"Our country needs, more than ever, a left-wing voice, a social alternative"

Raoul Hedebouw

May Day speech by Raoul Hedebouw, President of the PVDA-PTB

Dear comrades,


Every year May 1st is a special day for us as the Workers' Party. But this year, May 1st is even more special. Because in less than six weeks, of course, elections will be held.


More than ever, our country needs a left-wing voice, a left-wing policy. A policy with a human dimension at the service of people. But we must also dare to talk about the substance, about what a left-wing policy is and how to apply it.


Some keep repeating that the PVDA-PTB prefers to stay on the sidelines and not propose any concrete solutions, that a vote for the PVDA-PTB would be a "lost vote". It's all nonsense.


The PVDA-PTB puts forward concrete solutions and we have a real impact. Take, for example, the reduction of VAT on energy to 6%, the increase in the minimum pension or the special Fund for care personnel. Who fought with the unions to impose these measures, and who won? Who ordered the elimination of pension supplements for politicians? These are examples of concrete solutions that the PVDA-PTB has put on the table, and for which we have won victories. Not to mention our proposals to tax millionaires, increase salaries or abolish MPs' severance pay. How can you say that these are not concrete solutions?


As we can see today, the PVDA-PTB is pulling the debate to the left. Take the millionaires' tax. For ten years, we've gone it alone, asking people to look for the money where it is. At the start of the campaign, all the other parties were still opposed to a millionaires' tax. But we can see that the lines are moving. Today, the Socialists and the Greens each have their own proposal for a millionaires' tax. Of course, these are watered-down proposals, as you'd expect. And if the election promises are anything to go by, even the Liberals agree that the very rich should pay more tax (laughs). Who'd have thought it?


This is no coincidence, dear friends. This is PVDA-PTB pressure in action. No one can deny that the PVDA-PTB has more influence than ever in the debate and is winning concrete victories.



Build a left-wing alternative


Does Vooruit (Flemish Socialist Party) prefer to govern with the N-VA (right-wing Flemish nationalist party) or with the PVDA-PTB? That's the question a journalist put to Melissa Depraetere (president of Vooruit) yesterday. And what was her response? “Rather with the N-VA.” And she gives this answer in her interview on May 1st, Labour Day!


The reality is that today Vooruit has to make a choice: either a left-wing alliance with the PVDA-PTB, or its alliance with the N-VA. We're still reaching out to them. Either we work together to get a real tax on millionaires, higher wages and a return of the pension age to 65. Either Vooruit and the N-VA further block our wages and save billions on our healthcare and social security.


Because frankly: who really believes that the N-VA will deliver tax justice? Today, the sad truth is that if you vote for Vooruit, you get the N-VA for free too. The N-VA, the party proposing a completely anti-social austerity program. This party wants to save 4 billion euros on healthcare, which is a central point of their program. This is the party of skipping the wage indexation and attacking our pensions. The party that rolls over for the ultra-rich and blocks any form of tax justice. We have seen in Antwerp what the alliance between the N-VA and Vooruit actually means, and the result is far from positive for the left.


But there's another way. We can build a left-wing alternative. And for that, we need the PVDA-PTB. We're already proving in Zelzate and Borgerhout - where we govern with Vooruit - that we can work well together. That it's possible to do things differently.



We can force change


The vote for the PVDA-PTB is the strategic vote for the left on June 9. A vote for the PVDA-PTB is a vote for a left-wing force that puts pressure on and gets things moving. A vote for the PVDA-PTB is a vote for a left-wing bloc that makes tax justice and purchasing power the breaking points.


We need to be as strong as possible so that our voice is even louder and others can't ignore us. That's what's at stake on June 9. We feel it on the ground, in the neighbourhoods, in the companies, and we see it in the polls: our party has the wind in its sails throughout the country.


Some political scientists have already noticed: the PVDA-PTB also achieves excellent results among young people. In the major survey of young people carried out by Het Laatste Nieuws, our MP Jos D'haese was even voted the most popular politician! With young people, workers and all those who want a different policy, we can force change.


Why are we fighting for tax justice and a tax on millionaires? Because we don't want children going to school with an empty lunch box. Because we don't want families to be unable to pay their energy bills. Because we don't want pensioners to miss out on the care they need because they're afraid they won't be able to afford it. Because we don't want people waiting for their bus in the cold because their stop has been abolished.


