Raoul Hedebouw "Prices must come down, Engie must pay"
"It's about expressing our anger, but also about recreating hope." PTB president Raoul Hedebouw, in his speech at ManiFiesta 2022, called on everyone to take action against high energy bills and against the government siding with the multinationals. From 30 September, the PTB will organise a weekly day with the "Fridays of Anger".
Ostende, 17 September 2022
Dear friends, dear comrades,
It is a pleasure to see you here today at this magnificent festival of solidarity that is ManiFiesta. There are now thousands of us, from all over the country, young and old, women and men, of all origins, thousands of us saying that, together, we want to build another world, a world where people are put before profit.
I can't start without testimonials. I receive more and more of them: "Raoul, my monthly payments have increased to 850 euros per month, what makes these politicians think that I can pay such amounts?" "Hi Raoul, I just received an email from my energy provider. It recommends increasing my gas and electricity allowance to 1,100 euros per month. In what world do they live?" More and more workers are being pushed into poverty.
One message particularly moved me. You may know that this year is special for me, with my little Pablo starting kindergarten and Esteban starting primary school. An intense moment for our children, and for the parents too. I don't know who was more stressed, them or me (well, okay, it was me, I think). I wrote a post on social media to thank all the nursery and school teachers for their work, for the love they bring to our children, and I received a very moving message in response. Three weeks later, it is still in my head. I'll read it to you:
I just read your post and it moved me.
I am a parcel delivery man, on medical leave since the beginning of the year. My partner, who is an administrative employee, and I are in financial distress.
As a result, being unable to buy a nice outfit, as well as a small bag and shoes for my three-year-old's first day back, I almost didn't take her to school this morning because I feel ashamed for her. We fight for our children but sometimes we wonder if it's still worth it.
I needed to talk about it and I didn't know who to talk to because I am so ashamed of myself.
Have a nice day. ✊️✊️
Gilles, a 34-year-old father of two adorable little ones who is wondering how to get by
Gilles. A dad of two adorable little children. And who is wondering how to get by.
So, of course, I answered Gilles. With tears in my eyes, from anger, I began tapping away at my keyboard. "Dear Gilles, this message alone symbolizes the reason why I cannot accept living in a society like ours. Never before have we produced so much wealth in Belgium, and yet thousands of children are in the situation you describe. What is happening to you is the consequence of a small group getting richer and richer at the expense of the workers, it is obviously not your fault." What also struck me was that Gilles added two small raised fists emojis at the end of his message. Two small fists of resistance. I wrote: "You are right, Gilles, to finish your message with two emojis in the shape of a fist, because we will indeed have to resist, we will have to fight for another world. The powerful will never give us anything without a struggle." So, for all the Gilles of the country, for all the little ones, and for all the workers of the country, we say loud and clear: That's enough! Prices must come down, Engie must pay.
Engie must pay
The contradiction has rarely been as clear as it is today. While hundreds of thousands of families don't know how to pay their bills, an energy group in Belgium is filling its coffers. I am, of course, talking about Engie-Electrabel. And not just a little. The PTB research department has done the calculations on the excess profits. I'm not just talking about profits. I'm talking about above-normal profits. Profits that are due to the crisis and the war. Between 2021 and 2024, Engie's excess profits are estimated at ... 9 billion euros. 9 billion. Bling Bling, in the pocket.
What we are witnessing, today, is a veritable hold-up by the multinational energy companies on all of our wallets. A hold-up with the complicity of our government and the European Union. Magnette. De Croo. Van der Straeten. Van Peteghem. Rousseau. Bouchez. They all talk today about capping prices and taxing excess profits, but it's all talk... The decision to take from our pockets is made in a few seconds, but when it comes to taking from Engie, 9 months on and still nothing. Worse still, they have just decided to "maybe, perhaps, if they happen to have no choice" consider a tax on everything but ... Engie's mega nuclear profits. I swear...
The truth is that this government has a secret deal with Engie-Electrabel. They concluded it in the middle of the summer, when De Croo and Van der Straeten went to Paris to extend the life of the two nuclear reactors. Engie's management demanded that the government pay for the nuclear waste and not impose any serious taxation on its excess profits. Our ministers agreed. As has been the case for more than 20 years in Belgium, it is Engie that decides and the government that implements. A small handful of shareholders have more power than all our energy ministers combined.
