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Belgian General Strike Brings Country to a Halt.

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Socialist Party Leader Elio Di Rupo Backs Strikers.

Today the police in Belgium are observing a work-to-rule (grève du zèle).

The successful General Strike on Monday saw the country’s transport system grind to a halt, almost all public services closed, and workers in the private sector joined the protests.The unions also mobilised road Hauliers to bloc access to major cities.

There were a small number of clashes between strikers and scabs.

The left has described the strike as “historic”.

The International Monetary Fund has, however, just stated that the “reforms” launched the Belgian right-centred Coalition go in the “right direction” (La Libre Belgique).

Hard-right Bart de Weever, of the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie)which advocates the Scottish nationalist style  break-up of the state, and who is seen by many as the éminence grise of the government, denounced the strike as “political”.

There were tense moments when Trade Unionists protested outside the Brussels  headquarters of the N-VA shouting, “« N-VA, casse-toi, la Belgique n’est pas à toi », N-VA, Piss off! You don’t own Belgium!”

Further action is planned for mid-January.

At present negotiations are underway. Centre-right  Coalition Minister, Willy Borsus (MR – Mouvement réformateur ) has already dismissed the day of action saying that the turn-out was “modest” ( “La mobilisation fut modeste” ) Le Soir 

The Morning Star carries a good report.

BELGIAN trade unions capped a month of action against government austerity policies with a general strike today that paralysed air and rail traffic and halted businesses across the country.

The strike targeted measures by the nation’s right-of-centre government to cut into employees’ income, extend working hours and restrict social services.

The huge action had an immediate international impact since Brussels airport, a busy hub with connections throughout Europe and beyond, had no traffic whatsoever.

Airport spokeswoman Florence Muls said some 600 flights have been cancelled, affecting more than 50,000 passengers.

Flights to and from Belgium were grounded from late on Sunday as air traffic controllers joined the strike for the second Monday this month.

The series of trade union actions, which have been the toughest in years, started last month with a demonstration in the capital that drew more than 150,000 protesters.

The government led by new Prime Minister Charles Michel, who was sworn in two months ago, plans to cut expenditure by €11bn (£8.7bn) during the next five years.

The unions are opposing a government decision to scrap a cost-of-living wage rise next year. Belgian law currently mandates that wages rise at the same pace as inflation.

The unions are also protesting against public-sector cutbacks and plans to increase the retirement age.

The 24-hour strike was the largest to have taken place in Belgium for many years.

As well as the transport closures, it forced government offices and schools to close and the country’s ports were blockaded.

The Belgian government has claimed that it must operate its cuts strategy in order to stay within EU debt limits.

But the European Transport Workers’ Federation disagreed and welcomed the strike, warning that “the Belgian government is using EU austerity targets to penalise families, both employed and unemployed, students and the poorest people in society.

“It is not targeting the big capital that remains almost untouched by the government’s austerity measures.”

There is talk of extending trade union action into the new year, but concrete measures have yet to be put forward.

See also:« Messieurs De Wever et Michel, la Belgique en grève veut prendre un tout autre chemin que le vôtre »   Parti du travail de Belgique – Partij van de Arbeid van België (PTB – PVDA). Bruxelles. Et après le 15? On continue, bien sûr! Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) et Socialistische arbeiderspartij (SAP)

General Strike in Belgium on Monday.

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Back our Belgian Sisters and Brothers!

BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters)

Belgium’s unions have called for a series of regional strikes culminating in a general strike on December 15 to voice their discontent over government plans to implement austerity measures and hike the pension age.

Belgium’s new federal government, which took office on Saturday, said it would raise the state pension age to 67 from 65, scrap a planned inflation-linked wage rise due next year and find savings in the public sector, including the health and social security budget.

“The government is deaf to the workers and recipients of social benefits but generous to the employers and the rich,” a common statement by the country’s three largest unions said.

The unions plan regional strikes every Monday starting November 24, culminating in a national strike on December 15.

The government said the austerity measures are needed to balance Belgium’s budget by 2018 and tackle the country’s national debt of about 100 percent of economic output, one of the highest in the euro zone. (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Dominic Evans)

The general strike has been called by the FGTB (socialist), CSC (Christian) et CGSLB (liberal).

The scale of the action promises to be enormous.

Transport will be paralysed, public services will grind to a halt, the Union belge du transport (UBT) has urged lorry drivers to join the movement, and many in the private sector will support the mass protests (more here).

And…

Des piquets de grève temporaires « volants », des cellules qui bloqueront donc différents points capitaux au cours de la journée, seront mis en place ce lundi et des équipes de militants de la FGTB se tiendront prêtes à venir porter renfort aux piquets manquant d’effectifs.

