The ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) demonstration in Brussels on 4th April 2014 against the austerity cuts and for investment in quality jobs was notable for the participation from trade unions across Europe. The Belgian trade unions were very heavily represented, however groups of marchers came from just about every European member state.
French, Dutch, German and Austrian trade unions had a strong presence, while large delegations were particularly in evidence from Spain and Portugal, a clear indicator of the harm that EU and IMF imposed cuts are doing to ordinary people including the working poor. Some demonstrators had come a long way; Hungary’s trade unions were present in numbers, and other groups had arrived from as far afield as Croatia and Poland.
The demo began at International Trade Union House in Rue Joseph II, near Gare du Nord, with a rather confused start. The plan had been for the leaders from ETUC and the international federations to march at the front. However in typically anti-authoritarian fashion, the larger Belgian groups were already pushing towards the front as the start time approached, and began marching forwards as the hour struck.
With smaller delegations slotting in as best they could, a largely good-humoured procession followed as the march wound its way through the city and past the European Quarter to finish at Park Cinquantenaire, where music, speeches, chip stalls and outdoor beer cellars were available to satisfy everybody’s needs. The marchers were entertained on route by bands within the column, political exhortations from fixed stands at strategic road junctions, and regular outbursts of firecrackers to ensure everyone kept on their toes.
The police estimated numbers at around 20,000, while VRT (Flemish state media) estimates were around 20,000-30,000. However I was towards the front of the march, and when I left the Park Cinquantenaire after about an hour, marchers were still walking up past the European Parliament, so I felt the true figure was rather higher.
The event was abysmally reported in the mainstream media. The BBC and VRT focused on one small group of troublemakers who began ripping up cobblestones and throwing them at the police lines protecting the European Commission and European Council buildings. The reply from police water cannon was inevitable, and rather ironic considering they were in action beneath a giant poster on the European Commission Berlaymont building that advertised ‘Free Movement”.
In fact I understand that the dockers from Antwerp have a reputation to maintain in this respect, and that both protesters and police locally regard the exchange of cobblestones and water as something of a tradition at any kind of “manifestation”.
Be that as it may, no media reporting explained the purpose of the event, nor the numbers coming from southern and eastern parts of Europe to attend, journeys which must have required significant organisation from the trades unions in those countries.
I also find it interesting that while both the European Commission and European Council buildings were well-protected by police lines, the European Parliament (situated right alongside the line of the march) was wide open, and was in fact totally ignored by the marchers as they walked by. An indication of which European institutions are regarded as sympathetic to the organisers’ aims, or of relative power?
© Philip Hunt, 2014.
Comments are now closed.