Socialist Worker

Brussels: Protests are back with a vengeance

Eyewitness report from Brussels protests by Helen Shooter

Issue No. 1780

As European Union (EU) leaders discussed more market 'reforms' and privatisation of services in Brussels in Belgium, 100,000 trade unionists marched last Thursday in protest at this 'neo-liberal' Europe.

There were two demonstrations outside the EU summit last week. Trade unionists demanded a 'social Europe' with public services and workers' rights on Thursday. Thousands of young people protested for 'global peace and justice' on Friday. The demonstrations were important for the anti-capitalist movement. They showed the growing anger at governments' neo-liberal policies of privatisation.

Our rulers believed the 11 September attacks in New York had put an end to the anti-capitalist movement which had protested against their meetings across the world, from Seattle through to Genoa. But the 25,000 young people who took to the streets of Belgium last Friday showed that the movement hasn't gone away.

'We want another world, a better world with more rights for workers,' explained Klaus Jann, who had travelled with car workers and factory workers from Dusseldorf in Germany to join the trade unionists' demonstration. The march was a display of trade union organisation. The demonstrators, many of whom were manual workers, marched in noisy delegations with their union's colours and flags.

Trade unionists from Belgium made up the biggest group on the demonstration. Some 20,000 workers came with the French CGT union, and thousands came with the IG Metall union from Germany. The march included public sector workers, such as a delegation of rail workers from Lyons in France.

'We want to defend our public services,' said Florantain Carty. 'A private company is more focused on getting money than providing a good service. 'We have seen what has happened to the railways in Britain. There have been bad accidents. We say if there is a problem with funding the service that is a problem for the government, not the workers.'

A number of marchers came from Eastern European countries, where people were told the free market would bring increased prosperity. 'Privatisation has many different faces. But none of them are good for workers,' said Krzysztof Wika, a teacher who marched alongside factory workers from his local area in Poland.

The young people who filled the streets the day after the trade unionists' march brought the spirit of Genoa to Belgium, despite temperatures that reached minus five degrees.

Adam Jerorin, a student from Ghent University in Belgium, marched in the delegation of the anti-globalisation group ATTAC. He said, 'After Genoa everything happened in my college. Before I felt I was alone and after Genoa I thought, 'Wow, there are so many of us.'

'The movement is still growing. The leaders in the European summit just don't comprehend that they don't speak for the people. But people across society support our movement.'

The demonstration, called around the slogan 'for peace and justice', was organised by the D14 collective, an umbrella group of protest organisations. Two delegations of Belgian workers from the Thursday demonstration also joined the anti-capitalist march.

They were the Sabena Belgian airline workers who have faced 12,000 redundancies after the company went bankrupt in October. The pilots and airline staff in uniform marched in a lively delegation behind a mock airplane. Their placards attacking Sabena read 'Stop economic terrorism'. A delegation of Belgian postal workers fighting privatisation also marched. One of the workers, Jef Bossuyt, said, 'As trade unionists I think we have a duty to be on this march as well.'

Although the war in Afghanistan was not the main focus of the demonstration, the anti-war slogans that rang out from the hundreds-strong Globalise Resistance delegation struck a chord with many marchers. Ghent University student Theun Vonckx explained his home-made banner 'The capitalists are the terrorists': 'The government gives a specific definition of terrorism, and I want to turn it round and say they are the terrorists. 'Capitalism has brought war to the countries of Africa that we have been studying at college. They should stop dropping bombs and bring about change instead.'

Many of the demonstrators were local young people. 'I rushed to finish my psychology exam to come on this march,' said school student Dina Gardiner. I wanted to be here to demand a better world, and also for the fun and the shouting. I think it is brilliant. In the 1960s there was a revolutionary movement of young people. Obviously I wasn't around then! But I think you can see that spirit of the 1960s now.'

Left rallies resistance

The Anti-capitalist march was a major breakthrough in Belgium, a country where the left has traditionally been weak. Over 1,000 people attended an anti-capitalist forum in Brussels St Louis University on the eve of the demonstration.

The platform included leading left groups-the French LCR, Italy's Rifondazione, and from Britain the Socialist Workers Party and Scottish Socialist Party. Lindsey German of the SWP was applauded when she argued against 'the lies we have been told about this war'. 'It is about imperialism and global capitalism spreading its reach across the world,' she said.

'We have built a movement in Britain that is broad and wide, including Muslims, trade unionists and students, and we have to continue. This war is not over. The US will feel more confident to attack another target.'

Job losses stoke anger

The Sabena workers are among the many victims of the mass sackings by companies across the world under cover of the New York attacks on 11 September. Valerie Van Overbeke, a Sabena worker, said, 'We have to stop the bankers and capitalists who have only one thing in mind-profit. 'They don't know about the human lives and families they have destroyed. We need more strikes and protests. We have to fight together.'

Verena Fuhs, an office worker from Cologne in Germany, said, 'Companies want to make more and more profit. They don't share this with the workers-they just put it into their pockets.' Joao Carlos, one of the delegation of Portuguese trade unionists, said, 'I work for a US tobacco multinational. 'The problem is if they decide to shut down a factory and move to somewhere else the workers are left behind. We cannot just move around to another country so we are left unemployed.'

The size of the Thursday march shows the force that can challenge European leaders and their big business backers.

Police plot unmasked

Echoes of the Genoa demonstration could also be seen in the police's vicious attack on demonstrators on Friday. The demonstration was peaceful from beginning to end.

People wearing black masks who had not joined the march arrived at the convergence centre, where the marchers were relaxing after the demonstration. The police were forced to admit on Belgian television that night that they had officers dressed up in black masks who had infiltrated the demonstration. As the 'protesters' began to smash windows and taunt the police, officers moved in. They chained the gates of the convergence centre, and fired teargas and water cannon at protesters.

In Genoa hordes of Italian police attacked a school where protesters were sleeping after the march, and brutally beat them. The police used 'agents provocateurs' dressed as protesters who rampaged through the city giving the police the excuse to attack other demonstrators. Police hospitalised 60 of the 90 people sheltering in the school.

Workers' unity across Europe

A delegation of several hundred workers and students travelled from Britain to join the marches in Belgium. They formed a lively and colourful contingent. Some 80 people who travelled from Scotland joined students from Manchester, Sheffield, Wales and Plymouth.

There were also banners from Stop the War groups in Birmingham and south London, and Tube Workers Against the War, as well as the national banner of the Stop the War Coalition.

Members of Globalise Resistance from across Britain carried the group's bright orange flags on the march. They were joined by the red flags carried by Socialist Workers Party members.

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Article information

Sat 22 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1780
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