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Thousands hit streets for pension demonstration

24 October 2005

BRUSSELS – More than 5,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Charleroi on Monday morning in protest against the government’s social security reforms.

Prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has said he intends to stand firm on his plans despite the general strike held on 7 October, the first in Belgium in 12 years. He argues the Belgian state cannot continue to fund the current system which allows workers to retire as early as 55.

Last week, the unions called for a demonstration on Monday to be followed by another general strike on Friday.

This time, unlike the first general strike, which was backed by only the ABW socialist union, the Christian ACV union is also backing it.

Monday’s demonstration was attended by workers from the Charleroi region, with other unionists arriving in buses from La Louvière, Mons and Namur. Banners and placards called for “pensions now, jobs for our children”.

Workers from construction company Caterpillar headed the procession, which ran from the streets in Ville-Basse to Ville-Haute, finishing at Rue de la Montagne.

The demonstration saw a large part of the Charleroi region grind to a halt, with most large factories on strike and shops and small businesses either joining the strike or lowering their shutters when the unionists marched past.

The strike was partly followed in the printing and glass industries and heavily followed in the metal work, construction and chemical sectors.

Hospitals and schools continued work as normal, although many workers wore a badge in solidarity with the strikers.

Very little public transport ran normally and three flights were cancelled at Charleroi airport. Charleroi’s management said the strikers were damaging the economy of the small airport. Three days of strikes and three days of fog in October has led to a lowering of 25,000 in passenger numbers at Charleroi, said the airport.

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: Belgian news