What do liberals and socialists disagree on?

Failed collective bargaining: Clash between socialists and liberals

Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne (Archive photo: Laurie Dieffembacq / Belga)

May 1st is approaching. This is not just Labor Day, a high mass, so to speak, especially for the socialist and Marxist parties. May 1st was also the deadline for negotiations on a framework collective agreement. However, the unions "pulled the plug" on Tuesday and saw no prospect of an agreement.

The crux of the matter: the so-called wage norm, which is anchored in law. Roughly speaking, this wage norm is based on the development of wages and salaries in neighboring countries. The aim is to ensure that salaries in Belgium do not rise faster than those of the competition in order to protect the competitiveness of Belgian companies.

For the current collective bargaining round, this wage norm was set at 0.4 percent, plus the index, mind you, because, unlike in most other countries, the development of wages in Belgium is linked to the cost of living.
0.4 percent was not enough for the unions. Nor was it possible to agree on a bonus system that would still have made it possible to increase purchasing power in some sectors. And that's why the unions saw no reason to negotiate any further.

Now the government has to intervene - in other words, determine what the social partners could not agree on. And the chairman of the Flemish Liberals, Egbert Lachaert, had already made an announcement on Wednesday: "Then it will stay at 0.4 percent, period," said Lachaert in the VRT. And there is essentially consensus on this even within the so-called core cabinet, said Lachaert.

“Aha?” One seems to have thought among the socialists. "Unity? Well, for us the 0.4 percent was always a minimum, ”said Conner Rousseau, the chairman of the Flemish Socialists Vooruit in the VRT. And that is what his party said to everyone involved from the start.

"Wherever profits have been posted, these profits have to be shared honestly," says Rousseau. And he refers to Deborah, who works as a cashier in a supermarket in Nieuwpoort. “I can't explain to Deborah that her company made a profit, that the shareholders are collecting dividends, but that there is no raise for her. That's unfair! ”Said Rousseau. And he won't sell that to Deborah and her colleagues.

Then Rousseau becomes clear: "If wage increases are not possible for these people, well, then we say that no dividends can be paid out either." Of course, this is only about the companies that have come through the crisis well.

In any case, the Flemish socialists get help from their big Francophone sister. The PS Labor Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne had so far distinguished himself through demonstrative prudence, had really tried to be the neutral mediator in this conflict between employers and unions. But now he too went on the offensive.

The socialist family is unanimous, said Dermagne in the RTBF. “If we believe employers, then there is no scope for wage increases - so nothing for the people who kept the economy going during the crisis. Well, then you also have to remain coherent: Then there are no margins for the payment of dividends or bonuses for the bosses. It is a question of justice. ”In fact, the law regulating the development of salaries would certainly allow such measures.

Naturally, the Liberals react extremely coldly to such advances. According to VRT, the socialist demands were castigated as "unrealistic and populist".

What will be back to May 1st. Because the socialists naturally feel the hot breath of the Marxist PTB on their necks. One might explain the other. But if that wasn't theatrical thunder, then the Vivaldi coalition may face its first ideological trench war.

Roger Pint