Determination, Solidarity and Internationaalism

IDWF Calendar 2022


Determination, Solidarity, and Internationalism:
The Centrale Générale FGTB (ACCG) fights for workers in Belgium and Beyond

We start our year with the photo featured for the month of January: it was the winning submission from General Union FGTB in Belgium, and was taken on November 28, 2019, during a strike. It was part of a series of action to demand better wages in the service voucher sector, which is a sectoral agreement that encourages demand in the sector by providing subsidized costs. We met with Yasmine Sanpo, secretary of the Europe and International Cell at FGTB to learn more about her journey and the work of the union.

Yasmine Sanpo always knew she has an affinity to social movements and union work, the place that enables her to live through her values. Her father was a former laborer, who has taken her with him since her young age to protests and actions. When she joined the General Union in Belgium, FGTB, in 2003, it was such a commonsensical turn of events in her life, where things naturally fell into place: The general union defends the rights of workers in over 40 sectors, domestic workers included. This mission was in line with Yasmine’s values. She now works as the intermediary with the European Federation and its global equivalent.

FGTB has been affiliated with International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) for a year now and is hoping to make multiple sectoral links to raise awareness of its own members of the situation their colleagues are facing in the Global South. In Belgium, the situation is quite unique and incomparable to other countries for informal work, as the country has a service voucher system implemented to declare labor happening in the service sector, including domestic workers. However, this does not mean that workers in Europe live struggle-free lives. Despite being employed in Belgium, having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as more often than not, the minimum wage is insufficient to make a decent income for the person and the household.  

The strike to increase the workers wages was thus a very important step in a series of actions. Employers paid meagre amounts of money for these services and were not cooperative in the beginning. Eventually, the unions were able to reach an agreement including an increase in wages, after multiple strikes, lobbying and advocacy efforts. The importance of such effort is still validated on the daily, as we reaffirm the urgent necessity to increase wages for low-paid workers. “It is important for us that domestic work is recognized and does not happen in the dark, so the workers are not isolated,” explains Sanpo. “They are now represented within the union which grants them a different power-relation to employers.”

A social agreement was finally concluded for the 140,000 workers in the service voucher sector after more than a year of negotiations. “This agreement is above all a symbol for workers in the sector who fought with great determination and succeeded in raising public awareness on working and salary conditions which commands respect.” One year of union action in the sector of services has elapsed, and the struggle continues.

Working towards decent work and social protection is not a solitary endeavor. The fight is happening on multiple fronts: countering the interests of neoliberalism, withstanding the opposing interests of multinational corporations and powerful international elites, and remedying the unequal access to health and services, etc. All of this requires unions to adopt an internationalist approach and to bind together in solidarity: “Our union, General Union FGTB, is part and parcel of the militance towards social justice, redistribution of wealth and well-developed social security. These are the basic principles we defend,” Sanpo declares. International solidarity also finds its place. “The globalized world leaves us no choice but international solidarity, where unions can collectively create a future where decent work is a reality.” This is the common thread among all the international solidarity projects that the General Union conducts, which are now particularly important with the impacts of the pandemic on millions of workers. The General Union FGTB conducted a campaign to denounce the working conditions of domestic workers as well as the absence of their recognition by collecting a series of testimonies. It found intolerable working conditions, increased loads of work, insufficient protective frameworks, lack of political recognition, and lack of employers provision of personal protective equipment amongst other needs.

The pandemic is not limited in its geographic scope, it is not confined within borders, rather it is global, and so should be the fight against it. General Union FGTB sees itself as an actor for change. With a lot of humility, Sanpo explains that “in the fight against the virus, we are only the small link in the chain. Pinpointing the disruptions of medical supply chains, food, and other essentials that was exacerbated by the public health crisis, the union works towards a transformative recovery, one where social, ecological, and economic justice is at the center of change.

At the union, workers and leaders envision a future of prosperity for all, one where international solidarity is based on equality and collaboration, where democracy is real and not ceremonial, and where social protection is universal. There are ways in which this vision can be achieved, given the political will: these are solutions that are modeled according to the voices of the workers themselves. A progressive taxation system, a universal and fair minimum wage developed in collective consultation, a universal social protection fund, and a work-environment and world free of sexism, racism, and xenophobia are all pieces to the puzzle. With international solidarity, progressive voices unite towards a good that is common not to the 1% elites of our respective countries, but a good in which people, economies, and environments can thrive collectively.

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