Belgium

The solidarity campaign for Rawal Asad (who has been held in custody since February on the scandalous charge of sedition after attending a peaceful protest in Multan, Pakistan) shows no sign of slowing down. On 4 March, comrades and supporters of the International Marxist Tendency coordinated a day of pressure against the Pakistani state by picketing, protesting and telephoning Pakistan's embassies all over the world, so the regime knows the world is watching, and we will not stop until our comrade is released. 

Comrades and supporters from around the world are continuing to put pressure on the Pakistani state to release the Marxist student activist, Rawal Asad, who is still being held on the scandalous charge of sedition and has been denied bail. Meanwhile, protests are ongoing in Pakistan, where comrades, students and workers are demanding that Rawal be immediately released.

On 8 November, the student council of the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB) refused to recognise a student Marxist society, set up by the IMT in Brussels (Vonk – Marxistische jongeren), on the grounds that our organisation is… anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-fascist! We reiterate: this was a decision taken by the majority of the student council, not the university bosses.

The German Revolution of 1918 ended the First World War. During a little-known episode of the Revolution, German soldiers liberated Belgium from a brutal military occupation before the armistice of the 11 November was signed. This revolutionary movement was also crucial in pushing through a swift introduction of universal general suffrage in Belgium.

The former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, once again resides in Belgium. He first fled to the country in order to escape conviction for sedition and rebellion by the Spanish state after he (formally) declared the independence of Catalonia on 27 October 2017. Ever since, the Spanish government and judiciary have tried to convince other European states to arrest him and send him back to Spain for trial. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Following a short period during which he was under arrest in Germany, Puigdemont is now back in Belgium.

Belgium, the country where compromise and moderation seemed for a long time to be part of the genetic make-up of society, is experiencing a level of social confrontation rarely seen before.

Yet again we saw this morning the ruthless killing of innocent people as they went about their daily lives. Marxists condemn such acts of terror, in the same way that they condemn the killing of thousands of people in Syria and other war-torn countries. The point is: what can be done to put an end to this barbarism?

‘This is the strongest strike ever’ commented the general secretary Marie Hélène Ska of the Christian union CSC. She is right. The national work stoppage on Monday 15th of December was without doubt the most “general” of 24 hour general strikes in the rich Belgian history of strikes.

Despite a harsh blizzard and traffic disruptions 250 people braved the weather to gather in Brussels, at the buildings of the Christian trade union CSC/ACV, to pay homage to the recently deceased President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Erik Demeester of the Hands Off Venezuela (HOV) campaign and Veronique Coteur of Intal explained the political significance of the gathering: ‘Hugo Chavez was not only a president of Venezuela. He was above all an international revolutionary leader.

The water cannons and flash-balls1 used by the police in Brussels, Namur and Strasbourg were not enough to cool the anger of the Walloon steelworkers.  Images of the steelworkers in violent clashes with the police have been circulated internationally. Their anger erupted after the steel giant ArcelorMittal said it would close seven of the twelve cold processing facilities in Liège, eliminating 1300 jobs. 

The bourgeois in Europe noted that while the response to yesterday’s day of action called by the European trade unions was mainly concentrated in the South (Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece) there was one exception in the north, Belgium, which saw significant mobilisations, particularly in French speaking Wallonia.

'A company that only makes money is not good business'.pThis phrase from Henry Ford does not appear to be an inspiration for Stephen Odell, the current CEO of Ford Europe. Money seems to be the only reason for its industrial policy, as shownby the announced plant closures in Genk and Southampton (UK).The announcement on October 24 of the plant closures and the layoffs of 4500 workers in Belgium and 500 in the UK are another nail in the coffin of the European automotive sector.

Late on the night of Sunday, February 26, twenty black hooded strongmen – so-called security guards of an unknown company – were escorted out of the Meister Benelux engineering plant by the police. They had arrived from Germany (!) earlier that day driving vans and trucks. Armed with baseball bats, rubber truncheons, teargas sprays and bulletproof jackets, they entered the company with the aim of organising the delivery of car parts to the automotive industry in Germany.

On January 30 the three Belgian trade unions called a 24-hour general strike in both the public and private sectors. It was the first general strike since 1993. The immediate background was the public sector general strike on December 22 against the austerity measures of the new Socialist Party government led by Elio Di Rupo.

In reaction to a recent protest by street cleaners in Brussels, the bosses complained that, ‘If every reform provokes such a strong opposition, we will never be able to move forward.” In response to this one of the workers involved in the protest, speaking on TV, said, “What else are we supposed to do? Do you want us to go for a nice walk through the city or organise a little picnic? We have to show that we are angry. Those on the streets today are not kids. They are angry workers and they are damned right to be doing what they have done.”

Recent redundancy announcements in Belgium have provoked a very militant response from workers. The case of the InBev brewery workers is one example, as is that at Carrefour. Also a spontaneous strike on the railways after the recent fatal rail accident reveals the real mood within the Belgian working class.

An appeal has been issued for the nationalisation of the Opel plant in Antwerp under workers’ management, together with the call to develop the factory along eco-friendly lines, producing alternative forms of transport and defending jobs at the same time. Support the campaign!

Working class militancy is growing in Belgium as world capitalism goes into meltdown. Workers are learning very fast in this situation. They see plenty of money for the banks but very little for genuine social reforms. They also see a trade union and Socialist Party leadership totally incapable of giving any answers. Monday's trade union day of action brought all this to the surface.

Since the beginning of this year Belgium has witnessed a wave of wildcat strikes reminiscent of the 1970s. The movement has spread spontaneously from one sector to another. Significantly it has rekindled class unity across the language divide at the same time as the bourgeois attempt to divide the working class along national lines.

