Above Photo: Justice Committee of the Chamber of the Belgian Parliament in session. PTB-PVDA.
The Belgian government is proposing a parliamentary bill that seeks to ban ‘rioters’ from taking part in protests.
Trade unions and leftist parties such as the Workers’ Party of Belgium say that the bill could be used to target their members and other activists by branding them as rioters.
A controversial bill proposed by Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne calling to ban ‘rioters’ from participating in protests has drawn widespread criticism. Working class sections and rights groups claim that provisions of the bill can be misused to brand trade unionists and activists as rioters and curtail their freedom to participate in protest and strikes. Earlier this week, due to fierce opposition from legislators of the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA) in the Justice Committee of the Chamber of the Belgian Parliament, Quickenborne backed down from asking for an immediate vote on the bill. General Labor Federation of Belgium (FGTB-ABVV) leader Thierry Bodson also slammed the bill which could impose a “ban” on participants in any collective action.
Quickenborne, from the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open Vld), mooted the bill for “a more humane, a swifter and a firmer justice” which contains provisions to ban—from three to six years—“rioters” from protests. Critics of the bill point out that the government and security forces can misuse these provisions to target trade unionists and activists. The High Council of Justice and the Federal Institute of Human Rights have also expressed their concerns over the bill.
Belgian workers have been intensifying mobilizations demanding wages at par with inflation to cope with the ongoing cost of living crisis. Currently, a major workers’ protest is underway in retail stores and supermarkets of the Delhaize group against the company’s anti-worker and anti-union policies. Trade unions have called for a major mobilization in Brussels on May 22 in solidarity with Delhaize workers.
Several trade unionists in Belgium have faced criminal proceedings for organizing pickets and strikes. To counter the trade union protests demanding fair wages, the conservative government in the UK has also resorted to anti-worker legislation targeting the right to strike.
On May 16, PTB MP Nabil Boukili said, “the working class achieved its victories like the eight-hour day, the ban on child labor, and the right to vote for the working class. Having attacked our social conquests, the government attacks our democratic rights to suppress social protest. This law must not pass!”
“This Tuesday in the Justice Committee of the Chamber, when faced with opposition, the Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) gave up asking for the immediate vote on his bill. An important first victory for the workers and trade unions and we must now follow this logic to the end and delete these articles completely,” Boukili added.