3 IMCWP, Contribution of Workers' Party of Belgium

6/22/01 12:58 PM
  • Belgium, Workers' Party of Belgium 3rd IMCWP En Europe Communist and workers' parties

Workers' Party of Belgium
by Jo Cottenier


The trade-union work of the Workers' Party of Belgium
and the struggle of the Forges de Clabecq.

On behalf of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party
Belgium, I would like to thank the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of Greece for its invitation. We are very
glad to be able to participate to this meeting which
reinforces our internationalist bounds and which will
certainly allow us to improve our work towards the
trade-unions. The trade-union work is for us
the privileged ground where the communist vanguard binds
itself to the working masses to make them progress
politically in a revolutionary sense. As the trade-union
situation is different from one country to another, I have
first to say a few words about the trade-union situation in
Belgium. There are two major trade-unions, one is
politically bound to the social-democrat party (FGTB:
1,200,000 members), the other to the christian-democrat
party (CSC: 1,400,000 members). Like in the other European
countries, the trade-union leaders apply a policy of
collaboration and of concerted policy with the political
and economical power. The basis of this policy is their
faithfulness to the market economy, their faith in a
regulated capitalism and their anticommunism. They are
fervent defenders of the European unification and of the
NATO interventions. I don't have to explain you the policy
of privatization, of flexibility, of destruction of the
collective social protection for the profit of private
insurances and of attacks to the pension system, which are
all orchestrated by the European Union. The increase of the
pension age, for example, against which you in Greece lead
an exemplary fight, was accepted
with resignation by the trade-union leaders in Belgium
three years ago. We are in a situation here many struggles
are broken by the trade-union leaders even before they have
started. Because their respect for the bourgeoisie and
their fear of the masses tend to kill each mobilization.
They preach defeatism ("one can do nothing against Europe")
and competitivity as the least evil. We are in a
contradictory situation where on one side the
anti-trade-unionism is very strong on the workplaces and
where on the other side the percentage of members of the
trade-unions is very high (almost 90% of the workers).
There are thus strong tensions which can explode from time
to time when some combative kernels succeed in organizing
themselves and in leading some struggles. The right wing of
the trade-union try to maintain its control by a
well-developped trade-unionism of service, by the lack of
democracy and by a complete hold on ideology. For example,
there are no rights to form an organized trade-union trend
inside the union structures (as you know it in Greece with
the PAME). There are however left trends, which reject
co-management, which strongly oppose the privatizations and
the destruction of all which is collective, which are
fighting to preserve the trade-union and democratic rights.
This left is present among the factory representatives and
the union apparatus. The WPB militates in both
trade-unions, often in a clandestine or semi-clandestine
way because anti-communism is quite common. Our
trade-unionists are the best defenders of the interests of
the masses in the factories but don't forget their
communist identity and their duty to orientate the
struggles against the oppressing and exploiting system.
Nevertheless, during the history of the WPB, some members
forgot this and let themselves attract by the reformism.
But most of them stayed faithful precisely because of the
line and of the organization of the party. It is why our
first efforts in the trade-union work always consists in
attracting trade-unionists in the party. Only a communist
vision of the world allows to resist to all the traps of
the system and allow to form the spine of a true
trade-unionism. The party has always in mind the crucial
question: "Who eats who ?". The second task assumed by our
trade-unionists is to gather all the left forces, which in
one way or another resist the attacks of the employers and
of the government and which don't want the trade-union to
submit to them, to become an accomplice, which would lead
to self-destruction.

It is in this context that one has to place the
extraordinary meaning of the struggle led by the workers of
the Forges de Clabecq against the closure of their factory,
a steel factory 20km away from Brussels. I can not explain
you better our conception of the trade-union work than
through the example of this concrete struggle. For almost
five years, our party presents this struggle as an example
of fighting trade-unionism and the active trade-unionists
take profit of it in order to lead the ideological fight
inside the trade-unions.

It is the story of a won struggle, since the factory, which
was condemned to closure, has restarted after six months
of struggle in 1997. And this thanks to a local
revolutionary union-representation, the motto of which was
to refuse the fatalism imposed by the economic laws and to
lean on the mobilization of the masses to fight this
fatalism. To show at which point the struggle in the Forges
de Clabecq was audacious, I have to go back a little bit
backwards in time. It is a steel-factory with an average
size, which employed 1,800 workers in december 1996, when
the bankruptcy was pronounced. In such a case, it had
become an habit in Belgium that the trade-union leaders
express a few verbal protestations and then directly
negociate a closure plan with some social measures and
vagues promises of reconversion for the region. It is what
they were going to do in the Forges de Clabecq. The
social-democrat Minister Flahaut had already announced the
construction of a prison on the site. It was not the
opinion of the union-delegation.

