Belgian workers defy police

by New Worker correspondent

GREEK-style violence came to Brussels last week when riot police teargassed and water-cannoned workers marching through the Belgian capital to protest against the government’s harsh austerity programme.

Dockers, metalworkers and students fought back when the police moved to disperse the 150,000-strong crowd at the end of the biggest anti-cuts protest, which had marched peacefully through the centre of Brussels to demonstrate against plans to raise the retirement age, cancel a wage rise in line with inflation and cut health and social security benefits.

Protesters defied teargas, pepper spray and water- cannon during clashes which rocked central Brussels during the fighting. Cars were overturned or set alight by protesters who stoned the police and seized street barriers to set up temporary barricades or hurl back at the security forces.

The march, which was supported by all the major unions, was held to launch a national campaign against a new round of cuts intended to save some €11 billion that the new rightwing coalition government has ordered to dismantle what’s left of the “welfare state” to make the workers pay for the slump.

“Workers’ rights have been cut — not only the wages but the rights and the capacity to continue to know what are the main guidelines of the European societies. Because now I think we don’t know it anymore,” Marisa Matias of the Confederal Group of the European United Left (GUE/NGL) declared while the ACV Christian trade union federation chief Marc Leemans said: “The signal is clear. People are angry, livid. This government’s policies are totally unbalanced.”

Though government-led talks with employers and the unions are continuing Rudy De Leeuw, the social-democratic president of the Belgian General Federation of Trade Unions (CSC) vowed to keep up the fight.

The unexpectedly massive march opens a month-long campaign by the trade unions against the reactionary coalition, which will end with a nationwide general strike on 15th December.