‘Flying pickets’ , that is ‘cells’ of moving strikers, will block different sectors of the Capital during the day. They will be set up by activists from the FGTB (socialist/social democrat union federation) who will help any pickets that need reinforcements.

The day will be marked by demonstrations in the streets.

More details in Le Soir.

Bart de Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalist party (N-VA) and part of the ruling ‘Michel Coaltion’ (hard right to centre right),has criticised the strikes.

He said yesterday that the unions had come out with “une véritable désinformation et parfois de vrais mensonges” misinformation and sometimes outright lies. De Wever accsued the trade unions of being the “”bras armé du PS”, the armed wing, of the Socialist Party.

The leader of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, and former Prime Minister, Di Rupo has backed the strikes – though underlines that the union federations have taken this action independently and on their own initiative.

La  Libre Belgique.

Strike Paralyses Brussels.

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Fight for Public Services in Belgium.

Before next Monday’s general strike Brussels has been brought to a halt by strikes (part of a series of ‘ grèves tournantes’ rotating strikes) today.

Belgian workers striking against government austerity plans have badly snarled rail and air service to and from the capital city of Brussels.

As of Monday morning, 44 percent of flights at Brussels main airport were reported canceled.

Labour union leaders announced they have also shut down Eurostar and Thalys train service to and from London, Paris and other international destinations.

Metro, bus and tram service in Brussels itself has ground to a halt.

The one-day strike, which also affects the French-speaking Brabant region south of Brussels, is the latest in a series of union actions intended to force the government of Prime Minister Charles Michel to backtrack on a programme to reform pensions, cut health and social security budgets and raise the retirement age.

Huffington Post

Le Soir reports on mass picketing and the barricades preventing traffic entry to the Belgium Capital (a map of these is published in the paper). The police have been called to a picket at the Saint-Gilles Prison.

This morning listening to the public radio station, La Première, I was impressed by the sheer number of pickets (over 500 in Brussels alone).

La Libre Belgique also publishes extensive reports.

More information on the site Solidarité Ouvrière.

Trade Union news on the General Strike (of all the 3 major union federations, ACV-CSC (Christian), la ABVV-FGTB (Socialist) et la ACLVB-CGSLB(Liberal)  of the 15th of December: 15/12 grève nationale.

Largest Far left Party: Partij van de Arbeid van België, PVDA Parti du Travail de Belgique, PTB

Video of Socialist Party (social democratic) participation in 6th of November mass demonstration against austerity, here.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

Suffolk Needs a Pay Rise, Ipswich Public Services Demonstration.

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Grandma Gilles on Ipswich Demo. (Thanks Ellie).

Over 300 people  came to the demo in Ipswich called by the Trades Council and local unions, Suffolk Needs a Pay Rise,  yesterday.

In Ipswich there were well attended pickets at the Russell Road Borough and County Council offices, at Crown Pools, the Borough Council Waste depot (dust-carts – the majority of which did not go out), and HMRC offices in Lower Brook Street.

59 Suffolk schools were affected by strike action and 17 closed for the day.

At the march and rally there were members of UNISON, GMB, FBU, UNITE, PCS & NUT, NUJ, DPAC, the Peoples Assembly, other unions and campaigns, as well as members of the public.

The Suffolk People’s Assembly (Facebook)  report notes,

Many speakers at the rally expressed their anger at the wage freeze public sector workers have faced over the past 4 years. This has led to a 20% decline in real wages at the same time as increased workload. One PCS member said that he was now doing 2 peoples’ jobs and facing constant performance reviews, which was destroying his job satisfaction.

A parent talked of her support for the teachers’ strike, to defend her and other people’s education. The Ipswich NUT Secretary, Margaret  Bulaitis, spoke about how the the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, denigrated the work of her profession, and was more interested in promoting academies and privatisation than the needs of school students.

Martin, from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), gave an impassioned speech on the effects cuts and changes to the benefit system were having on those with disabilities.

Support came from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Their representative suggested that Grandma Gilles (above) would not have put up with the attacks on public services by the Liberal-Conservative Coalition.

 Ipswich Tory Attacks Strikes. 

Ipswich Tory MP, Ben Gummer, disagrees.

He said (Ipswich Star) that, “public sector workers had fared better than the private sector during the recession.”

He said striking teachers were damaging the education of the children in their classes.

And he said the government was taking action to clamp down on tax avoidance by the rich and to help the low paid.

“This government has lifted two million people out of paying income tax altogether and the gap between rich and poor is getting smaller for the first time in 20 years.”

Gummer’s figures are certainly creative.

