UPDATETen thousand people marched on Wednesday morning between the Place de la Monnaie and the Mont des Arts in Brussels, on the initiative of the main workers’ organizations in the country. These are asking the authorities for strong measures to enable citizens to get through the energy crisis and to increase their purchasing power. Other actions are planned before the general strike announced for November 9th.
“Citizens are being strangled by rising prices,” immediately summed up Marc Leemans, head of the CSC, in his inaugural speech. “The current measures are not enough and will barely cover the month of November,” he protests. He called on “all governments to act. And quick! And since we have a lot of them, they can intervene.”
His counterpart at the FGTB, Thierry Bodson, insisted on the precariousness in which many citizens found themselves. “We are on the bone. Everyone dipped into what they could. It’s not that we don’t want to pay. It’s that we can no longer pay!”, he hammered.
Among the slogans visible within the assembly, the “Stop the expensive life”, “Pleached purchasing power”, or even “Freeze the prices, not the people” also reflected this generalized difficulty in assuming the costs of the daily.
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The unions are surprised by the very short-lived nature of the recent measures announced by the government, such as reductions in the energy bill for the months of November and December. “What about the bulk of winter?” asks the FGTB. “At a time when many families have seen their monthly energy bill double or even triple, the aid granted seems insignificant, but also far too limited in time.”
In their speeches, union officials made several demands to the authorities. According to them, the state must take control of the energy sector and at least compel energy companies to pass on their revenues to the general public. “We must tax superprofits at a minimum of 50%,” said Thierry Bodson, who attacked the liberal government family “which only defends superprofits and superprivate jets”.
In addition to the government target, several files oppose the unions to the employers: the law of 1996 on the margin of wage increase and the distribution of the 900 million euros of the envelope well-being which must make it possible to revise upwards social allowances the lowest. The government was to get its hands on this file on September 15, but it seems to want to give social consultation a little more time.
The unions refuse to hear any more about it. “After making us linger for months, the bosses want to talk, but we will not change our position. The government must quickly ventilate this envelope and move on to something else, ”comments Mr. Bodson. “We are not going to put the discussion back on the table,” added Marie-Hélène Ska, general secretary of the CSC.
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After this first fall salvo, the unions promise not to wait for the general strike of November 9 to mobilize. “We are going to agree, as a common front I hope, on a schedule of intermediate actions. The anger is there and we must continue to defend the workers and the citizens of this country”, concludes the president of the socialist trade union.
The form of these next actions will also have to be determined. Initially, it was a rally that was scheduled for Wednesday. “But when we know that we are expecting three to four times more people than expected, that the Place de la Monnaie can only hold 4,000 people, a demonstration was needed”, justifies Mr. Bodson.
The CGSLB stuck to the original plan and did not complete the one-kilometre course which provided for a passage in front of the headquarters of the Belgian Business Federation, rue Ravenstein. The liberal union wishes to observe a gradation in the social protest.
It is therefore a red and green procession which set off around 11:00 a.m. from the Place de la Monnaie. In the speeches preceding the departure, Thierry Bodson had called for avoiding any overflow. “Public opinion is with us, let’s not lose our credit,” he advised.
His recommendation was, on the whole, followed. The procession lingered in front of the headquarters of the employers, the firecrackers became louder, many smoke bombs, a few eggs, rolls of toilet paper were thrown on the facade of the building, without doing any damage except a glass bottle that broke a window on the first floor of the building. “I would have liked that not to happen, but with what people are going through, with anger, we can speak of an epiphenomenon”, commented the head of the socialist union.
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The disrupted transport network
Stib, De Lijn and TEC issued a warning to their customers regarding Wednesday. The network of STIB, in Brussels, is severely disrupted. Only one metro line is running, all the others are at a standstill.
This is metro line 1 (Stockel – Gare de l’Ouest); it is extended until the Erasmus judgment. The traffic of trams and buses is also chaotic. Thus, commuters can only board trams 3, 4, 7 (Esplanade detour), 8, 9, 51, 92, the others not running. As for the buses, the numbers 12, 29, 34, 36, 46, 53, 54, 56, 59, 65, 71, 73, 87 (extended Black Ponds), 88 and 95 crisscross the streets of the capital, the others are remained at the depot.
The situation is therefore very disrupted on the metro network, 7 lines out of 17 operate for trams and 1/4 or even 1/3 of the lines on the bus side, summarizes the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company. Travelers are invited to find out about the state of the situation via the various communication channels of the STIB (Twitter, website, app, call center).
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A certain number of routes are deleted on the network of the TEC in the different provinces. The list of affected bus lines is available on www.letec.be.
The public transport network From Lijn, in Flanders, is also affected by the trade union actions carried out in common front on Wednesday. On average, six out of ten trams and buses cross the territory. However, this figure varies slightly by province. Thus, in the province of Antwerp, for example, 56% of buses and trams are in service, while in East Flanders 67% use the network and 63% in Flemish Brabant. At La Côte, six out of ten trams are running normally.
The network of SNCB is not impacted by the union actions announced this Wednesday morning, indicates the spokesperson for the Belgian National Railway Company. “We do not note any particular disturbances linked to the trade union movement, all the trains are running normally”, she specifies.
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“Better purchasing power”
Around 850 FGTB affiliates from Picardy Wallonia took the road to Brussels to take part in the national union common front demonstration for purchasing power. During a press briefing on Wednesday morning, the president of the socialist union in “Wapi” explained the reasons for the mobilization and denounced the difficulties in obtaining tickets from the SNCB to go to the capital.
It was at 7.50 a.m. from Mouscron and at 8.10 a.m. in Tournai that the affiliates of the FGTB of Picardy Wallonia took the train to Brussels in order to take part in the major demonstration planned for this Wednesday from Place de la Monnaie.
A few minutes before taking the train to the capital, Philippe Dumortier, FGTB president in Picardy Wallonia, and Jeff Boulanger, permanent CGSP Hainaut Occidentel Cheminots, explained, in front of Tournai station, the reasons why their affiliates are taking part in these actions. “The mobilization aims to obtain affordable energy prices, in particular fixed rates for the energy bill. We demand the maintenance of VAT at 6% as was the case during the first months of summer. It is not when it is cold that this VAT rate should go up. We are also calling for better purchasing power,” they say.
For his part, Gaëtan Vanneste, regional secretary of the FGTB, denounced the non-responsiveness of SNCB regarding the sale of tickets to participants in the action on 21 September. “From the Wapi area, there will be 850 protesters. 250 will use coaches to go to Brussels, the rest will leave by train. We ordered 800 tickets at full price a week ago. We never received an acknowledgment of receipt of our order from the SNCB or obtained the slightest information”, he laments.
To hear it, all the regional FGTB but also the other unions have been faced with the same problem. “It’s binding. Given the reduction in staff in the stations, it was unthinkable to obtain these tickets at the counter in the station and even less from automatic ticket machines. It is only this Tuesday morning that we have our 800 tickets.
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