On September 21, Tuesday, hundreds of workers demonstrated at Place Saint-Lambert in Liège, Belgium, to express solidarity with the 17 trade unionists convicted by the Liège criminal court last year for obstructing traffic during a strike in 2015. The demonstrators stated that to strike is a right and the criminalization of social action will adversely affect fundamental freedoms and harm democracy. Trade unions like the General Labor Federation of Belgium (FGTB/ABVV), and the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) and Communist Party of Belgium (PCB/CPB), participated in the mobilization on Tuesday when the Liège court was considering the appeal of the prosecuted trade unionists.
Their conviction on November 23, 2020 had triggered widespread outrage among the Belgian working class and other progressive sections. The court gave suspended prison sentences and fines ranging from EUR 600 (USD 729) to EUR 4,800 (USD 5,834) to the 17 trade unionists for being present at a blockade at the viaduct of the E40 motorway in Cheratte in Liège province as part of a strike in October 2015.
Last year, on the International Human Rights Day on December 10, workers across Belgium called for revoking the sentences of the 17 trade unionists.
Regarding the mobilization on Tuesday, several progressive sections in Belgium issued a solidarity statement saying, “while we celebrate this year the hundredth anniversary of the repeal of Article 310 of the Penal Code which punished the exercise of the strike, the 17th Chamber of the Court of Liège by doubling its sentences for the leaders, has put back in our mouth the bitter taste of the law Le Chapelier.”
Le Chapelier Law of 1791 was a legislation passed by the National Assembly of France during the first phase of the French Revolution banning guilds (early version of trade unions) and curtailing the right to strike.
Raoul Hedebouw from the PTB/PVDA stated that the Liege court has invoked Article 406 of the Criminal Code (for causing obstacles to traffic) to prosecute the trade unionists. “This article must serve to condemn road criminals, not union activists,” he said.
The PCB/CPB stated that “the Belgian working class has a radical legacy of strikes and struggles beginning from the Belgian strikes of 1886 and the right to strike must be defended by the struggle and by the strike itself, because the strike is our weapon.”