On Sunday, February 27, thousands of people protested in Belgian capital Brussels denouncing the anti-people policies pursued by the coalition government in the country. The protest was called by the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA). Protesters denounced the government’s inaction on higher energy costs and on the long pending demand for increase in salaries and pensions.
While addressing the mobilization, PTB/PVDA president Raoul Hedebouw reiterated their demand to lower and standardize the value added tax (VAT) on energy to 6%. Recently, after widespread public outrage and repeated protests by the PTB/PVDA in the Belgian federal parliament and elsewhere, the coalition government had decided to temporarily reduce the VAT on energy from 21% to 6% for a period of five months from March 1 to July 1, 2022. According to sources in the PTB/PVDA, 8,000-10,000 people took part in the protest.
For a long time, parties of the incumbent coalition government tried their best to defend the higher VAT on energy, arguing that a general reduction would benefit the richest and negatively impact the reduction of CO2 emissions, state budgets, and hit wages in the country. The PTB/PVDA’s response was that a majority of working class households in the country spend a large share of their income on energy bills, and that the losses due to reduction in VAT on gas and electricity must be offset by a tax on the profits of energy multinationals.
Following the protest, PTB/PVDA stated, “Enough! to the energy bills which are too high. Enough! to multinational businesses who make huge profits on our backs. Enough! to the law that blocks our salaries, which makes sure our salaries can barely increase. This is a strong and clear signal that we are sending to the government. We’re gonna keep going until it rains. Until we have a permanent 6% VAT on gas, electricity and petrol. Until we have human politics.”
Progressive sections in many parts of Europe have intensified campaigns against high energy prices as working class households, already ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis, are now facing the brunt of high energy bills during the harsh winter.
Now, with the onset of the war in Ukraine, natural gas prices have soared across Europe by almost 70%, and crude oil prices have exceeded USD 105 a barrel for the first time since 2014. In the second week of February, working class sections in the UK organized massive protests across the country denouncing the cost of living crisis inflicted by the rise in energy prices. On October 5 last year, trade unions in France organized a national strike demanding higher wages and pensions and denounced the hike in energy prices. In September, communist cadres organized mobilizations across Spain protesting the hike in electricity prices.