No, comrades, we can't be satisfied with empty promises. It's time for the super-rich to pay their fair share. It's time to dare to look for the money where it is, rather than in of the pockets of working people! Tax The Rich!



Tax The Rich!


Oxfam today published a study showing that some major Belgian companies pay almost no tax in our country. They scrutinized the taxes of the 45 largest companies operating in Belgium over the period 2017-2022. And what did they find? Half of these companies have an effective tax rate on profits of less than 15%. According to Oxfam, 15 of these large companies pay less than 5% tax. What self-employed person or SME can say the same? The citizens of this country pay a lot of taxes, but big business receives a whole series of favours. That's not normal, is it?


"Tax justice" are words on everyone's lips. But those who REALLY want tax justice should join the PVDA-PTB. Because the government parties, like the Greens and Social Democrats, shout from the rooftops that they want to tax the super-rich, but the reality is that after 5 years in government, there have been no measures to make taxation fairer. Today, our country is still a tax hell for workers and a tax haven for the ultra-rich and multinationals. We don't accept it. It's time to eliminate tax loopholes for multinationals.


One of the main tax loophole in Belgium is the following: large corporations and multinationals buy shares en masse, sell them at astronomical profits, and pay 0.0% tax on these profits. Nothing at all. An Engie subsidiary: 1 billion euros profit on the sale of shares, 0 euros tax on it. Ackermans & Van Haaren: 340 million euros profit, 0 euros tax. And the list goes on.


These multinationals take full advantage of the tax loophole that exists in our country. But it's not like that everywhere. We went to see how things are done in Canada, where fair taxes exist on these share sales. And inspired by this, we developed a realistic proposal, with a tax on the sale of shares, at two-thirds of the normal corporate tax rate. A reasonable and realistic contribution. And we've calculated it: our Canada tax would bring in some 2 billion euros a year. Money that could be put to good use for the community.



The wage freeze is unacceptable


Let's be clear: on the one hand, multinationals must pay their fair share, but on the other, the wages of workers in this country must be allowed to rise. This is an essential point of struggle for us - and all the more important to remember on a day of struggle like May 1st: the wage freeze applied for 5 years by the government is an unacceptable attack on the world of work.


It's not right that someone who works full-time can't get by on his salary. It's not normal for a multinational to make billions of euros in profits and for its workers not to get the slightest pay rise. It's not right that the BEL20, Belgium's 20 largest listed companies, pay out almost 10 billion euros in dividends, but there's no increase in wages.


It's not true when they say that there's no money. In large companies and profit-making sectors, there must be room for wage increases. On June 9, two projects go head-to-head: that of liberal continuity, austerity and the market, or that of the social break, which dares to challenge the power of money and the privileges of politicians.



The social locomotive


The liberal project is the framework of austerity and the market. It's the pension at 67 and the wage freeze. Gifts for millionaires and taxes for the working class. It's an anti-social and anti-democratic project. This project is that of the MR (French-speaking liberal parlty) or a repainted version in a different color by Les Engagés (French-speaking christian democrat party) but not very different. It is also these right-wing ideas that all too often contaminate PS (French-speaking socialist party) and Ecolo (French-speaking green party).


Faced with this right-wing project is the PVDA-PTB's project for social change. The project of those who dare to challenge the power of money and the privileges of politicians. Our project includes a tax on millionaires, 0% VAT on supermarket shopping carts and an end to wage freezes.


On the one hand, the continuity of the liberal policies of the last thirty years; on the other, a social break.


Students in higher education have shown us just what the choice of a social break could mean. Through their mobilization, they have prevented thousands of young people, children of the working class, from being excluded from higher education. They rejected the liberal family's elitist vision of higher education. They succeeded in having the landscape decree reversed, a reform that was passed two years ago at the impetus of the Liberals, with the support of the Socialists and Ecologists. With the PVDA-PTB, we supported them, we showed that we could make compromises as long as we went in the direction of a social break. And together, we were able to make progress.


This shows that another path is possible. That the left is not condemned to renunciation and betrayal. That it can bring victories and hope, provided we want to break with the liberal framework imposed on us and have a solid social movement that develops. This is the path we want to follow.


Faced with the liberal locomotive, we are the social locomotive. It's now up to the PS and Ecolo not to get on the wrong train, to get out of their renunciation, to get off the rails of liberalism, to make the choice to break with the past with clear points that won't just be catchphrases but will remain fighting points after June 9.