Sky news states (May 2014),

“The gap between rich and poor in Britain has become wider, with 10% of the population now owning almost half of the nation’s household wealth.

Those same one in ten households own assets worth over £1m – that’s almost 1.4 million homes.

Teachers’ Unions argue that it is Michael Gove’s ‘reforms’ are undermining education.

Their dispute about  pay, pensions and working conditions, is linked to the government’s efforts to devalue teaching, and open the way to private companies profiting from the schooling system.

Gove’s changes have created excessive workloads, and let free schools operate without democratic control and public accountability.

On public sector workers’ pay the TUC says,

Public sector workers are £2,245 worse off as a result of the coalition’s austerity policies, according to the Trades Union Congress.

NHS staff, teachers, firefighters and local government workers are among those that have lost out following pay freezes and limited pay rises since the government took office, the TUC said.

The figures, which show the average fall in real terms pay suffered by workers since May 2010, were published a day before a wave of strikes among UK public sector workers over pay, pensions and working conditions. Government policies on public sector pay have had a big impact on the spending power of almost six million UK households, according to the TUC.

The Liberal-Conservative Coalition has one overarching policy for the public sector: turning it into a source of profit for private companies.

As Thomas Picketty has noted,

Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.)

The trade unions, backed by the People’s Assembly, are fighting back!

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Update: this how private companies making money out of public services in Suffolk fail to deliver:

Left Unity and its Future.

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Left Unity: Advancing to What?

“If the Labour Party cannot be turned into a socialist party, then the question which confronts us all is, how can we form a socialist party? If we are not ready to answer this question, then we are not ready to dismiss the party that exists.”

Socialists and the Labour Party. Ken Coates. 1973.

“There are many formidable obstacles, which stand in the way of political renewal on the left. Yet such a renewal is necessary if an effective challenge is to be posed to the domination which the Labour Party exercises over the labour movement: nothing much by way of socialist advance will be possible until such a challenge can be effectively posed. This requires the formation of a socialist party free from the manifold shortcomings of existing organisations and able to draw together people from such organisations as well as people who are now politically homeless. By no means the least of its purposes would be to provide a credible and effective rallying point to help in the struggle against the marked and accelerating drift to the right in Britain.”

Moving On. Ralph Miliband. 1976.

“There is a saying on the British left that the only thing more futile than trying to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for radical change is trying to set up a viable party to the left of it”.

Left Unity or Class Unity? Andrew Murray. 2014 (1)

Polls indicate the xenophobic and anti-EU UKIP may get over 30% of the vote in May’s European election. Nigel Farage is not isolated. Marine Le Pen (also leading voting intentions) in France, the Austrian FPÖ, Wilders and the PVV in Holland, and others, many others on the populist extremes, have come to prominence across the continent. They appear on the crest of wave, with a projected electoral score of up to 25% gathered inside the EU. If there is radical shift in the political agenda it looks as if it’s being pushed from the fringes of the right. (2)

Faced with this prospect it may seem of little consequence that in November last year a small section (over 1,200 sub-paying members) of the British left formed a new party, Left Unity (LU). Left Unity’s creation began in March 2013 when Ken Loach, Kate Hudson and Gilbert Achcar, railed against the absence of a left agenda in national politics, “…Labour embraces cuts and privatisation and is dismantling its own great work. Labour has failed us.” (Guardian. 25.3.13) The wanted something paralleling other European radical left-wing parties “to fill the left space, offering an alternative political, social and economic vision..“The anomaly which leaves Britain without a left political alternative – one defending the welfare state, investing for jobs, homes and education, transforming our economy – has to end.” The call received thousands of on-line and other endorsements, 10,000 according to supporters

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The Media and Trade Unions.

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There are those in the media who are so nostalgic for the days of openly bashing trade unions they are busy recreating a kind of Sealed Knot society devoted to replaying the 1970s.

The Evening Standard was always at the front of these battles.

Today we see this ‘story‘.

Comrade on tour: Steve Hedley poses in a Soviet-style soldier’s hat with an assault rifle.

This is one of the militant union officials fighting to succeed Bob Crow as RMT boss.

Steve Hedley, the union’s Hard-Left assistant general secretary, is pictured on his Facebook page wearing a Soviet-style soldier’s hat and brandishing an assault rifle, believed to be a German weapon from the Second World War.

Messages on the page reveal he appears to relish walk-outs, such as the one which caused misery for Londoners last week. His comments include:

“With 3 different strikes announced today I think ill [sic] enjoy the Easter weekend.”

“Two very good Rmt branch meetings tonight. 1 jubilee south branch want to name strike dates for the job losses dispute. 2 Fleet branch reject job losses and want strike dates. I love the RMT membership.”

