Belgium


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Since the beginning of this year Belgium has witnessed a wave of wildcat strikes reminiscent of the 1970s. The movement has spread spontaneously from one sector to another. Significantly it has rekindled class unity across the language divide at the same time as the bourgeois attempt to divide the working class along national lines.

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The recent internal leadership elections in the Flemish Socialist Party revealed a very militant mood in the ranks of the party. The two left candidates Erik De Bruyn and Elke Heirman received an amazing 33.6% of the votes, preparing the ground for the re-emergence of s strong left wing in the party.

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The Belgian Socialist Party has been dominated by a right-wing bureaucracy for some time now, but something has been brewing in the ranks lately. This has now suddenly erupted and come to the surface with the Antwerp branch nominating Erik De Bruyn, a known Marxist and promoter of the left of the Party, “SP.a Rood”. An apparently small incident has provoked an earthquake within the party.

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HOV Belgium participated in organising a large meeting of some 350 people in solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution. With a packed agenda, important speakers from both Belgium and Venezuela spoke on the revolution and the need for solidarity. Meetings such as this show concretely that the ideas and the message of the Venezuelan revolution are spreading well beyond the borders of the Latin American country.

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On October 28 another massive strike shook Belgium. This time all the unions were involved. In spite of all the attempts of the government and the bosses to sabotage it, the workers took part in large numbers and 100,000 marched through the streets of Brussels. Things are moving very fast now.

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On Friday, October 7, there was a massive general strike in Belgium, the first for 12 years, called by Socialist ABVV-FGTB union. In spite of all attempts to make it fail, the workers came out in great numbers both in Flanders and Wallonia. Since then the pressure has built up. Strikes have broken in different parts of the country. The Christian union has now been forced to back the movement and a new general strike is being prepared for October 28. Class struggle is back on the agenda in Belgium, and with a bang.

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After years of so-called consensus politics the Belgian workers have had enough of longer hours, cuts in welfare, speed-ups and they are coming out tomorrow in a massive general strike. The mood is one of bitter anger and determination to win.

Erik Demeester interviewed Remi Verwimp, who is an activist of a special kind. He is in fact a priest who belongs to a group called Christians for Socialism in Belgium inspired by liberation theology and Marxist ideas. As a lecturer at the Theology and Society Workshop (Werkgroep Theologie en Maatschappij) he has developed a critical view on the Catholic Church and especially on the latest pontificate.

Last week thousands of Belgians protested against US President Bush, who was in Brussels for a short trip from February 20-22. After having alienated most of his European allies, Bush was in Belgium to heal the wounds since he is aware the United States cannot simply keep running like a bull in a china shop on the stage of world affairs. Bush needs to seek points of support in Europe and that is why (temporarily) diplomacy seems to have taken the front seat again. Even little Belgium can help the United States, which is what the country is doing at the moment in relation to the war in Iraq. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt may be “proud” of not having any Belgian troops in Iraq, but the

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Last month, the far right Vlaams Blok changed its name to Vlaams Belang, supposedly to be a “nicer” and “more polished up” version of its former ultra right image. They want to present themselves as a strong conservative party, a “respectable” alternative on which the ruling class can rely to carry out its attacks on the working class. Even in small and peaceful Belgium, all the contradictions are piling up, waiting to explode in one way or another.

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The Belgian government, together with other EU countries, has declared Iran a "safe country", by which they mean that no-one is in danger of state repression there. This is clearly a manoeuvre. Iran remains one of the most dangerous countries for anyone struggling for genuine human rights, and particularly workers' rights. Support the 250 asylum seekers!

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The recent Belgian elections underline one thing, a deepening social and political polarisation, in line with what is happening in the rest of Europe. Erik Demeester in Brussels analyses the results.

The weekend of 18 and 19 January thousands of people all over the world protested against the impending war in Iraq. In Belgium there was a demonstration with about 10,000 participants that took to the streets on Sunday. Various NGOs, immigrants' organisations, left groups and parties and delegations of trade unions were present.

Filip Staes reports on last weekend's antiwar demonstration in Brussels and on the 'shipspotting' activities of the Anti-War Committees set up by the supporters of Vonk in Antwerp. Antwerp has grown in importance for the war effort as a large part of the military hardware for the Gulf is transported through this port.


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Within a few days tens of thousands of workers and young people will come from whole over Europe to Brussels to protest against the EU, capitalist globalisation in Europe and the rest of the world and the new war in Afghanistan. These demonstrations are the next stage in the cycle of mobilisations started in Seattle and which culminated in the 300.000 strong demonstration in Genoa. Erik Demeester from the Editorial Board of Vonk/Unité, the Belgian Marxist paper for labour and youth, looks briefly at what's at stake in these protests.

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Misha Van Herck from Belgium explains how the main European harbours are set to play a vital role in the war preparations against Iraq. They can only be ‘replaced’ at a very high cost. Its is clear that without at least the passive collaboration of Belgium and Europe a war against Iraq would be impossible. The ports of Northern Europe will be filled with military equipment, supplies and ammunition.

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Only superlatives and historical comparisons can help us to understand the scope of the sudden collapse of the Sabena airline and the new commotion it has provoked in Belgium. As one trade union leader put it: "Our society is going from one shock to the other." In just one day 12,000 workers have lost their jobs and 36,000 jobs in service-providing companies are now in jeopardy. This amounts to the biggest single bankruptcy since the second world war.

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The petrol price hike in the last few months has added fuel to the already existing social discontent in Belgium. Very soon after the truckers in France and the rest of Europe had paralysed their respective countries in the first half of September, the industrial workers in the South of Belgium took over and launched their own action, demonstrations and strikes to stop the further dwindling of the value of their income.

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