The Belgian D19-20 Alliance: points of analysis

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On the 19th of December nearly 4,000 people assembled in the European Quarter of Brussels to denounce austerity policies and free trade agreements (particularly TTIP). This was the third large-scale action of the Belgian D19-20 Alliance since it was officially founded on 19th December 2013.

By Sebastian Franco (Alter Summit & Alliance D19-20), February 2015

This action and the previous actions by the D19-20 Alliance are interesting in terms of the renewal of social movements working at European level. This article will show three key characteristics: the transnational aspect of the mobilisation, the convergence of different actors and the type of action.

1) The action of the 19th of December have had a real impact at European level

One of the major issues for social movements in Europe is how to influence policies coming from a European or global level. An increasing number of decisions are indeed now made at this level, while the political influence of social movements and their points of action are still mainly found at the national and local levels.

The actions of the D19-20 Alliance handle this difficulty through the choice of demands (no to the austerity imposed by the European Union and the free trade treaties like TTIP/TAFTA), the targets of the actions (the European Council, the meeting of the 28 EU heads of state or the European lobbies), working on the basis of an increasing amount of common ground: we are all in the same boat, and we all know the framework of austerity that the European Union and big finance are trying to impose on us.

Returning to the action of 19th December, one reason for its international impact was media interest. However the symbolism of the action (surrounding the European summit with tractors blocking the crossroads in the European quarter) and the increasingly current topic of TTIP/TAFTA are not new there.

More interestingly, there was a high level of foreign delegations (10% of demonstrators) who had come to Brussels to protest, particularly from neighbouring countries. This indicates that in future there could be larger transnational demonstrations in adjacent areas (in Brussels, the north of France, the west of Germany, the Netherlands etc.). The next stage will therefore be the international mobilisation of Blockupy around the inauguration of the new European Central Bank on the 18th of March in Frankfurt.

2) The action has brought together several sectors of society

One of the great successes of the D19-20 Alliance is its capacity to bring together different sectors during its actions. Joint mobilisation of all these sectors reinforces the legitimacy of the claims made and enables the Alliance to be seen as representative of society as a whole. Overview:

Farmers: The D19-20 Alliance was founded on their initiative. Their presence at actions is important politically (it is difficult to say "it is always the same left-wingers who demonstrate") and also in terms of the impact that the action has (for example 30 tractors allow effective blockades, and the sight and sound of the vehicles make an impressive impact).

Trade unions : powerful in Belgium, they are essential for social mobilisation in the country. The Alliance has currently managed to mobilise certain sectors/federations of two large national confederations. Despite significant work over recent months to increase unity, the action did not mobilise unions as much as expected. There are various reasons for this: union organisations had a historic plan of action against the Belgian government, European/international subjects seem far removed from the concerns of trade unionists as do the types of action proposed by the Alliance that break with certain "habits".

Associations /NGOs This sector is also very important and active in Belgium. It carries out very important work in the area of popular education. This sector is really able to mobilise people, both among members of the public with whom the associations work and among workers in the sector.

Non-organised citizens / activists: The Alliance has made significant progress in this area and it is still achieving quite large-scale mobilisation of active citizens. There is a real demand for mobilisation of different sectors of society: young people, those in precarious situations etc.

In addition to these sectors there are political parties, which cannot be members of the Alliance, but which support its actions.

3) The actions it proposes are varied and radical

Since it was founded, the D19-20 Alliance has opted for quite radical actions. Instead of traditional marches, a consensus has grown up around some elements that have not yet been easy to raise jointly among the different members of the Alliance. The practice and experience accumulated during actions make it possible to muster this consensus as and when required for actions:

Non-violent civil disobedience
The actions target the people responsible for the policies that have been implemented. The aim of the actions is to stop or disrupt their organisational structures using a non-violent but firm approach.

Different levels of risk
In order to mobilise as many sectors as possible, the actions should allow everyone to participate in accordance with their wishes, their habits and the risks that they want to take.

The Alliance will therefore attempt to use a sufficiently general framework to allow different types of action: from mass marches to strike picketing and occupation - all these actions can be included.

A mass mobilisation
The Alliance wants broad sectors to join its actions. If only minority sectors are involved, the mobilisations are exposed to strong repression. Broad participation also increases the legitimacy of the actions.

This consensus is in the process of being built. It is indeed difficult to find a balance between actors from such different "traditions". However with experience and confidence it is possible to make progress.

Conclusion

The social movement as a whole faces enormous challenges over the coming years. It must organise to be able to deal with global issues. To garner victories it must become a mass movement that is truly transnational and allow for a full range of types of organisation and actions. The mobilisations of the D19-20 Alliance are therefore a laboratory of political practice.