Huge protest against plans to sell Europe to highest bidder

19 March 2005

Huge protest against plans to sell Europe to highest bidder

Today almost 100,000 people marched through the streets of Brussels. They came from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to demonstrate against corporate-sponsored policies based on cuts in social and welfare provision and against the formation of a European superstate. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the enormous demonstrations in Amsterdam on 2nd October, when 300,000 turned out to protest against the Dutch government’s policies. The great majority of the crowd in Brussels was made up of the working population of Europe.

It was a Dutchman who had the dubious honour of being the target of this resistance. The proposed directive which bears the ex-Commissioner’s name and which would lead to massive downward pressure on working conditions was the immediate spur which brought trade unionists from throughout western Europe on to the streets of Brussels on Saturday. The Bolkestein Directive on Services in the Internal Market would mean that a firm registered in an EU member state could operate in another member state and yet follow the laws of the country in which it was registered, leading to competition between workers from different parts of Europe. Major employers see big advantages in this in terms of the downward pressure it would exercise on wages and social provision. The fact that so many people took to the streets of Brussels makes it clear that trade unions will not tolerate the neoliberal policies emanating from that same city, policies based on “economic progress, social decline”.

For the first time in many years, the main Dutch national trade union federation, the FNV, was present at an international protest against this corporate Europe. In the great trade union demonstration in Brussels in 2001, and the European Social Forums in Paris in 2003 and London last year, the FNV was conspicuous by its absence. This time, however, it was visibly present.

SP MEPs Erik Meijer and Kartika Liottard

Also on the demonstration were hundreds of SP members, some of whom rode on or marched alongside the party’s famous fire engine, while some took their banners to the section of the march reserved for social movements and a third group could be found amongst the ranks of the FNV. The broad movement against cuts in social provision in the Netherlands, “Keer de Tij” (Turn the Tide) also brought several hundred supporters. Numerous protests against the Iraq war and against racism made it clear that the sources of the demonstrators’ discontent went much further than fears for their own jobs.

Many came from France. The trade union confederation the CGT had worked hard to bring as many of its members as possible and the result was that thousands of French workers took the opportunity to demonstrate that they had had a belly full of EU economic policies which so prioritised corporate profits that the interests of working people were forgotten.

As the protest march through Brussels came to an end one thing had been made clear, and that was that resistance to the Bolkestein directive (“Bolkenstein-Frankenstein” as some demonstrators dubbed it) goes hand in hand with the fight against the European Constitution. Thousands of participants carried banners or wore stickers calling for the Constitution to be rejected, a Constitution which threatens to make permanent the Americanisation of the European economy, to replace social provision with social dumping. That the protests were not solely about Bolkestein’s proposal, but were equally aimed at “Superstate Europe”, was a slap in the face for the architects of the Constitutional Treaty.

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