On Thursday, December 10, workers across Belgium under the leadership of General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGTB/ABVV) protested in defense of the right to strike and freely protest in public spaces. The protest was organized on International Human Rights Day as an appeal to revoke the jail sentence and fines ordered by a Belgian court on November 23 against 17 unionists — including the FGTB president Thierry Bodson — for participating in a roadblock carried out as part of a general strike against the government’s policies in 2015.
The conviction of the 17 trade unionists by the Liège Criminal Court on November 23 triggered widespread outrage among the Belgian working class and other progressive sections. The court gave suspended prison sentences and fines ranging from 600 Euros (729 USD) to 4,800 Euros (5,834 USD) for being present at a blockade at the viaduct of the E40 motorway in Cheratte, in the province of Liège, as part of a strike in October 2015.
On Thursday, around 700 workers demonstrated in front of the Palais de Justice (Court House) in Liège in solidarity with the convicted workers while the lawyer of the trade unionists submitted his appeal against the judgement of November 23. Events of solidarity were also organized in Brussels, Charleroi, Mons, Namur, Tournai, Vervier, Arlon among other places.
Earlier, the General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGTB/ABVV) denounced the judgement against the trade unionists by the Liège Criminal Court as being “political.” FGTB said that for 5 years, the union, its activists and modes of action have been the subject of judicial harassment. The Union has stated that “the judgment handed down on November 23, 2020 at the Liège Criminal Court is a political judgment. This decision is an extremely serious violation of the right to strike and a threat to all social movements, to anyone who participates in a mobilization in the public space.”
“Trade unionists who fight for social justice and solidarity are not criminals. To strike is a right. If justice prevents us from exercising this right, it kills the right,” added the union.
The Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) has expressed solidarity with the protesting workers. Workers Party spokesperson Raoul Hedebouw has stated that “workers are experiencing an increasingly deep crisis. And we try to muzzle them. Social action, the right to strike and the right to picket are tools that the social movement must be able to use to defend itself”.
Cadres of the Communist Party of Belgium (PCB-CPB) also extended their support to the protesting workers and participated in various demonstrations across Belgium in solidarity with the trade unionists.