The recent internal leadership elections in the Flemish Socialist Party revealed a very militant mood in the ranks of the party. The two left candidates Erik De Bruyn and Elke Heirman received an amazing 33.6% of the votes, preparing the ground for the re-emergence of s strong left wing in the party.

The Belgian Socialist Party has been dominated by a right-wing bureaucracy for some time now, but something has been brewing in the ranks lately. This has now suddenly erupted and come to the surface with the Antwerp branch nominating Erik De Bruyn, a known Marxist and promoter of the left of the Party, “SP.a Rood”. An apparently small incident has provoked an earthquake within the party.

HOV Belgium participated in organising a large meeting of some 350 people in solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution. With a packed agenda, important speakers from both Belgium and Venezuela spoke on the revolution and the need for solidarity. Meetings such as this show concretely that the ideas and the message of the Venezuelan revolution are spreading well beyond the borders of the Latin American country.

On October 28 another massive strike shook Belgium. This time all the unions were involved. In spite of all the attempts of the government and the bosses to sabotage it, the workers took part in large numbers and 100,000 marched through the streets of Brussels. Things are moving very fast now.

On Friday, October 7, there was a massive general strike in Belgium, the first for 12 years, called by Socialist ABVV-FGTB union. In spite of all attempts to make it fail, the workers came out in great numbers both in Flanders and Wallonia. Since then the pressure has built up. Strikes have broken in different parts of the country. The Christian union has now been forced to back the movement and a new general strike is being prepared for October 28. Class struggle is back on the agenda in Belgium, and with a bang.

Erik Demeester interviewed Remi Verwimp, who is an activist of a special kind. He is in fact a priest who belongs to a group called Christians for Socialism in Belgium inspired by liberation theology and Marxist ideas. As a lecturer at the Theology and Society Workshop (Werkgroep Theologie en Maatschappij) he has developed a critical view on the Catholic Church and especially on the latest pontificate.

Last week thousands of Belgians protested against US President Bush, who was in Brussels for a short trip from February 20-22. After having alienated most of his European allies, Bush was in Belgium to heal the wounds since he is aware the United States cannot simply keep running like a bull in a china shop on the stage of world affairs. Bush needs to seek points of support in Europe and that is why (temporarily) diplomacy seems to have taken the front seat again. Even little Belgium can help the United States, which is what the country is doing at the moment in relation to the war in Iraq. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt may be “proud” of not having any Belgian troops in Iraq, but the

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Last month, the far right Vlaams Blok changed its name to Vlaams Belang, supposedly to be a “nicer” and “more polished up” version of its former ultra right image. They want to present themselves as a strong conservative party, a “respectable” alternative on which the ruling class can rely to carry out its attacks on the working class. Even in small and peaceful Belgium, all the contradictions are piling up, waiting to explode in one way or another.

The Belgian government, together with other EU countries, has declared Iran a "safe country", by which they mean that no-one is in danger of state repression there. This is clearly a manoeuvre. Iran remains one of the most dangerous countries for anyone struggling for genuine human rights, and particularly workers' rights. Support the 250 asylum seekers!

The weekend of 18 and 19 January thousands of people all over the world protested against the impending war in Iraq. In Belgium there was a demonstration with about 10,000 participants that took to the streets on Sunday. Various NGOs, immigrants' organisations, left groups and parties and delegations of trade unions were present.

Filip Staes reports on last weekend's antiwar demonstration in Brussels and on the 'shipspotting' activities of the Anti-War Committees set up by the supporters of Vonk in Antwerp. Antwerp has grown in importance for the war effort as a large part of the military hardware for the Gulf is transported through this port.

Within a few days tens of thousands of workers and young people will come from whole over Europe to Brussels to protest against the EU, capitalist globalisation in Europe and the rest of the world and the new war in Afghanistan. These demonstrations are the next stage in the cycle of mobilisations started in Seattle and which culminated in the 300.000 strong demonstration in Genoa. Erik Demeester from the Editorial Board of Vonk/Unité, the Belgian Marxist paper for labour and youth, looks briefly at what's at stake in these protests.

Misha Van Herck from Belgium explains how the main European harbours are set to play a vital role in the war preparations against Iraq. They can only be ‘replaced’ at a very high cost. Its is clear that without at least the passive collaboration of Belgium and Europe a war against Iraq would be impossible. The ports of Northern Europe will be filled with military equipment, supplies and ammunition.

Only superlatives and historical comparisons can help us to understand the scope of the sudden collapse of the Sabena airline and the new commotion it has provoked in Belgium. As one trade union leader put it: "Our society is going from one shock to the other." In just one day 12,000 workers have lost their jobs and 36,000 jobs in service-providing companies are now in jeopardy. This amounts to the biggest single bankruptcy since the second world war.

The petrol price hike in the last few months has added fuel to the already existing social discontent in Belgium. Very soon after the truckers in France and the rest of Europe had paralysed their respective countries in the first half of September, the industrial workers in the South of Belgium took over and launched their own action, demonstrations and strikes to stop the further dwindling of the value of their income.

The night of January 17th 1961 Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, was shot dead in Katanga. Forty years later a new book by Belgian sociologist Ludo De Witte uncovers proof of what everyone already knew: the complicity of the Belgian government and the United Nations in this crime. Pierre Dorremans looks at the political background of this case and explains the politics of Lumumba.

The dismissal of judge Connerotte in October 1996 sparked a mass movement which shocked the whole society in Belgium. Ordinary people were no longer afraid of challenging the state institutions: the police, the judges, the government, even the King. A Marxist analysis on the causes and effects of such a movement. The dismissal of judge Connerotte in October 1996 sparked a mass movement which shocked the whole society in Belgium. Ordinary people were no longer afraid of challenging the state institutions: the police, the judges, the government, even the King. A Marxist analysis on the causes and effects of such a movement.

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