A fatal crash that killed eighteen people was the final straw for railway workers in Belgium, who have spontaneously organised strikes and blockades around the country. Their courageous move has of course brought short-term disruption for passengers, but it has also put pressure on the national railway company to implement much-needed safety measures.
A driver was among those killed on Monday, when two trains collided in Halle, fifteen kilometres from Brussels. Even before the black box recorders had been recovered, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges bosses were claiming that one of the drivers failed to stop at a red light. They were later forced to admit that one of the trains had not been fitted with a security system that automatically switches on a train’s brake at every red signal. This system was recommended in the wake of a crash in 2001.
According to LibCom:
"Machinists and technical workers have blockaded depots across the country with services most affected in Wallonia. Train drivers and signal workers are also observing the strike. So far the depots at Braine-le-Comte, Mons, Liège, Ath, Saint-Ghislain, La Louvière, Charleroi, Namur, Ottignies, Tournai and Louvain are reported as being entirely blockaded by strikers and the Belgian Rail Company (SNCB) is admitting that 85% of its depots are affected by the strike."
Union leaders have denounced the wildcat action, effectively siding with the bosses who have failed to roll-out required safety measures, with Jos Dignette of the ACOD union declaring that "The situation is not good...I don’t understand why some have decided to declare war at this moment."
It seems the ongoing confrontation between Royal Mail bosses and their employees may be heating up once more. Last Bonfire Night, Billy Hayes and his Communication Workers Union executive unanimously voted to sabotage a series of strikes that enjoyed widespread public support, and guaranteed Royal Mail no strikes before Christmas. However, up to 45,000 postal jobs are still under threat, together with pay cuts and a backbreaking increase in productivity, leading to eventual privatisation under the next government.
The latest major incident was at the large Bridgwater Delivery Office in Somerset. The immediate spark for an unofficial one hour walkout was management's treatment of two employees who are subject to a disciplinary investigation, but underlying the conflict is management's plans to cut 240 hours of work from the Bridgwater team, leaving many out of pocket or working part-time.
Bridgwater CWU rep Phil Greenslade told This Is Somerset that:
"People are not happy with the way these investigations are being carried out and we feel Royal Mail is taking a very heavy-handed approach. We feel they are trying to get rid of people unnecessarily and however they can."
Managers are tightening the screw in every workplace and this must inevitably produce resistance, which threatens to slip out of the CWU bureaucracy's control.
Fear of working class resistance shook the stock markets at the start of the month, as Greek trade unions announced a one day general strike for 24th February. Although leaders see the strike as a means of letting off some steam, investors are worried that the 'socialist' Greek Prime Minister will not be able to enforce the European Union-ordered austerity measures, and bring the state's debt down to a manageable level.
The global economic crisis is about to enter a dramatic second phase. After the first, governments around the world bailed out the banking sector, allowing enormous bonuses to be paid, and the build-up of a second stock market bubble. Sooner or later this will burst, but in the meantime governments must attack social spending and raise taxes, in order to pay off their debts. Greece has already seen massive uprisings by young people in the last couple of years, and authorities must now confront the whole of the working class.
Similar struggles are building up in the other most heavily indebted countries, and analysts have come up with the acronym PIIGS to bracket Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain together. The future of the euro currency is hanging in the balance, while large economies outside the eurozone - namely the United States of America and the United Kingdom - have also thrown colossal amounts at their financial sector. The tottering house of cards is about to tumble, and even more graphically illustrate the bloody class conflict at the heart of capitalist society.