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General strike in Belgium: the people show a choice for a completely different road than the government’s

By Workers Party of Belgium

Fight Back News Service is circulating the following communiqué of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB):

On Monday, Dec. 15, Belgium was paralyzed by a general strike, organized by the major trade union centers, after a series of regional strikes, to protest the Rightist government's harsh austerity measures.

“This is the biggest strike in Belgium in thirty years”, said Peter Mertens, chairman of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB), who paid solidarity visits to several picketlines. “Action took place in almost all sectors, the roads were deserted, the active population decided not to go to work. The people have thus given a clear signal: it is really time for other policies, in which the people take center stage, and that dare to invest in social renewal.”

Throughout the country and in a united front of the trade unions, railway workers, nurses, teachers, metal workers, dockers, artists, students,... showed their rage and made the general strike of Dec. 15 the most 'generalized' general strike since 30 years. All major industrial sectors, the transportation sector and the public services came to a standstill, but also many small and medium enterprises, shopping centers, schools, hospitals and other non-profit institutions were on strike – some of them for the first time in their existence.

And all this notwithstanding the heavy pressures the employers brought to bear on the workers: invitation to stay overnight at their workplaces, financial pressure to come to work, the use of notices of default by bailiffs and even the threat of delocalization. Peter Mertens: “Today, by the force of their numbers and using the weapon of the general strike, the workers have put pressure on the godfathers of the Rightist government of Michel (liberal) and De Wever (Flemish nationalist): the large corporations and their employers' federations.”

A new and encouraging phenomenon is that the citizens' movements 'Heart above Hard' (Dutch-language) and 'Tout autre chose' (French-language, meaning 'Something entirely different'), together representing more than 1000 organizations, joined the strike movement, with bicycle tours and visits to picketlines in several major cities. The extent of the strike movement in schools and universities is yet another indication of the broadness of the movement, that even got the support of magistrates, small shop keepers and medical associations.

Peter Mertens: “At the picketlines we could feel the growing dissatisfaction with the government's deafness for the workers' demands. But also the great determination to continue the movement after the winter truce, if the government doesn't retreat on key elements of its plans, such as the postponement of the age of retirement to 67 years of age, the skipping of an indexation of salaries to price rises, or the dismantling of public services and social security.”

Meanwhile, in the protest movement the need for alternatives is growing. Five years after the PTB launched its campaign for a millionnaires' tax, there is a much larger support base for such a measure, with 85% of the population supporting the demand to tax fortunes above 1 million euro. “A genuine tax on fortunes is the only way to really diminish the increasing inequality in society”, according to Peter Mertens. “The only reason that the government has never thought of implementing such a tax measure, is the fact that the influence of the very rich on the government circles is too important. The government rests fossilized in its own tunnel vision that 'there is no alternative'. But the problem is that Mr. Michel and Mr. De Wever refuse to see the alternatives that exist.

Instead of the deadly austerity policies, destroying the social and cultural fabric of society, we plead for new investments in the social, ecological and industrial spheres. Instead of handing over ever larger parts of society to the market, we want strong public services to be the backbone of a democratic renewal. And instead of grabbing the money from the pockets of those who need it, we propose to activate the dormant wealth of the transnational corporations.”

Raoul Hedebouw, PTB spokesman and member of the federal parliament, was also present at several picketlines in the provinces of Limburg and Liège. He noted: “Everywhere we go, we observe a great openness for real alternatives. The more than 900 PTB militants were received very warmly at the more than 1000 picketlines they visited in solidarity. In the coming days and weeks, they will continue to invest in the broad and ongoing movement to make the anti-social government retreat.”

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