemed for a long time to be part of the genetic make-up of society, is experiencing a level of social confrontation rarely seen before.

Yet again we saw this morning the ruthless killing of innocent people as they went about their daily lives. Marxists condemn such acts of terror, in the same way that they condemn the killing of thousands of people in Syria and other war-torn countries. The point is: what can be done to put an end to this barbarism?

‘This is the strongest strike ever’ commented the general secretary Marie Hélène Ska of the Christian union CSC. She is right. The national work stoppage on Monday 15th of December was without doubt the most “general” of 24 hour general strikes in the rich Belgian history of strikes.

Despite a harsh blizzard and traffic disruptions 250 people braved the weather to gather in Brussels, at the buildings of the Christian trade union CSC/ACV, to pay homage to the recently deceased President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Erik Demeester of the Hands Off Venezuela (HOV) campaign and Veronique Coteur of Intal explained the political significance of the gathering: ‘Hugo Chavez was not only a president of Venezuela. He was above all an international revolutionary leader.

The water cannons and flash-balls1 used by the police in Brussels, Namur and Strasbourg were not enough to cool the anger of the Walloon steelworkers.  Images of the steelworkers in violent clashes with the police have been circulated internationally. Their anger erupted after the steel giant ArcelorMittal said it would close seven of the twelve cold processing facilities in Liège, eliminating 1300 jobs. 

The bourgeois in Europe noted that while the response to yesterday’s day of action called by the European trade unions was mainly concentrated in the South (Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece) there was one exception in the north, Belgium, which saw significant mobilisations, particularly in French speaking Wallonia.

'A company that only makes money is not good business'.pThis phrase from Henry Ford does not appear to be an inspiration for Stephen Odell, the current CEO of Ford Europe. Money seems to be the only reason for its industrial policy, as shownby the announced plant closures in Genk and Southampton (UK).The announcement on October 24 of the plant closures and the layoffs of 4500 workers in Belgium and 500 in the UK are another nail in the coffin of the European automotive sector.

Late on the night of Sunday, February 26, twenty black hooded strongmen – so-called security guards of an unknown company – were escorted out of the Meister Benelux engineering plant by the police. They had arrived from Germany (!) earlier that day driving vans and trucks. Armed with baseball bats, rubber truncheons, teargas sprays and bulletproof jackets, they entered the company with the aim of organising the delivery of car parts to the automotive industry in Germany.

On January 30 the three Belgian trade unions called a 24-hour general strike in both the public and private sectors. It was the first general strike since 1993. The immediate background was the public sector general strike on December 22 against the austerity measures of the new Socialist Party government led by Elio Di Rupo.

In reaction to a recent protest by street cleaners in Brussels, the bosses complained that, ‘If every reform provokes such a strong opposition, we will never be able to move forward.” In response to this one of the workers involved in the protest, speaking on TV, said, “What else are we supposed to do? Do you want us to go for a nice walk through the city or organise a little picnic? We have to show that we are angry. Those on the streets today are not kids. They are angry workers and they are damned right to be doing what they have done.”

Recent redundancy announcements in Belgium have provoked a very militant response from workers. The case of the InBev brewery workers is one example, as is that at Carrefour. Also a spontaneous strike on the railways after the recent fatal rail accident reveals the real mood within the Belgian working class.

An appeal has been issued for the nationalisation of the Opel plant in Antwerp under workers’ management, together with the call to develop the factory along eco-friendly lines, producing alternative forms of transport and defending jobs at the same time. Support the campaign!

Working class militancy is growing in Belgium as world capitalism goes into meltdown. Workers are learning very fast in this situation. They see plenty of money for the banks but very little for genuine social reforms. They also see a trade union and Socialist Party leadership totally incapable of giving any answers. Monday's trade union day of action brought all this to the surface.

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