A hundred thousand trade unionists stake a claim to a Europe for people not profit
By Matt Cooper and Nick Holden
Brussels on Thursday , December 13th, saw possibly the largest ever demonstration of trade union strength across Europe. Well over 100,000 people took five hours (on a working day) to march through the capital of the 'Europe of Profit' under the slogan, "Europe: it's us!"
Huge contingents from the union federations of France, Germany and Belgium were joined by sizeable numbers from almost every other country in Europe - Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. Even Poland's Solidarnosc had two banners and several dozen demonstrators. The smallest contingent was from Britain - a reflection of how isolated the TUC is from the increasing life in the unions of the rest of Europe. Decades of 'left' little-Englandism in the UK labour movement is partly to blame, but neither the TUC leadership nor the left could summon up much enthusiasm for coming to Brussels.
Tucked in among thouands of red, green, blue and orange-clad workers from across Europe were a couple of dozen TUC bureaucrats with only a handful of white flags between them, and a slightly larger left contingent, comprised mostly of the SWP - although those who brought union branch banners with them were having trouble finding people to help carry them.
Significant, perhaps, was the complete absence of any party or political banners - the working class of Europe may be rising off its knees; but it remains deprived of any form of political representation, just as it does in Britain.
More surprising, the European left was also largely absent. Possibly they believed they were keeping their powder dry for the 'anti-capitalist, anti-war' demo on Friday, but that is likely to prove to have been a mistake. Firstly, Friday's demonstration will be dwarfed, in both size and significance, by Thursday's. And secondly, the real progress at Genoa was the heightened sense of unity between union members and anti-capitalists, and the latter's small numbers on Thursday's march has not helped in developing that unity. We don't know yet, of course, how many trade unionists will stay in Brussels for the demonstration on Friday, but much of the potential for the left to intervene into the activities of the European organised working class has already been missed.
One big demonstration doesn't make a labour movement, of course, and the European Trade Union Confederation that organised this magnificent "manifestation" is the same layer of bureaucrats who failed to organise sufficient Europe-wide solidarity action to save the Vauxhall workers at Luton, or to defend their members in public services throughout Europe,who are all facing similar assaults from the private sector.
Trade Unionists leaving Brussels tonight should reflect on the possibilities that their demonstration represented. If the thousands upon thousands of union members who marched were now building a militant and confrontational European workers' movement then, truly, another Europe would be possible. But the lesson has to be that we cannot leave that task in the hands of the bureaucrats - whether in Lonodn or Brussels: we need a Europe-wide rank and file campaign for unions to fightback!