Belgian General Strike

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‘A nation has been brought to a stop by the will of its workers and unions, who have today decisively rejected one-sided austerity measures.’

An ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) spokesman was speaking to News Line yesterday, as Belgium held its first general strike in more than six years.

Called against massive government cuts of 11.3bn euros ($14.8bn), including a planned rise in the retirement age, the strike coincided with a summit meeting in Brussels, where EU leaders were gathered for talks on the eurozone crisis – their first summit this year.

The strike brought most of the transport system in Brussels to a standstill.

The main train station in Brussels was closed, while flights at Belgium’s Charleroi Airport were cancelled.

High-speed international trains, such as the Eurostar from London and Thalys from Paris, stopped running late on Sunday.

The strike also affected the private sector, with production at the Audi and Volvo car plants disrupted while employees walked off the job at the Coca-Cola factory near Antwerp.

Container terminals at the port of Antwerp were also shut.

‘We are angry because they want to attack our pensions,’ said Philippe Dubois, a railway union member outside Brussels’ Midi station.

They are expected to sign a treaty that will bind eurozone states to severe budget controls, known as the ‘fiscal compact’.

Staff at the summit were instructed to arrive for the 14:00 (13:00 GMT) meeting at 05:30 to avoid the disruption.

Ahead of the strike, ITF general secretary David Cockroft said: ‘On Monday in Belgium, transport stops. Planes, trains and ports will all be affected.

‘It’s all part of a day of protest by the country’s workers and unions who are saying no to further cuts being forced through by a government acting dangerously, recklessly under pressure to meet EU targets.’

ITF president and chair of the ITF dockers section, Paddy Crumlin, said: ‘Transport workers are playing a vital part in this strike.

‘Belgium’s docker unions will also be in the frontline, protesting against plans that could strip them of legal protections under the guise of “austerity” and “modernisation”.’