Protesters belonging to the socialist trades union (ABVV) assembled in four places early this morning: the Brussels North and South Stations, the Meiser roundabout in Schaarbeek and the Montgomery roundabout in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe.
Around 8.30 a.m., demonstrators headed for the Wetstraat in the centre of Brussels. Along the way, they passed a number of "symbolic locations" like the building of the National Bank and the headquarters of energy supplier Electrabel. Their anger and frustration is partly triggered by companies like Electrabel, which is making enormous profits.
The Christian trades union ACV held a demonstration at the foot of the Atomium, while the liberal trades union planned strike action in a number of companies. The ACV welcomed some 5,000 people at the Heizel site.
The protests came ahead of a European meeting where leaders will discuss a European competitiveness pact, a review of wage indexation and more flexible labour markets.
Protesters clash with police in Wetstraat area
According to the estimations made by the police, 12 to 15,000 people took part in the demonstrations. The socialist trades unions that organised the demonstrations, claims there were 20,000 people.
The march was peaceful at first, but when some demonstrators wanted to return from the Wetstraat around noon, there were clashes with the police. Some 30 demonstrators tried to break through barriers and threw rocks at the police. Security forces responded with pepper spray and the water cannon.
The area around the Justus Lipsius building where European leaders were due to arrive in the late afternoon, was not affected by the clashes.
The expected traffic chaos in and around Brussels was avoided this morning. Apparently, many commuters had taken their precautions. The Belgian rail company NMBS welcomed significantly more passengers this morning.
"What is on the table now, is dangerous"
Trades unions target Europe's socio-economic policies. They fear cuts in the area of social security and public services.
Moreover, they are afraid that the automatic wage indexation could be scrapped, while the retirement age could be raised. Luc Cortebeeck of the ACV says that "we are seeing a Europe that triggers social inequality." He claims that Europe will crash "as the people will no longer follow policy makers."
"What we have on the table now, is very dangerous. The plans are to connect wage increases to productivity. This is already having a negative impact on workers in Poland, Romania and Hungary, and will also have serious consequences for Belgium."
The message sent out by demonstrators belonging to the ABVV was loud and clear: workers and employees also want their share of the profits. The companies are taking too much now. "The multinationals like Electrabel and Suez are taking all the money", one man said. "Not only the banks should make profits, also the normal people like you and me", another said.