General strikes in Belgium

Depiction of striking Belgian workers in 1893 by the painter Eugène Laermans

Since 1893, there have been a number of general strikes in Belgium. Occasioned by the emergence of the labour movement and socialism in Belgium, general strikes have been an enduring part of Belgian political life. Originally intended to encourage the reform of the franchise, more recent strikes have focused on issues of wages and opposition to government austerity. Since 1945, general strikes have been co-ordinated by the General Federation of Belgian Labour (ABVV-FGTB), a federation of Socialist trade unions, while most before World War II were organised by the parliamentary Belgian Labour Party (POB-BWP).

According to Carl J. Strikwerda, the Belgian general strike of 1893 was the first general strike in the European history.[1]


In 1866, the Belgian government revoked the articles of the Le Chapelier Law which had outlawed trade unions.[2] The first strikes followed soon after. A mining strike occurred in 1868 and textile workers went on strike during the economic depression of the 1870s.[2] In 1885, the Belgian Labour Party, the country's first socialist parliamentary party, was formed.[2] Despite the rapid growth of the labour movement, during the nineteenth century Belgian workers were known internationally for their low pay and poor working conditions.[3]

The first major strike in Belgian history was the Belgian strike of 1886 which, though unorganised, led to the first legislation regarding working conditions.[4]


Year Date Title Cause Number of strikers Description
1893 12–18 April Belgian general strike of 1893 Franchise reform 200,000 Successfully led to the establishment of universal male suffrage with plural votes.[3] Thirteen strikers were killed and socialist leaders were briefly arrested.[5]
1902 10–20 April Belgian general strike of 1902 Franchise reform and an end to plural vote 350,000 Failed to achieve the abolition of the plural vote as Catholics and Liberals united to oppose constitutional reform. The Belgian Workers' Party had been reluctant to support the strike and it soon descended into violence in Brussels and parts of Wallonia. 12 workers and one policeman were killed. Union membership dropped sharply in its aftermath.[5]
1913 14–24 April Belgian general strike of 1913 Franchise reform 400,000 Carefully planned to avoid the same problems as 1902, the strike gained the promise of electoral reform but its proposals were postponed by the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent German occupation. The policy was finally adopted in 1919.[3][6]
1932 7 July–September Belgian strikes of 1932 Pay, working hours and unemployment insurance Began after a spontaneous strike by coal miners in the Borinage and involved Communist agitation following a severe decrease in living standards and real wages during the Great Depression. Two people were killed during the strike.[7]
1936 2 June-2 July Belgian general strike of 1936 Working hours, paid holiday, union reforms 500,000 Broke out at the port of Antwerp and led to the creation of a National Labour Conference.[7] Although influenced by the French Popular Front and held against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, it was also supported by Catholic trade unions.[8]
1950 24 July-3 August Belgian general strike of 1950 The Royal Question 700,000 Chiefly active in Wallonia, the strike contributed to the abdication of King Leopold III on 1 August 1950. At least four strikers were killed.
1960-61 20 December-23 January Belgian general strike of 1960-61 Austerity 700,000 Strike over the winter of 1960-61 which failed to defeat the government's austerity programme known as the Eenheidswet or Loi Unique. Its failure to attract support in Flanders, combined with the industrial decline of Wallonia, contributed to the growing language divide in Belgium.[9]
1982 February, November, December Belgian national strikes of 1982 Austerity, union reform, devaluation of the Belgian franc Three 24-hour strikes against the backdrop of the early 1980s recession
1983 9–12 September Belgian national strike of 1983 Cuts to public services A general strike of public sector workers against the backdrop of the early 1980s recession.[10]
1993 26 November Belgian general strike of 1993 Wage indexing reform An unsuccessful strike against the Global Plan (plan global) of Jean-Luc Dehaene's government amid the early 1990s recession and the 1992 approval of the Maastricht Treaty.[11]
2005 7 and 28 October Belgian general strikes of 2005 Raising the retirement age Unsuccessful strike against the plans of Guy Verhofstadt's government to raise the retirement age from 58 to 60.[12]
2012 30 January Belgian general strike of 2012 Austerity
2014 15 December Belgian general strike of 2014 Austerity 120,000+ Unsuccessful opposition to the austerity of the Charles Michel government in the context of the Great Recession and European debt crisis.[13][14]

See also


  1. Strikwerda 1997, p. 109.
  2. 1 2 3 Cook 2004, p. 87.
  3. 1 2 3 Cook 2004, p. 88.
  4. Cook 2004, pp. 87-8.
  5. 1 2 Strikwerda 1997, p. 144.
  6. Witte, Craeybeckx & Meynen 2009, p. 108.
  7. 1 2 Witte, Craeybeckx & Meynen 2009, p. 186.
  8. Witte, Craeybeckx & Meynen 2009, p. 197.
  9. Cook 2004, p. 139.
  10. Witte, Craeybeckx & Meynen 2009, p. 306.
  11. Coenen 2004, p. 317.
  12. "Belgium hit by second mass strike". BBC. 28 October 2005. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  13. "Strikes across Belgium cause transport chaos". BBC. 15 December 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  14. Robinson, Duncan (15 December 2014). "Belgium hit by general strike". The Financial Times. Retrieved 31 December 2015.


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