The two main actors are italian workers, sons of immigrant
workers: Roberto D'Orazio and Silvio Marra. They are
union-representatives of the socialist union (FGTB). Both
have inherited from the 60s the foundations of the marxist
philosophy, but without being politically organized. From
1983, they build patiently a kernel of militants who were
opposed to the social-democrat line dominating the union
life in the factory. In 1992, this opposition took power in
the union-delegation and Roberto D'Orazio became main
representative. He is a gifted speaker with a remarkable
class consciousness. During all this period and after, the
representatives had close relations with the factory cell
of our party. One of the important contributions of our
party was to feed their political vision of the world. This
led among other to a remarkable anti-racist campaign led by
the delegation in the factory, where workers from a dozen
of nationalities work next to each other. In 1993, they
created the first "factory against racism" in Belgium by
getting 75% of the personnel to sign the petition demanding
automatic Belgian nationality for all immigrants residing
in the country for five years. This creates unity in the
factory, based on the consciousness to belong to the same
class. This consciousness leads them also to support other
workers on struggle. They participate to the struggles of
the teachers and students, they support the workers
struggling against the closure of their factories, they
even strike to support other threatened delegations. In
many conferences and interventions, they bring to the
workers and intellectuals a proletarian and revolutionary
vision of the world.

Since 1992, the delegation prepares the masses to the
closure. The President of the liberal party (PRL) Louis
Michel, today Minister of Foreign Affairs, said six years
ago: "We must ask the question of the closure of the
Forges de Clabecq. I told to Mr. Collignon (the President
of the Walloon Region) that the 500 millions necessary for
the Forges would be more useful to make some reconversion.
The Forges are terrorized by the absolute power of the
trade-union, the far-left trade-unionism of the WPB."
(RTBF, november 15, 1995). The "union terror" consisted in
having denounced how the families who owned the factory
fled like rats, with their fortune accumulated thanks to
the labour of the workers. In having demanded that the new
owner, the State (the walloon region), invests and renews
the installations. Faced to the refusal of the delegation
to collaborate for a 'sweet' closure, the social-democrat
public managers concluded that (I quote) "any solution for
the Forges de Clabecq will go through a social shock". This
shock, they got it.

It is finally the European Commission which pronounced the
verdict by refusing any new subsidy from the State. When
the banks prevent the last salaries to be paid, the workers
took bulldozers out for the first time and crossed the
small township of Clabecq-Tubize, breaking the windows of
the banks. Wages were paid immediately. When workers
stopped in front of the Town Hall to demand the maintenance
of the site, they noticed that the police had put a
photographer behind the windows of the police station. The
police station was taken by assault, the furniture
destroyed and the camera confiscated. This is the first
important element in the trial, which is still going on.
Accusation: rebellion in group and attempted arson.

Our party went in the battle since this very first day and
asked me personnally to work with the leaders of the
struggle. We became an inseparable team and I could
appreciate the intelligence and the tenacity of these
working class leaders which are inspired by a communist
conception of the world. I participated to all the
decisions and I could contribute to all the initiatives
because our party was in complete agreement with what is
now called in Belgium "the spirit of Clabecq". This spirit,
this is first the proudness to belong to the working class,
the one which produces all the wealth of the society. From
this comes a strong will of not being the servants, neither
of the employers, neither of the parties in power, nor of
its own union direction. It is also to refuse to make empty
speeches. It is finally the will to lead the masses as far
as the masses are ready to go, it is to face the challenges
of all the attacks and slanders in the press.

It is in this spirit that the Clabecq delegation took the
audacious initiative to call for a national demonstration
against the losses of jobs and against the closure. They
planned a march for jobs for which they mobilized during
one month. They sent 10 buses of workers to the four
corners of the country. Many factory-level union sections
and even a part of union officialdom responded to the call
of Clabecq. On February 2, 1997, Belgium witnessed an
unprecedented event in the history of the country. In
response to the call of a workers union representation,
70.000 people demonstrated for jobs in the streets of
Clabecq. Gigantic portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin
paraded in the march. An important right-wing newspaper
wrote the following day: "It was a long time since the
socialism was so much demanded as yesterday in the streets
of Clabecq". Our party made its best in order that through
this exceptional event the working class struggle was
joined by the mass movement about disappeared and abused
childrens which was going on at the same time in Belgium.
At the tribune, the parents of some abused childrens were
next to the Clabecq representatives. In front of the crowd,
Roberto D'Orazio declared: "This march must be the
beginning of a victory for the workers. What we want is for
the economy to be at the service of the workers, of
education, of our children and of labour. Because all the
wealth in this country is produced by the workers. This
wealth belongs to us."