Steve Hedly is a member of the Socialist Party. This group, of Trotskyist origins, has, to say the least, nothing  to do with Soviet Stalinism.

The below is from the Evening Standard in December 1970 on Electrical Trade Unionists.

How things change……

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 7, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Odessa: 31 people choked to death on smoke or were killed when jumping out of windows after the trade union building was set on fire.

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  A protester throws a petrol bomb at the trade union building in Odessa

A protester throws a petrol bomb at the trade union building in Odessa:

“Unclear” cause of Fire, says Radio France. 

The Voice of America has described this crime as follows,

Dozens of people were killed in a fire and others were shot dead when fighting between pro- and anti-Russian groups broke out on the streets of Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast on Friday, opening a new front in a conflict that has split the country.

A revised Ukrainian government statement said the fire broke out in a trade union building, and that 31 bodies were found at the scene – seven fewer than police first reported. Most of the victims were apparently members of pro-Russian groups.

So a “fire” just “broke out”.

An even more weaselly-worded report on France-Inter this morning described fighting in Odessa between “pro-Russian” and “pro-European” backers of Kiev. The French radio station claimed that the “pro-Russians” attacked the “pro-Kiev” marchers, who were mainly “football supporters”.

The burning to death of 39 protesters in the Trade Union building was described as follows,

Dans la soirée, les pro-russes se sont barricadés dans la Maison des Syndicats, qui a pris feu dans des circonstances peu claires alors qu’il était assiégé par les pro-Européens : 31 personnes sont mortes intoxiquées par les fumées ou se sont tuées en sautant par les fenêtres.

In the evening, the pro-Russians barricaded themselves in the House of Trade Unions, which caught fire in unclear circumstances while being besieged by the pro-Europeans: 31 people died poisoned by fumes or were killed jumping through windows.

Radio France.

The Guardian is more even-handed.

More than 30 people were killed in violent and chaotic clashes in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Friday as pro-Ukraine activists stormed a building defended by protesters opposed to the current government in Kiev and in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Odessa’s large Soviet-era trade union building was set alight on Friday as the pro-Ukraine activists mounted an assault as dusk fell. Police said at least 31 people choked to death on smoke or were killed when jumping out of windows after the trade union building was set on fire.

Bodies lay in pools of blood outside the main entrance as explosions from improvised grenades and molotov cocktails filled the air. Black smoke from the building and a burning pro-Russia protest camp wreathed the nearby square.

Pro-Russia fighters mounted a last-ditch defence of the burning building, throwing masonry and petrol bombs from the roof on to the crowd below.

Medics at the scene said the pro-Russia fighters were also shooting from the roof. At least five bodies with bullet wounds lay on the ground covered by Ukraine flags as fire engines and ambulances arrived at the scene.

Some people fell from the burning building as they hung on to windowsills in an attempt to avoid the fire that had taken hold inside. Pro-Ukraine protesters made desperate efforts to reach people with ropes and improvised scaffolding.

“At first we broke through the side, and then we came through the main entrance,” said one pro-Ukrainian fighter, 20, who said he was a member of the extreme nationalist group Right Sector.

“They had guns and they were shooting … Some people jumped from the roof, they died obviously,” he said.

Riot police arrived on the scene as hand-to-hand fighting was already under way inside, but did not enter the building and stood formed up in ranks outside.

The Guardian.

 Russia Today reports,

39 anti-government activists have died in a fire at Odessa’s Trade Unions House. Some burned to death, while others suffocated or jumped out of windows, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported. The building was set ablaze by pro-Kiev radicals.
A total of 46 people have died in Odessa’s violence on Friday and almost 200 others have sustained injuries, Odessa Region prosecutor Igor Borshulyak told journalists on Saturday.

39 of the dead lost their lives in the fire at the Odessa Trade Unions House, according to the Ukrainian emergencies agency.

31 of the dead were found inside the building, eight more were found outside by law enforcement officers,” the agency’s statement reads.

Police detained over 130 people following Friday’s bloody clashes and opened up 10 criminal investigations with charges including premeditated murder and violence against law enforcement officers.

According to the ministry, the Friday standoff on Odessa included “anti-Maidan” activists on one side and “football fans” from Odessa and Kharkov, as well as “euro-Maidan” activists, on the other. A criminal case on the charges of mass unrest has been opened.

This article on the mounting conflict is well worth looking at: The Great Game of Oligarchs. Behind the Ukraine conflict are post-Soviet billionaires often residing in London, says SOLOMON HUGHES

Written by Andrew Coates

May 3, 2014 at 12:04 pm