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Successful regional strike in Belgium

By Workers Party of Belgium

Workers Party of Belgium: ‘The strikers are more determined than ever to make the government withdraw’

Antwerp, Belgium – On Nov. 24 a regional general strike was organized in four Belgian provinces by the trade unions. This is part of a broader strike movement, to culminate in a national general strike on Dec. 15. The protest movement is directed against the harsh austerity measures imposed on the workers by the rightist government of Prime Minister Charles Michel and the leader of the Flemish nationalist party Bart De Wever, who is also mayor of Antwerp.

This first day of action was a success: the strike was almost complete in Antwerp, the industrial heart of Belgium, in Hainaut, the historical center of social resistance, and in the provinces of Limburg and Luxemburg. Transportation by boat was completely paralyzed and the docks of the port of Antwerp came to a complete standstill. Also public transportation, buses and trains, were largely on strike.

“Today, everybody has learnt a lesson of economy: without the workers, no wealth! And the strikers are well determined to make the government withdraw, affirming that the strike will be even larger on 15 December, the day of the national general strike,” said Workers Party of Belgium (PTB) chairman Peter Mertens, who visited the picket lines in the Antwerp region from 5:00 a.m. onward.

The strike paralyzed the major industrial sectors in the affected provinces: from Caterpillar (Hainaut) to Ford Genk (Limburg) and Van Hool and Daf (Antwerp); and from the petrochemical industry in Antwerp to that of Feluy and NMLK in Hainaut, passing by Tessenderlo in Limburg and up to Ferrero in Luxemburg.

The strike also touched many small and medium enterprises, while also numerous industrial 'zonings' were blocked. Many schools, day care centers and municipal administrations were closed, as were major hospitals and shopping centers. In several towns, meetings and demonstrations were held, with a remarkable participation of groups and associations from the cultural and academic world, small businessmen and shop keepers, pensioners and jobless.

A movement carried by diverse layers of society

Personalities from the cultural world were present at picket lines in Antwerp. A cycling tour organized by the citizens' movement Heart Above Hard gathered more than 1000 people in Antwerp, who thereafter joined the trade unionists at a meeting in the Roma hall, which was completely filled. There were also actions of the network fighting poverty, and from employees of the homes of the elderly.

“The strike movement is to a large extent carried by diverse layers of society who all put into question the project of society of the Michel-De Wever team. A project tailored to the needs of a small group of big stakeholders, while the rest of society has to pay up. Everywhere we heard the same demand: this time it is up to the wealthiest, to the millionaires to pay, as they have been completely spared by the government up till now”, Peter Mertens added.

“The strikers also defended the right to work of the jobless, who are being chased by the government, and of the thousands of public sector workers at the municipal, regional and federal levels, who are threatened in their job security. They defended the right of the youth to have a stable job and future, and the right to rest of the elder workers, who don't want to see their job careers prolonged with two to seven years. They clearly and loudly voiced out that their salaries are part of the solution, not of the problem, and that skipping their indexation to the cost of living or blocking the salaries will not pass. The government's measures, copied from the German or Dutch models, will plunge the country in a recession. This day of action is an encouragement for the upcoming days of strike on 1, 8 and 15 December. Yes, the pressure is mounting to make the government and its godfathers, the Flemish and Belgian employers' organizations (VOKA and FEB) withdraw,” concluded the PTB chairman.

In the four provinces involved in the strike, PTB delegations visited no less than 314 picket lines, bringing their warm support and solidarity to the strikers.

Raoul Hedebouw, PTB deputy in the federal parliament, who crisscrossed the province of Hainaut, said: “Everywhere we were received most warmly. Everywhere we felt the anger against the measures regarding the end of the job career and the pensions, the indexation and the salaries, the destruction of public services. But we also felt, in the North as in the South of the country, the strikers' desire to offer another perspective to their children than that of austerity imposed by the government of Michel-De Wever. The popularity of the alternative to make the big fortunes pay is growing. After the demonstration with 120,000 people, on Nov. 6 in Brussels, today's strike is yet another important democratic action that shows that a large part of the population is questioning the legitimacy of this government which, since its very inception, has sided with the wealthy. A movement of social resistance, with a real alternative, is on the march.”

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