Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hundreds of thousands protest austerity in Brussels

Brussels November 6th
by Stephen Morgan

In the face of government attacks on pensions, wages and public spending, a monster demonstration of trade unionists filled the streets of Belgian's capital Brussels last Thursday.

200,000 people marched through the city in a show of defiance against the new right-wing government's austerity measures. It was one of the largest demonstrations for decades, equivalent in size of population to a protest of some 800,000 in Paris or London.

The protest was called by the country's trade unions and supported by the opposition Socialist Party. The turnout was a massive show of unity between the Socialist and Christian trade union federations and between the two linguistic communities from the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking regions of Brussels and Wallonia in the south.

In an unusual step for the old workers' parties, Elio di Rupo (former Socialist Prime Minister until the national elections in May) joined the demonstration and has called on all citizens to participate in a national General Strike planned for December 15th.

The demonstration is the first action in a series of rolling regional general strikes leading up to the national one-day General Strike next month. Union leaders have promised to escalate the protests in the new year, if the government doesn't back down on its plans to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, freeze all salaries and carry out cuts in public spending.

At the end of the protest, fighting broke out between the police and the Antwerp dock workers, who have something of a tradition of ending demos by taking on the state forces. More than 50 people were injured, including 30 police officers who were hospitalized, two of whom are in a serious condition. Dozens of cars and police vehicles were set on fire and parts of Brussels looked like a war zone.

This show of strength on the part of the unions and the scale of anger towards the government will undoubtedly give an impetus to more widespread unrest in the coming weeks.

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