May Day 2002 Report from Belgium: Criticisms of Blair and Schroeder and calls for shift to the left

This a report from Belgium about the May Day events and the left posturing of the social-democratic leaders

May Day in Belgium was dominated, particularly in the French speaking part of the country, by the response of the Socialist Party and trade union leaders to the situation in France.

Most of the Socialist Party leaders, on that side of the language border, were explaining the need for a shift to the left in the French speaking (Walloon) Socialist Party policy. The president of the French-speaking Belgian SP, Elio Di Rupo was actually speaking in front of a big official banner announcing "Together to the left". He proposes a convergence between the SP, the Greens and the Christian workers' movement against the pole of the right wing formations which has recently been launched. Polarisation at least in the French-speaking part of the country is on the agenda.

Already in the few days following the result of the first presidential election round different SP leaders had criticised the PS of Lionel Jospin in France for having become a petty bourgeois party divorced from its working-class ranks. Another one said a shift to the left was needed to win back the disappointed working class vote. All this was in one way or another also reflected in the speeches in the northern Dutch-speaking part of the country. In the north, the future new president of the union confederation ABVV-FGTB also attacked Blair and Schroeder for aligning themselves with Aznar on the policies of the European Union.

The main Dutch bourgeois paper wrote the next day that there was "a clamour all over Europe in May Day speeches for a shift to the left." This is especially the case after different "third way" social-democratic governments or coalitions have fallen in one country after the other (Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, France).

Of course those are only words. No practical, programmatic or policy shift has followed those speeches. But by reacting like this the leadership wants to protect itself from criticism from its ranks by pretending they have already moved to the left, in words. Again the president of the French speaking SP, Elio Di Rupo, said that he was considered by the socialist international as being the most left socialist leader in Europe. This is significant because it connects with the feelings not only of the existing rank and file but also of broader layers of activists, especially in the unions and amongst young people.

There was no significant change in the number of people participating in the demos on the first of May this year compared to earlier years. Belgium remains a relatively calm country but between two neighbours (France and the Netherlands) set on a stormy political course, how long will it take for Belgium to be affected? One thing seems clear: it will be affected sooner of later.

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