On Wednesday, around 150,000 trade unionists and supporters marched through Brussels against policies of austerity across the European Union. 20 countries were represented on the march – everyone from German steelworkers to Romanian police and thousands upon thousands of frontline public sector workers. There were even at least 3 fire engines! Two members of York Stop the Cuts joined the RMT delegation that travelled to Brussels for the day – totalling over 200, the best represented UK union on the march – and took our group’s banner to the European Parliament.
We took our message right to the doors of the European Parliament – making a mockery of UK police decision to prevent us marching past the Conservative conference in Birmingham. The brightly coloured banners, flags and t-shirts of the many unions present painted a picture of a diverse but unified response to austerity – different but yet the same in every place it affects European citizens.
Later we were told that the numbers were higher than organisers had expected – a sign of the rising resistance from right across Europe. Perhaps the most organised marchers were the Romanian Police – we wonder if the UK Police Federation will be joining us after announcements of cuts to frontline police services. The French CGT were out in force, and in other parts of the protest we saw hundreds of flags from the Italian and other syndicalist unions.
The biggest difference to a UK demonstration was the use of bangers – hundreds of them – a reminder that European trade unionists have a very different standard of protest action. We even had some smoke bombs and flares from the protesters! The mood was pretty defiant, as people wended their way past some of the most powerful institutions in Europe.
On reflection, whether we like the rising power of the EU taking over our lives or not, the day was a reminder that the EU gives us not just a bigger challenge but a vastly bigger group of allies: people who can stand alongside us in times of widespread hardship. This was truly a European National Demonstration and clearly one of the biggest of its kind in the life of the EU so far. It may have been only for one day, but now the struggle continues in each country, and we can be sure we are not alone!
Left: the RMT “Safety before Profit” and “No to EU Austerity” banners fronting the UK contingent. Middle: Bank Workers for Regulation (if only their bosses agreed!). Right: the view from one of the fire engines – the banner should read “For Jobs and Public Services”.
At the final rally with members of the RMT contingent.