The stronger we are, the more we can strengthen social mobilization. The stronger we are, the more we'll be able to play our role as the political engine of social change. The stronger we are, the more we'll be able to force the left-wing renunciations of today's PS and Ecolo to join the camp of social transformation.



For an end to the privileges for politicians


Comrades, we've come up with yet another revelation: big severance packages for politicians. If a worker is made redundant, he or she receives unemployment benefit. But politicians who don't get re-elected have set up a severance package for themselves. Up to 250,000 and even 500,000 euros: it's crazy! And they all play in this game: the Liberals, the Socialists, the Greens, the Engagés, the N-VA and yes, Vlaams Belang (Flemish far-right nationalist party) too.


Once again, Vlaams Belang is at the forefront of taking advantage of these privileges. Better twice than once, in fact. Take their MP Marijke Dillen. In 2014, she already received 450,000 euros for leaving parliament. But she came back later, and is now entitled to a new severance package if she is not re-elected. It's beyond shame.


Take also Maggie De Block, MP for Open Vld (Flemish liberal party). Not only does she pocket 316,890 euros, but she also announces that she will retire at 62 to become a "full-time grandmother ". This is the same Maggie De Block who voted for the 67-year pension and said at the time that everyone should work longer. It's unbelievable!


But here too, the weight of the PVDA-PTB is making itself felt. Patrick Dewael (Open Vld) and Servais Verherstraeten (CD&V, Flemish christian democratic party) announced this week that they would only take half of the bonus to which they are entitled. So not 500,000 euros, but 250,000. Well, Mr Dewael and Mr Verherstraeten, I think you've misunderstood us. We don't want to halve severance pay. We want to do away with the whole system. We want to put an end to political privilege.


Our proposal to abolish this system of privileges was again rejected last Tuesday by all the traditional parties. All of them. The Vlaams Belang fled the meeting to avoid having to vote. Barbara Pas, from Vlaams Belang, claimed on Twitter that it was a "coincidence" that she was absent, and that she supports our proposal. But the reality, comrades, is that Vlaams Belang voted AGAINST our proposal again last December, and their MPs, like Marijke Dillens or Jan Penris in 2019, like all the others, took advantage of the system. It's no coincidence: as always, it's "our profiteers first", with them.


But we're not stopping there. Our MPs have already announced that they will not be taking the severance pay. We're continuing the fight. And those who want an end to these politicians' privileges must vote PVDA-PTB on June 9.



Stop the genocide against the Palestinian people, sanctions against Israel!


Comrades, as we speak, the terrible genocide against the Palestinian people is still going on. Mass graves were discovered near a hospital occupied by the Israeli army. Live genocide on TV and social media. This has been going on for 7 long months, but there are still no sanctions taken by the United States or Europe against Israel.


On the contrary, Biden announced a big package of billions in support and armaments for Israel. Europe continues to support Israel. The Belgian government continues to allow arms to transit through its territory to Israel. Our ministers make declarations, but there's no action to follow.


That's why we must continue to mobilize. We see that we can put pressure on our government. I'm also thinking of the courageous students mobilizing in American universities and in France. We can't let go. There's another big national demonstration for Palestine on May 19 in Brussels. We are calling for a massive turnout on that day.



The need of a left-wing voice


Comrades, we're in the home stretch before the elections. Our country needs, more than ever, a left-wing voice, a social alternative. An alternative that gives people hope and perspective. It answers people's call for a different kind of policy.


An alternative that dares to look up : to large multinationals, multi-millionaires and the ruling class. Instead of looking down on the most vulnerable in our society. And that alternative, dear friends, is the PVDA-PTB.


The PVDA-PTB is the driving force behind a different, left-wing policy. The PVDA-PTB is the driving force behind protecting our purchasing power. The PVDA-PTB is the driving force behind the fight to end politicians' privileges. The PVDA-PTB is the driving force behind genuine solidarity with Palestine and an end to Israel's impunity. More and more people want a social alternative and are joining us.


But it's not over yet, comrades. Over the next few weeks, we're going to have to give it everything we've got.


We're going to need every voice. Help us over the next six weeks. Help us make ourselves visible and put a poster in your window. Help us distribute our leaflets or take part in our neighborhood tours to convince people to vote for the PVDA-PTB.


Comrades, with the PVDA-PTB, we are always on your side. So let's make our voice heard on June 9. With your help, it's not just today that we're making red the dominant colour. Together, let's impose change!

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