The bourgeoisie didn't digest this march. One week later,
it took its chance. One of the workers punched one of the
administrator of the factory, who was in charge of
liquidating the goods of the bankrupted factory. This
administrator is then presented in front of the press
cameras with blood on his face. He accuses D'Orazio to be
the instigator of this and all the press leads an
orchestrated campaign against the "terrorists" and
"maffiosi" of Clabecq. Today this administrator is in
charge of some governmental mission, which makes D'Orazio
said that if one had punched him a little bit more, he
would already be Prime Minister.

The counter-offensive came quickly. At the end of March 97,
workers of Clabecq took the bulldozers out a second time.
After three months of struggle, nothing had moved. When the
workers wanted to occupy the Brussels-Paris motorway, the
state police set up a road-block with trucks and water
cannon and attacked the demonstration. With the help of
five bulldozers, workers broke the barrage, destroyed some
trucks and neutralized the watercannon. During 15 minutes,
the battle raged and the films taken by policemen from this
battle are now a masterpiece of the trial. It was an
unprecedented defeat for the police, the Waterloo of the
police (Waterloo is just 5km away from there). Everybody in
Belgium remembers these police-trucks destroyed by the
bulldozers but it was first a fight of the masses. Roberto
d' Orazio said about that day : "What we showed in practice
is that workers also have means at their disposal. And
believe me, it is that that embarrasses them the most and
not some destroyed trucks. What we demonstrated is this: if
we organize, we can wipe you off the floor in five minutes.
That 's the essential point".

A month later, the union representatives organized a new,
more selective march called the "March against the Liars".
It was aimed at the socialist party and in the first place
all those who deceive workers while submitting them to the
capitalist system. This march rallied 12,000 people.
Finally, thanks to the determination of the workers of
Clabecq, the Italian group Duferco put in a bid for the
steel-works. But the bourgeoisie absolutely wanted to
remove this victory from D'Orazio. It was the union
leadership that undertook this task. They refused to
include him in the final negotiations and signed an
agreement with the new boss who excluded the Clabecq shop
stewards and all union activists from the new payroll. When
the factory reopened at the beginning of 1998 with 800
workers, no trade unionist was accepted and this with the
approval of the union leadership. A gesture which makes the
contradictions between the representatives and the leaders
of the union insurmountable.

As soon as the great March of the 70,000, our party had
well judged the exceptional character of this event and of
this struggle. At the eve of the March, we had agreed with
D'Orazio and the delegation to organize a current of
renewal in the union. This current is born at the end of
the struggle with the foundation of the Movement for the
union renewal (MRS), a movement which opposes the unionism
of concerted policy and collaboration. The MRS immediately
organized a demonstration of 5,000 persons. It still exists
but has been excommunicated by the union leadership. A few
months later, six representatives, among which D'Orazio and
Marra, have been excluded from the union. The union
leadership doesn't forgive them to have followed another
union strategy and to have founded the MRS. One can say
today that by excluding the leaders of Clabecq, the union
leadership opened the door to the judicial prosecutions.

The party did everything possible to bring some political
support to the ones of Clabecq, by publishing a book, by
contributing to the diffusion and the organization of the
MRS and by leading a campaign of support by selling 10,000
mini-bulldozers. Not only as financial support but also as
a symbol of the spirit of resistance. We contributed
actively to present an electoral list of D'Orazio at the
European elections of 1999, which was presented under the
name 'Stand up'. It got 2% of the votes in the
french-speaking part of the country. Roberto D'Orazio got a
personnal score of 30,000 votes, which was the 10th of
these elections.

The struggle continues today but in front of the tribunal.
The prosecutions against 13 steel-workers of Clabecq, among
them the two main leaders, began on november 26, 1998 and
continue for 2 and half years. Our party made a lot in
order to maintain a constant mobilization for two years. At
every session, there are dozens, even hundreds of workers
and trade-unionists who demonstrate in and outside the
court. We contributed, with the accused, with their
lawyers, with the MRS and the large movement of solidarity
in the unions to transform this trial into a vast
counter-offensive. A key-element of this counter-offensive
was to demand not the acquittal but the stop of the trial.
At the beginning, this demand seemed utopian, when one
knows that there are 43 accusations, among other robbery
with use of weapons, rebellion in group and arson. In face
of these accusations, we accumulated arguments during the
mobilization. There is first an argument of principle: the
tribunals should not interfere in social conflicts. If they
do it in the present case, it is because it is a political
attack. The parties in power and the court want to
criminalize the ones who succeeded in imposing another
trade-unionism, starting from an opposition to the present
system. The development of the trial showed that the
prosecution was partial and unfair. The policemen were at
the same time prosecutors, investigators, witness and
assuring the order in the trial. After three sessions, the
judge decided to make the trial behind closed doors.
D'Orazio and Marra are not prosecuted for having done some
crimes but as instigators and gang leaders. For this, the
prosecutor used a law of 1887, especially known to
prosecute the leaders of the first riots against

At the 23rd session, the accused and their lawyers
succeeded in objecting the judges, when the defendant
proved that one of the judge had some family relations with
the prosecutor. At the 27th session, the Court acknowledged
that the rights of the defendants were not respected and
declared itself as incompetent. On november 22, 2000,
another Court decided that the trial had to be carried on.
An appeal of the accused against this decision didn't
succeed and next october, the trial will restart for a
third times from the very beginning.

