Archive for the ‘Unions’ Category
Protests against Austerity – supported by all the trade union federations – are taking place in Belgium today.
They are demonstrating against the latest round of cutbacks of the Michel Coalition government (a centre-right cabinet backed by the hard-right Flemish nationalists of Bart de Wever).
On the spot news here (in French).
Tout autre chose/Hart boven Hart (Another thing Completely/ Heart Over Heart) – a citizens’ movement partly inspired by Podemos – took to the streets yesterday in Brussels for a ‘parade’.
The parade consisted of ten blocs, each representing the theme “Any other horizon”. These were “common goods by and for all,” “tax justice”, “a place for every generation,” “solidarity against poverty”, “dignified work”, “a nurturing environment,” “value our diversity “,” ecology: it makes sense, “citizens without frontiers “and” dare democracy! “. Podemos, MOC (Mouvement Ouvrier Chrétien) and sp.a. (socialisten en progressieven anders, a small left split from the Flemish Socialist Party) joined with a float “against capitalism” during the parade. Pro-Palestinian protesters, too, decided to make their voices heard during this event.
Reports Le Soir.
Russia Today says,
Rainy weather in Brussels did not stop tens of thousands of people from protesting against austerity measures introduced by the new Belgian government. Attendance estimates from police and organisers differed sixfold.
The rally saw somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 people on Sunday, RTFB broadcaster reported, citing police estimates. Meanwhile, march organisers claimed that up to 120,000 people participated.
Some are wondering if Belgium is about to experience a Podemos type movement.
Up to a hundred activists came to the Welfare Conference, held on Friday in Congress House. As the introductory speakers made plain the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, assisted by large sections of the media, have launched a frontal assault ion the basic principles of an equitable benefit system. Instead of helping people in need they have attacked the most vulnerable.
Eleanor Firman (Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC and UNITE) illustrated what this has meant on the ground. As a result of cuts in housing benefit and the bedroom tax their group in Waltham Forest had had to defend those facing eviction.
She talked of how the Work Capability Assessment targeted disabled people. Those not meeting the government’s criteria – enforced through a flawed system run by private companies (ATOS and now Maximus), could expect to be treated with “harshness”, to the point of being left destitute. This was only one example of how welfare ‘reform’ was making people’s lives a misery. The answer was to challenge the DWP with the help of bodies like UNITE Community and, where they still exist, Law Centres.
Workshops covering benefit sanctions, the basis of the benefit system, unpaid work, and equality were held.
In the one I attended, on Sanctions, participants concentrated less on particular stories of injustice than on the nature of the arbitrary regime. We tried to bring together a rejection of all sanctions with proposals for real social security for all. Disabled needed to be assessed not by private companies and computerised questionnaires, a source of many sanctions, but by clinical criteria, – the work of GPs. The power of ‘work coaches’ to decide to withdraw benefits – whether they should eat or have a home – should be removed.
There were fruitful discussions throughout the day. Groups talked through proposals for a universal minimum income, others investigated the socialisation of basic needs, “universal goods in kind’, proposed by the Greek party, Syriza. A group of us looked into the use of Blogging, Twitter and other social media to spread an alternative message to the media hate campaigns.
Others planned activities on Monday the 2nd of March Day of Action against Maximus and the 19th of March Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Further protests against benefit sanctions are planned to coincide with May Day.
Stop Sanctions: A Priority.
In the afternoon Richard Exell, the TUC’s senior Policy Officer on these issues, spoke. He cast aside his prepared notes. Instead he talked of how public opinion had been swayed behind the Coalition’s polices. Cautious about demanding an end to all sanctions Richard observed, however, that the way they had left hundreds of thousands destitute may help to alter popular attitudes. The children of claimants, through no ‘fault’ of their own, were left hungry and dependent on food banks and charity. Now they will affect those in low-paid work who received benefits. There was a need to develop alternatives to this and to Universal Credit.
Paula from DPAC stated that the introduction of the new system, with its new complicated ‘claimants’ commitment’ spelled ‘Armageddon’ for those reliant on benefits.
A set of principles and demands – drawing on the Centres’ Charter for the Unemployed is being drawn up. It will include demands for a decent level of benefits, an end to sanctions, and opposition to all forms of workfare – to make volunteering really ‘voluntary’ – a higher minimum wage, rent controls, and decent jobs for all.
These will be put into a coherent form at a further meeting on the 25th of March. The finished programme will be designed to take into union bodies and wider afield.
In a speech that touched on the way activists can change government and party (Labour) policy Lynne Groves drew on the way the Bedroom Tax had been challenged, and cuts in social services opposed. Activists and the wider public were urged to get involved in UNITE Community Branches, open to all.
At the end of the meeting Kevin Flynn noted the seriousness and richness of the debates that had taken placed. Amongst other points he welcomed the “historic formation of the National Union of Bloggers”.
The breadth and depth of the experiences of those attending this meeting – about 100 strong – were striking. The words ‘the labour movement’ really came to life. There was strong participation of the disabled, young people, women, and black people. Those attending came from a wide variety of work backgrounds: from heavy industry, clerical and service work, to the voluntary sector. Delegates attended from all over the country, from Newcastle, Liverpool to the West Country and even South London.
It was, as always, a real pleasure to hear Northern accents. The discussions were more than good-natured and creative. Everybody had something to contribute. It was, in short, bloody great!
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)
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).
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.
Sciopero generale, trasporti bloccati 54 manifestazioni in tutta Italia.
General Strike, transport at a halt, 54 demonstrations across Italy.
Trade unions in Italy are staging an eight-hour general strike in protest against labor market reforms and austerity measures. The country is experiencing high unemployment, particularly among the young.
A general strike called by two major Italian trade unions on Friday hit schools, hospitals, airports, highways, ports and public transport across the country, as public and private sector workers protested against unpopular reforms to the labor market and cuts to public spending.
The strike was initiated by Italy’s first and third-largest unions, CGIL and UIL, with the second-largest labor confederation, CISL, refusing to participate.
More than 50 rallies or protest marches at various locations were expected to accompany the walkout, held under the motto “Cosi non va!” (approximately: “This is not the right way”).
Railways staff are among those taking part in the strike, despite having been initially banned from participation by the government.
The protests are directed mainly at the so-called Jobs Act, which in principle received parliamentary approval last week but has yet to be implemented.
The legislation will make it easier for companies to fire employees without giving them high severance payments. It would, however, also expand benefits and job-hunting services for the unemployed.
The unions are also outraged by planned cuts to public spending in the 2015 budget, proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a bid to boost an economy enmired in a three-year-long recession.
Unions want “to improve the labor law and the budget law, giving priority to labor, industrial policies, crisis-stricken manufacturing sectors, the defense and relaunch of public sectors and the creation of new and good jobs,” said Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL union.
In a recent sign of how fragile the Italian economy is, unemployment rose to 13.2 percent in October, the highest rate since records began to be kept in 1977.
The number of jobless youth is more than three times that, standing at a massive 43.3 percent.
Italy has a ‘centre left’ government headed by Matteo Renzi of the ‘social democratic’ Partito Democratico (Democratic Party).
They are determined to ‘reform’ Italy, cut spending, and make the labour market more ‘flexible’.
Essential reading on Italian politics by Tobias Abse: Strikes, smoke bombs and tear gas. Toby Abse reports on the latest union action and the autonomists’ social strike (20.11.14).
And see: Renzi cows the unions. Hugh Edwards.
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.
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.