A series of austerity measures sparked a nationwide strike in Belgium on Monday, bringing transportation services to a halt and forcing the closures of some businesses.
Hundreds of flights, trains, trams and buses were canceled, ports were blockaded and hundreds of factories were closed in the action called for by the country’s three main unions.
“There’s never been a strike this strong,” said Marie-Helene Ska, the head of the Christian CSC union.
Monday’s action, described as the largest in years, is the culmination of a series of actions against austerity plans by the two-month old federal government of center-right Prime Minister Charles Michel.
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Michel’s coalition, Agence France-Presse reports, “intends to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2030, scrap plans for a usually automatic cost-of-living raise next year and introduce public sector cutbacks.” The Associated Press adds that the strike is to “protest the lack of additional capital gains taxes.”
The action comes just days after a general strike to protest austerity swept Italy.
Bleri Lleshi, a political philosopher and documentary filmmaker living in Belgium, writes at the EUObserver that “austerity works, but only for the rich,” adding that failures of such policies are seen all over Europe. He continues: “The widespread protests, the public support for tax on capital and the solidarity among unions, civil society, students and citizens show that Belgium is refusing to follow the failed example of austerity and is setting an example of resistance for the rest of Europe.”