On Friday, April 22, thousands of workers demonstrated in major cities across Belgium protesting the worsening cost of living crisis and calling for a rise in wages. The call for the mobilization was given by major trade unions like the General Labor Federation of Belgium (ABVV/FGTB), Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV/CSC), General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (ACLVB/CGSLB), and political parties including the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA). Various student/youth groups expressed support and solidarity with the workers’ mobilization. The protesting workers have called for a revision of the 1996 Wage Margin Act. The act establishes a strict procedure for the Belgian social partners to negotiate a maximum average wage increase and thus effectively prevents any real increase in wages in the country.
Workers in Belgium were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and have now been pushed to the brink by the worsening cost of living crisis with higher energy and food prices triggered by the ongoing war in Ukraine and profiteering by monopolists. As in other European countries like the UK, Spain and Albania, the deteriorating living conditions have forced the Belgian working class to hit the streets to protest the rising cost of living. Unions have called on the government to control energy and food prices by ending profiteering of monopolists. They have demanded a rise in wages at par with the level of inflation by scrapping the 1996 Wage Margin Act. Other demands are to include the maximum number of working class households under social benefit schemes, to ensure parity in wages between men and women, a minimum wage of EUR 14 (USD 15.11)/hour – EUR 2,300 (USD 2,482.62)/month and minimum pension of EUR 1,500 (USD 1,619.10) per month, as well as reduction of VAT on energy to 6%.
Following the mobilization on Friday, the PTB/PVDA stated that thousands of people responded to the call of trade unions and took to the streets to demand an end to the pay blockade. “While big companies make record profits, the working class refuses to tighten their belt even more. Exploding bills, record profits, but blocked salaries? No question. It’s time to end the pay blockage,” it said.
The Communist Party of Belgium (PCB/CPB) stated that the “mobilizations are not just about fighting for better distribution of wealth but fighting for wage hikes, for blocking prices, and against the imperialist war which serves the interests of monopolies and speculators and raises prices.”
The unions have called for larger mobilizations on May 1 and June 20.