In three weeks time tens of thousands of people are planning to join major protests in the Belgian capital, Brussels. The protests will focus anger at the job losses mounting right across Europe as global recession bites. And they will also voice fury at European leaders' backing for the US-led war on Afghanistan.
On Thursday 13 December, in what is likely to be the biggest of the planned protests, trade unions across Europe are urging workers to march. They are demanding that European governments act to save jobs and protect public services. The following day, Friday 14 December, almost 150 organisations are backing a 'global peace and justice' march through the Belgian capital that will see tens of thousands of people voice their anger at the war.
The marches take place alongside the European Union leaders' summit, at which leaders such as Tony Blair and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi will gather to push their neo-liberal policies of privatisation and welfare cuts. In Britain the TUC is officially backing the Thursday march, and is urging unions to send delegations.
At the heart of the union backed demonstration on the Thursday will be fury over job cuts as the global recession gathers pace. Workers from the national Sabena airline will be at the centre of the Belgian workers' contingent, for which union leaders in the country have set a target of 50,000.
Over 12,000 Sabena workers have been thrown out of work after the airline went bankrupt last month. They have already staged a series of militant and angry protests, staging a 10,000-strong march a fortnight ago.
Sabena worker Michel Ronge gave a glimpse of the fury that swept Belgium in the wake of the mass sackings: 'My wife and I both lost our jobs and our dreams. I have five kids. How do I explain to them that Santa Claus doesn't come to a house with no money?'
French unions plan a major delegation to Brussels on 13 December, with the important CGT federation setting a public target of taking 10,000 of its members. Anger over a spate of mass sackings by multinationals from Danone to Marks & Spencer erupted again last week in France.
Workers at the Moulinex plant in Cornelle-le-Royal in Normandy occupied the factory after being told it was to shut. In Alençon in the south of France Moulinex workers clashed with riot police in a protest last Tuesday. The protests forced the government to intervene and promise a better deal for workers made redundant.
There are plenty of reasons for British workers and unions to ensure a sizeable number of people join the Brussels protests. Unemployment rose last month, even on the distorted official measure, after a barrage of major job losses.
Employers' organisations have already warned that tens of thousands more workers and their families could face the dole in the run-up to Christmas. Union leaders have been pathetically silent over the jobs cull at home. But there are clear signs that union leaders are more serious than usual about mobilising people for the Brussels protest.
The TUC has been contacting local union activists who took delegations to the 100,000-strong protest at the European Union summit in Nice in France last December. It is urging them to get people to Brussels.
The global peace and justice protest on the Friday will have an anti-capitalist theme, opposing corporate globalisation. But for most people the focus of that march will be anger at the war on Afghanistan. The Friday protest is backed by a wide range of organisations in Belgium. Groups from right across Europe, including groups such as the ATTAC anti-globalisation movement and Britain's Globalise Resistance back the march.
Anyone who can join any or all of the Brussels protests should do so. Get a delegation from work, your college or local group and get transport organised as soon as possible. The Brussels demonstrations are a chance to raise a storm of protest against the mounting job cuts in the face of recession, and the privatisation, poverty and war that flow from our rulers' policies and their system.
How to get there
There are many ways of getting to Brussels. The TUC has forms for trade union delegations to register on its website. The TUC has also organised travel packages for union delegations, with flights at around £100 return from Glasgow, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester on the Thursday, returning later that day.
The TUC is also offering to arrange accommodation for those staying over in Brussels until the Friday, at a cost of £25 extra a head, with flights to fit in. There are many other ways for anyone, from school and college students to trade unionists, to get to Brussels for both the Thursday and Friday protests. Budget airline Ryanair runs flights to Charleroi airport, an hour from the centre of Brussels by bus. The Eurostar train runs direct to Brussels in under three hours from London.
There are several coach firms who run there too, and independent transport is relatively easy. Brussels is a short drive from major Channel ports such as Calais or Ostend. Globalise Resistance is organising coaches leaving from London on the evening of Wednesday 12 December to join both the Thursday trade union march and Friday's anti-capitalist protest, at a cost of £45.
Local groups are already organising minibuses and cars to take delegations. The D14 collective which is coordinating the Friday anti-capitalist protest is offering to help arrange basic accommodation in Brussels for delegations. You can register for this on its website.
More info: TUC website www.tuc.org.uk, Globalise Resistance www.resist. org.uk, or phone 020 8980 3005. Belgian organising collectives www.bruxxel.org or www.d14.be (both with English translations available).
From Genoa to Brussels Why we're staying on the street
Friday 30 November, 6.30pm, Camden Centre, London WC1
Speakers include Fausto Bertinotti, leader of Rifondazione Italy & Eric Toussaint, Belgian anti-debt activist Plus British premiere of the film of the Genoa protests Un Altro Mundo é Possibile £5/£3.
Phone Globalise Resistance on 020 8980 3005