Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Class struggle in Belgium: Is it still possible to drive back the federal government?

By Joris Van Gorp

Fight Back News Service is circulating the following article from the Workers Party of Belgium

Tuesday, April 22, public services in Belgium were on strike, responding to the call of the socialist trade union CGSP (General Central of Public Services, Member of the FGTB), exactly seven months after the citizens movement “Hart Boven Hard” conducted its first actions against austerity in Flanders. The next day, September 23, 2014, the trade union front held its first demonstration. At the time, the federal government was still in its infancy.

Where is the government now, after seven months of social resistance?

The federal government has tried to break the resistance by undermining the strong points of the movement: the united front of the trade unions, the interprofessional nature of the movement, the unity between the North and the South of the country. But this did not prevent the CGSP to call for a 24 hour-strike. On 29 March, no less than 20,000 participants at the Great Parade of “Tout Autre Chose / Hart Boven Hard” didn't let themselves be intimidated by this government. As did not the 35,000 militants the week after, when they organized protest actions, from March 30 to April 1. For seven months the social resistance stood firm. No struggle movement in Belgium has held for so long.

The government under pressure

Seven months of social struggle has held the government constantly under pressure. The N-VA (the largest party in Flanders and in government, very Rightist and nationalist) dreamed of a Flemish government and a federal government that would quickly and drastically implement a whole series of fundamental socio-economic reforms. The federal government, formed in October 2014, started like a bulldozer : skip the adjustment of salaries to the price index, a wage freeze, raising the age of retirement to 67, the dismantling of all advanced pension systems, reduced allocations for public utilities ( railways, culture,...) And all this for the benefit of big business and the super-rich.

But after seven months of social struggle, the government yet had to leave its bulldozer in the garage.

During the March 2015 budget control, no drastic measures were announced yet – such as a rise in

VAT or 1.2 billion in new cuts.

The Flemish government – led by Minister President Bourgeois, N-VA – suddenly even wanted to

allow for a budget deficit of 550 million, while the Flemish government agreement expressly advocated a balanced budget. Seven months of social resistance has meant that the famous speech of N-VA president Bart De Wever – “this is not part of the government's coalition agreement” – landed in the trash can.

Also the Walloon government faced social opposition to its austerity measures, such as the decision not to replace four civil servants of every five that would go on leave.

Why did these governments have to take a break? Why did the bulldozer remain in the garage at the recent exercise of budget control? For one reason: social resistance.

The big employers have more reservations regarding the government

It’s the big employers who wanted this government. It’s the employers' federations which dictated the coalition agreement. But the strikes have given them the fear of their lives. The daily De Morgen noted in its file on the availability of early retirees: “The N-VA believed to have the employers eat from its hand. But in recent times, this alliance seems somewhat floundering. (...) There is a divergence of views on how to shape policies. If it can buy them social peace, the employers opt for the path of gradualism.”

The big bang did not happen

Media commentators also noticed this change. De Standaard wrote on March 5: “The N-VA was convinced that a government without the Socialist Party would be able to implement important socioeconomic reforms. Now it turns out that this big bang did not take place. At most there is an opportunity to advance slowly, step by step, through the back door, we can read from the lips of

Timmermans, the head of the FEB (Belgian Employers Federation).”

Cabinet bickering and profiling

Another fallout of seven months of social struggle is the permanent bickering between the N-VA and

CD&V (Flemish Christian Democratic Party, also member of the government). One has the impression that since the strike of 15 December, their opinions differ on almost everything: the activation of early

retirees, skipping the index for housing rental, the “tax shift”, the VAT increase, the mistery calls (to detect racist recruitment practices by companies), start-up jobs, the presence of paratroopers in the streets,... With these quarrels, the government is trying to achieve two things.

One. Everyone plays his own role to serve his own base. The N-VA acts as the defender of harsh austerity policies, while the CD&V assumes the “social” role. This also has an electoral dimension.

The business paper De Tijd explained how, for example, the hate speech that Bart De Wever used against the Berber people was meant to “to keep voters on board who in recent years had left Vlaams

Belang (the openly facsist party) for the N-VA”. De Tijd continued: “But it's not just the Flemish nationalists who think in terms of strategy. Open VLD (the liberal party) and CD&V also have the firm intention to win back some of their voters that have switched to the N-VA. This explains why not only the opposition parties but also the coalition partners have made venomous remarks against De Wever.

“Some days ago, Flemish Minister President Geert Bourgeois suddenly said he wanted to take another close look at the money transfers between Flanders and Wallonia. This Flemish nationalistic remark was meant to keep Vlaams Belang voters on board or, as Le Soir said: “He must regularly address the nationalist electorate.”

Two. All these squabbles are also used to confuse the social resistance, by camouflaging the fact that N-VA and CD&V continue together to try and shape their anti-social policies.

Wanted: a new plan of action and a reaffirmation of the 4 breaking points

This mystification also shows that this government has not been successful. Le Soir wrote: “Charles Michel is in need of everyone in order to deal with a social movement that has not really exploded, but that does not weaken either; and that remains a potential threat to the government.”

It is the strength of a new action plan and the reaffirmation of the four breaking points that can reinvigorate the movement or, to put it in the words of Le Soir, let it “explode” and force the government to withdraw its anti-social measures. The social movement can defeat this government

#Belgium #Labor #Europe #PeoplesStruggles #WorkersPartyOfBelgium