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National general strike in Belgium rejects austerity

16 December, 2014The largest industrial action in Belgium for 20 years was conducted jointly on 15 December by the country’s two union confederations, FGTB-ABVV and ACV-CSC. The historic general strike brought transport and businesses to a standstill as workers loudly protested against deep government austerity measures.

Prime Minister Charles Michel was sworn into office in October, forming a government of the New Flemish Alliance (NVA) and Reformist Movement (MR). The centre-right coalition is introducing wide-ranging austerity cuts that will dramatically reduce the quality of life for working people in Belgium.

This 24-hour general strike on 15 December was part of a month of rolling actions and strikes across regions and industrial sectors.

The proposed austerity measures being protested by the huge general strike include:

  • Wage freeze - effectively a 2 per cent pay decrease in real terms.
  • Wealth transfer to business of 4 billion Euros, through cuts to employer contributions to social security.
  • Ban on collective bargaining for wages for the next two years.
  • Raising the retirement age to 67 from 2030.
  • Reducing unemployment and pension benefits.
  • Large increases in childcare costs, higher education fees and healthcare costs.
  • An overall retrenchment of state spending by 11 billion Euros, nearly 3 per cent of GDP.

Listen to these union members explain their reasons for striking on 15 December. A Facebook account is needed to access these videos. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=vb.171238582919259&type=2

IndustriALL General Secretary Raina stated in his solidarity letter to Belgian affiliates:

Your global trade union stands with you shoulder to shoulder throughout this month of action, and particularly on Monday 15 December in your united general strike. When all of your trade unions in Belgium fight together, with the FGTB-ABVV and ACV-CSC confederations uniting all workers, your action will get the world’s attention.

Prime Minister Michel’s austerity programme received support during the 15 December general strike from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF mission chief Edward Gardner, concluded his annual review on the day of the massive strike by describing the pace of austerity changes as “adequate” and calling for change to Belgians’ “generous access to social transfers”.

The IndustriALL Executive Committee, meeting in Tunis on 4-5 December, resolved to fully support the Belgian Sisters and Brothers at this time of confrontation. The IndustriALL Executive particularly criticized the government’s lack of dialogue with unions before pushing through the drastic cuts.