Socialist Alternative

International Solidarity with Belgian Health Workers’ Demonstration

Published on

ISA in Belgium, On behalf of ISA

ISA is making a special appeal to all those working in the health care and social care sector to show solidarity with the first major demonstration of health workers in Belgium, organised by the health workers’ collective Santé en Lutte — Health in Struggle — and supported by organisations such as Campagne ROSA — Rosa in Belgium.

This collective grew out of the actions at hospitals in both the public and non-profit sectors in the spring of 2019. Spearheaded by the most militant sector, the socialist public sector workers, Santé en Lutte is a collective that brings together shop stewards from different parts of the health sector including hospitals, residential homes, but also home care professionals as well as public and private sector, Socialist and Christian democratic trade unions, non-organised workers and patients and also Campagne ROSA.

Santé en Lutte is mobilising workers to fight for a whole list of demands, on contracts, wages and working conditions, but also for better quality services for all that can only be met by stopping the increasing privatisation of health care and through a massive increase in public funding. The damage that privatisation has inflicted on health care was shown most graphically by the number of deaths due to Covid-19 in the elderly care home sector.

Santé en Lutte has already created pressure from the rank and file that has pushed the trade union leadership into action and most trade unions have had to find ways to support the 13 September demonstration, although their mobilisation efforts are very weak. The Mayor of Brussels from the Parti Socialiste initially banned the demonstration, but after the publication in a main French speaking newspaper of an open letter from Santé en Lutte signed by 600 health workers, he had to make a U-turn and has allowed the protest, although as a static protest, in groups of 400 people, due to Covid-19 restrictions. The 600 signatures were achieved within 48 hours and the number has now grown to over 1,000.

The actions of Santé en Lutte since the lockdown have given voice to the anger felt among health workers. In May health workers made international news headlines when they turned their backs during the visit of the Belgian prime minister to a Brussels hospital. This action forced the government to retreat on the attack they had launched via two royal decrees that would have worsened working conditions even more.

The growing support for the 13 September demonstration has pressurised the government to promise an extra €1 billion in funding for health. €2.3 billion was cut from health funding in the last five years. The trade union leaders were happy to settle for the extra €1 billion but are now being pushed to fight for more.

Santé en Lutte is requesting international messages of solidarity from health workers or social care workers, either as individuals or preferably group pictures holding their poster (English version attached) — with the addition of who the solidarity action is from. They are also requesting solidarity messages to be sent from trade unions, union branches, elected officials and others to be sent to [email protected] with a copy to [email protected] .

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