The Strike in Belgium
The Belgian strike is an attempt on the part of some of the Belgian workers to force the Government to resign or change its method of dealing with the economic crisis. The Government, a coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals, has precipitated this situation by its austerity measures. These consist of cuts in the social services such as the Belgian equivalent of the National Health Service, in the education programme, in unemployment pay, and in coal subsidies, along with the introduction of a Means Test and what is called “additional temporary taxation.” The Belgian local authorities are also to be empowered to impose additional income taxes of their own. The Belgian opposition party which calls itself “Socialist” claims that workers will suffer a loss of £21 to £28 a year.
The popular reason given for these austerity measures is the need to meet the trade and finance deficit caused by the loss of the Congo. But to accept this one has to accept the view that the Belgian capitalist class subsidised its workers out of the proceeds of exploitation of the Congolese: and that wealth which might have bought continued support for Belgian rule in the Congo was diverted to Belgian working class pay packets out of sheer generosity on the part of the Belgian capitalists.
A correspondent in The Guardian (28/12/60) gives a more reasoned view of the situation:
“Even before the Congo crisis, plans were being made to face the unpleasant fact that Belgium’s period of peak prosperity is over, and that her industrial production is growing very slowly in comparison with that of her Common Market partners. By economies in state spending, by increased taxation and by attracting foreign capital, M. Eyskens’ austerity programme was designed to achieve a vast investment drive to modernise Belgian industry and make Belgian products competitive in world markets. The most uneconomic of Belgian products is her coal, a chronic problem since the thirties. In recent months Belgium has launched on a serious programme of reform of uneconomic mines including a number of closures. Closure of mines, however, means social disruption; alternative jobs for discharged mineworkers are not yet available in mining areas and the Socialist Party has seized on the consequent unemployment and unrest to find support for its present frontal attacks on the austerity programme and the present Government.”
Socialists feel deep sympathy for the Belgian workers on strike. But they realise that their action is futile as a means to achieve anything but temporary respite from the encroachments of their masters on their standard of living, and that they are jeopardising their chances of achieving even that by using the strike weapon against the State, instead of using it to back up wage demands with which to offset the effect of the Government’s policy.
The lessons of this situation should be taken to heart. The strike weapon has a very limited usefulness and at its best can only deal with effects and not causes. To use this weapon against the might of the State is to invite disaster. If at election times the workers give their votes to the parties of capitalism, it ensures that the present type of situation will occur again.
The “Socialist” Party in Belgium is similar to the Labour Party in this country. It is these so-called “Socialists” who foist such wage-pruning schemes as National Health services, unemployment pay, family allowances, and so on, on to politically ignorant workers as bits of Socialism. And it is the same political charlatans who seek to make capital from the present situation by using the strike as a means to achieve government office themselves.
Governments do not develop reforms or pruning schemes because their attitude to the working class is necessarily either sympathetic or antagonistic. Governments administer the affairs of a capitalist economy in the interests of the national capitalist class. The Belgian workers would be well advised to consider this fact in relation to the present situation, recognising that a change of government is merely a change of label.
A more fundamental change is needed. Austerity, in a world of potential plenty, is always the lot of the working class under capitalism. It is not enough to demonstrate against one type of capitalist government. The workers must organise consciously to abolish the present economic system and establish in its place their own system of society—Socialism.