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World

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Belgique: Nouvelle catastrophe sociale

by Françoise Germain-Robin

Belgium : A New Social Disaster Ahead

Translated Monday 1 March 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

One month ago the US group General Motors announced the closing down of its Opel plant in Antwerp and the loss of 2,600 jobs. Last Tuesday, it was the turn of the French group Carrefour to plunge Belgium into dismay: 21 stores – 14 supermarkets and 7 hypermarkets - are due to close down by next June. 1,762 jobs will be slashed, and 270 more will be lost with the closing down of the Termat warehouse, which serves the group’s 117 stores. As if that was not enough, Carrefour’s Belgian boss announced in the same breath that social benefits for workers who stayed would be cut down...

Which means shorter holidays and pauses, lower bonuses… An icy cold shower at the end of winter.

This is a stunning blow for workers, who are torn between grief, rage and anger, even if they had sensed some bad news looming ahead, since the graft of the group on the Belgian distribution network ten years ago never took well. They reacted by wildcat strikes last Tuesday, but yesterday the Belgian Unions’ front (which includes Socialist, Liberal, and Christian confederations) called a general strike for next Saturday. They denounce management’s blackmail about jobs in order to impose an unprecedented social regression.

“Employees are enjoined to accept wage cuts and harder working conditions otherwise 5,000 jobs will be slashed!,” the Belgian Labour Federation leader Anne Demelenne (FGTB) indignantly protested. She denounces “a disastrous industrial policy, “that encouraged the financialization of the economy” and demands that "subsidies should be given on condition that no jobs are cut.” “Carrefour,” she says, "is said to have received 130 million euros in 2008 to concentrate its financial activities in Belgium.”

Negotiations are due to start on March 3rd. But the CDH (Humanist Democratic Centre) labour minister André Antoine expects further job cuts as Carrefour has shown every intention of letting go 20 more stores and considers deserting the country altogether.


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