Brussels: Imagine for a moment… Reflections on two recent strikes
From Bordered by Silence
Translated from L’Imprévu, #1, Dec 2016 
Imagine for a moment… You’ve been wearing yourself out over years of work in a steel mill, eight hours a day doing something that doesn’t interest you, just sweating in the noise and heat, between the grey walls of the factory, until you’re physically and mentally depleted. And all that for… Really, why? To fill the pockets of shareholders, the same people who would throw you back out on the street at a moment’s notice if things stopped being sufficiently “profitable”. Bad enough in itself, of course, if not a downright tragic, humiliating, revolting scandal.
This kind of thing is the daily reality of a unbelievable number of people throughout the world (worse still, it’s the normal course of things) and among them, the workers in the ESB steelmill in Seraing who, to top it off, were denied their last two months salary — the miserly pay that you depend on to live and that makes you accept the daily torment of work.
In April, some workers were quite reasonably sick of the management’s bullshit and decided to turn their anger into action. Some members of management found themselves forced to work a bit of overtime, and one of them got a serious talking to. The police intervened to save the poor suits. A few hours later, a night team, though quickly assembled, decided to take action. Not to produce merchandise and further enrich the boss, but rather by finally doing a something useful in the factory: a large part of the work space (notably the offices) were ably destroyed using a forklift, which also caught fire shortly after. As well, several cars belonging to the bosses suffered broken headlights. Destroy what destroy us, that’s what it’s about; and that’s precisely our point.
The next day, a union rep appeared on scene to show off his nervous face for the cameras and to condemn these joyful acts of human dignity. Well of course, a union rep is, in a way, there to protect the factory: even when he seems nice, he’s still a cop. When the decisive moment arrives, it’s clear to see which side he’s on. The unions were much more excited about the prison guards strike in Brussels and Wallonia that lasted several weeks . Unlike the prisoners.
Imagine for a moment… Locked up inside the bare walls of a prison, deprived of freedom and at the mercy of fickle and unscrupulous people who make their living locking others in concrete cages. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they go on strike as well. Not because they’re sick of slamming the cell doors day after day, but because they want a better salary and more colleagues to help them in their grim task.
The unions and leftists supported the strike, but there is a fundamental difference between these two methods of putting pressure on the boss: there are the strikers who block or destroy the machines, and thus the production of merchandise, and those who put the lives of prisoners at risk. Because when the screws go on strike, the prisoners don’t get showers, visits, or yard time . Everyone spends the whole day locked in their cell, with the intolerable consequences that follow. In many places, the prisoners didn’t just suffer through the strike without doing anything and some unrest broke out. In the Tournai, Arlon, Huy, Landtin, and Andenne prisons, the prisoners responded by burning their cells, flooding the units, trashing the hallways, etc. Saturday May 7, a devastating mutiny rocked the Merkplas prison in Anvers. Whole wings were destroyed and burnt by the insurgent prisoners. Walls were leveled, fences torn down, whole units ransacked. Between striking guards and prisoners in revolt, it’s clear which side we’re on.
In these times, when the atrocities of this world are more obvious with each passing day, where we ask ourselves how many humiliations the oppressed will have to take before waking up, events like those in Seraing and in the prisons teach us a thing or two things: they may well put our backs against the wall, but there is always a way to recover our dignity. That’s why we can’t let the unions be our compass, but should rather be guided by our own strength, courage, inventiveness, and rage.
1] As far as I know, this French-language broadsheet, produced by anarchist in Brussels, does not have a web presence. Theiy direct the curious to Acrata Infoshop and offer the email address imprevu at riseup dot net
2] This strike started at the end of April 2016 and lasted over a month, before the state agreed to grant a pay raise and hire almost five hundred more screws and creating 1400 new spaces of prisoners
3] Or, often, regular medications, access to medical care, appropriate food, fresh clothes…