During these two years, the two main leaders kept an
attitude dign and audacious in front of the judges which
makes think to Dimitrov during his trial. Like during the
conflict for the reopening of the factory, they imposed
their rules to the ones of the system, represented this
time by its judiciary. For hours, they described the
context of the struggle by reverting the accusation against
the ones who abandoned the factory and let 2,000 families
in distress. At the last session, D'Orazio atacked the
prosecutor: "You have already condemned us. You spreaded in
the press the image that we are criminals, thieves,
mafiosi. You took away from us our job because no employer
would like to hire a thief or a criminal. If you really
want to make justice, stop your fantasies and take care of
the real thugs: the ones who took away the funds of the
factory and who enjoyed holidays on the Cote d'Azur."

I come now to some general conclusions:

1. The trade-unionism of Clabecq provoked a huge hope among
the masses and made a new wind blow through the union. They
went to the edge of their possibilities and confronted all
the forces of the bourgeoisie: employers, state, political
parties, right-wing union leaders, police, judiciary. They
made their best in the framework of the current balance of
power. It is why the bourgeoisie shows such an obstination
to break them politically, morally and financially. The
representatives of the Forges de Clabecq have confronted
their class ennemy and broken the attitude of submission.
So the bourgeoisie doesn't want their example to be
followed by others. Their motto was "Stand up". It is this
spirit that we want to preserve and propagate.

2. The danger that such a vanguard struggle becomes
isolated from the majority of the forces in the union is
real. The popularity of the trade-unionism of Clabecq is
still very high among the masses, but the exclusion from
the union reinforces the danger of a marginalization inside
the union structures. We don't want to fall into the
mistakes of the Union Revolutionary Opposition in the 30s
which had orientated itself more and more towards he
excluded. It is a problem that we are currently confronted
with and that we want to solve by an active campaign for
the reintegration inside the union, which allows to
mobilize all the left forces in the union. The struggle for
the right to organize a left tendency inside the existing
unions and for the right to militate as communist in the
union is a vital question to build an union alternative.

3. This struggle will stay a model because it shows the
huge anti-capitalist potential present among the masses to
the condition that they are led by a revolutionary line,
which supposes the presence of communist leaders. The
working class is still well-present and is the only force
which can change the course of history in a sense of a
human and just economic and political system. It is
important to state this clearly and strongly at an
international level. At a time where everybody speaks about
the harmful consequences of the globalization, it is
important that the working class gives its world vision to
a movement which stays most of the time at the surface of
the phenomena and which is led by reformist and anarchist

4. The party learnt a lot from the leaders of Clabecq. We
try first to generalize the way they followed in order to
accumulate forces inside the factory, to contest the
social-democrat hegemony. By campaigns of struggle for the
security and for better work conditions, they succeeded in
wining the trust of the masses. By a patient organizational
work, they were able to form a unified team, ready to
replace the former one. This work, which necessitated a
preparation of 10 years, brought them to take the lead of
the union inside the factory. The conquest of working class
strongholds is for us the basis of any union work. It must
be supported and broadened by a work of front in the union
structures with all the left forces.

5. For our party, this experience incites us to pay more
attention to the formation of leaders of the masses, who
will be able to become well-known spokesmen of the working
class, trade-unionists or not. If we are doing today an
internal rectification to change the profile and the style
of our party, it is thanks to the leaders of the struggle
of Clabecq. The criticisms that we put forward about some
anarcho-unionism prevented us too long to learn from their
way to speak to the masses. They reminded us the importance
of bringing the masses step by step towards revolutionary

6. At an international stage, the marxist-leninist movement
needs to propagate its own examples of working class
struggles, of resistances and of revolutions of the peoples
against the globalized policy of imperialism and of the
multinationals which manage the world according to their
own will. We need exemplary struggles which show the way to
follow and which are based on a revolutionary ideology,
which is not the case for peoples like Jos� Bove and other
emblematic figures of the current movement against
globalization. The struggle of D'Orazio is one of these, as
well as the one of Arthur Scargill in the UK. As well as
the ones in the Congo of Kabila or in Cuba of Castro. Or
the revolutionary struggles in the Philippines, Colombia or
Palestina. Or the struggle of Mumia Abu Jamal in the US.
They are at the front of the fight against the globalized
policy of capitalism and imperialism. We need much more
collaboration between marxist-leninists at an international
level to support these struggles politically and
materially. I remind you that the trial of Clabecq will
restart for the 3rd times from the very beginning next 1st
October. We would appreciate an international presence on
this day and you are all invited.