Belgium: 150,000 march against austerity

Workers in Belgium showed that they had had enough. The latest cuts to their living standards brought them out in the streets in massive numbers at the call of the main trade unions in the country. They would refuse to accept raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 or breaking the link between wages and inflation or privatizing the national railroad system.

The unions plan further actions: regional protests on Nov. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8, and a general strike on Dec. 15.

Protesters came from all over Belgium, both French and Flemish-majority areas. There were teachers, nurses, chemical workers, dockers, railroad workers, laborers, youth and students, active workers and retired, at least two contingents of undocumented workers, all defending their children, grandchildren and parents’ needs against a government responding to capital’s quest for vast profits.

The region of Flanders is proposing to cut 80 million euros out of the higher education budget. The region of Walloons is planning to cut 600 million euros out of primary and secondary education. The federal government is planning to cut 600 million euros out of its subsidies to the national railroad system.

Katrien Verwimp, president of the Confederation of Christian Unions-Transport, said at the rally: “In many sectors, like transport and logistics, the dockers, we had no problem in mobilizing our affiliates. Today, railroad workers had to work [the railroads offered a low price ticket to demonstrators] but they’re still angry. Not just at the government planning to slash away, but also at their boss, Jo Cornu, who hasn’t stopped lying about them in the press.” (

Other trade union speakers explained the need for further mobilizations. Marc Goblet, the national secretary of the Belgian General Federation of Labor (FGTB), said that since the government wasn’t listening it was going to be necessary to hold repeated mobilizations to remind it of workers’ grievances.

A Marxist party, the Workers Party of Belgium (PVDA-PTB), which just had two members elected to Parliament, played an important role in this protest

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Speaking from the PTB podium, Raoul Houdebouw, its deputy from Liège, said: “Today we are writing the social history of the country in the streets. We are going to make the government back down.”

After the demonstration was finished, Houdebouw took the podium in Parliament and said: “Mr. Prime Minister, you regularly make the point that the people do not understand what you are proposing. I think it is exactly the opposite: The people understand your proposals very well. They understand very well that it is illogical that they are asked to work longer when there are so many young people who want nothing else than to begin working.” He also raised the inability of people to make purchases as a major economic problem in Belgium, one acknowledged by the National Bank. (

Police used tear gas and water cannons against some of the youth demonstrators, who challenged the cops at the end of the march. Cars and trucks were overturned and burned, according to clips from RTBF, the French service of Belgian broadcasting, and protesters charged the cops with street signs and barricades used as rams. While the numbers vary, media reported that dozens of cops and protesters needed medical care.

The Belgian unions and the Marxist left have taken a multifaceted and combative approach. It will be a step forward if workers in other countries follow their example.