"Fridays of Anger"
So, with the PTB, we will obviously not remain inactive. Today, I call on everyone to mobilize.
Join the "Fridays of Anger" that we are launching on 30 September. Against overpriced bills.
Against this government that is complicit with the energy multinationals.
Prices must come down, Engie must pay!
Join the rotating mobilizations across the country.
In the neighbourhoods. On roundabouts. Mobilizations to force the government to act.
The Prime Minister promises "5 to 10 difficult winters": we do not accept it!
It is about expressing our anger, but also about recreating hope.
Hope is born from collective resistance. Let us be many.
Let's take back the energy sector from the hands of multinationals
With the PTB, we have concrete solutions. Let's stop believing that the market will solve everything. All the traditional parties defended the liberalization of the sector. In 1999, liberals, socialists and greens decided, and I quote, "to accelerate the liberalization process to enable consumers to benefit from lower prices and better service". They all sold us the same liberal fable that competition would bring down prices. Not at all, with liberalization, the big have swallowed up the small. That's capitalism. Seven electricity generating companies control the European market today. Seven, not one more. And they use their position to make as much profit as possible.
These liberal ideas are a thing of the past. And this past must be wiped clean. Starting with a price cap to bring prices back to 2021 levels immediately. It's not right that the production cost for Engie in its nuclear power plants is 35 euros per megawatt hour, while their selling price is 200, 300 euros or more. The State must impose a selling price based on the cost of production. And it should also set the price of gas.
I hear the Prime Minister say, "the market is going crazy". No. The capitalist market has always worked like this. It only thinks about money and maximum profitability. This is why sectors as important as energy must be taken out of the market framework, they must be taken back in hand with the community so that they produce for the wellbeing of citizens and our planet, not for profit. Let's take the energy sector back from the hands of the multinationals. Totally. This is the only fundamental solution to the crisis we are facing. That's the switch we need to make, and you'll be hearing about it very soon.
Fighting pays off
You know the good news? We have already achieved some victories. The reduction of the VAT to 6 %. A year ago, they didn't want it. The Liberals called it an "absurd idea". Ecolo was against it. Even the PS was against it and Magnette said he had "never thought it was a good idea". But we collected 300,000 signatures. We carried out dozens of actions, distributed more than 20,000 posters. We pressed for it and we finally got it.
We also put the issue of excess profits on the agenda. Our first dossier on Engie's excess profits was published in De Standaard on 29 September 2021. One year ago. Since then our research department and my colleague Peter Mertens have been tirelessly hammering this home. First of all, for months, the parties in government denied the existence of these excess profits. Then they minimized them. Then they explained that it was "very complex". And finally, they are now trying to sell us a fake tax on excess profits that will hardly affect Engie.
What all these manoeuvres above all show is that they are afraid. Afraid of the social movement. Afraid of the pressure we bring to bear. That's why we will continue until we get a real decrease in our bills and real taxation of excess profits.
Peace initiatives, not war escalation
As if that were not enough, we are paying a high price for the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Because it isn't Putin and his clique who are paying the price of the sanctions, but the working class. Gazprom and Putin continue to rake in profits thanks to rising prices. According to the Wall Street Journal, Russia had earned 97 billion euros from its hydrocarbon sales by the end of July. 40% more than before the war.
But others continue to rake it in too: the US multinational shale gas producers. No wonder there is enthusiasm for this war within the US establishment. Not to mention the multinational arms companies... They are winning on all sides. And spare me the talk about human rights and whether it's a just war or not. When it came to bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen ... who among all these people were concerned about human rights? Let's not fool ourselves, comrades. Behind a war, there are always economic and geostrategic interests.
Instead of the current sanctions, let's have targeted sanctions against the oligarchs and Putin. And, above all, it is high time real diplomatic initiatives were taken. Because the danger to world peace is real. We need a strong peace movement in Europe. A movement that forces our governments to stop pandering to US imperialism. A movement that reaches out to the other peoples of the world, to guarantee peace and security for all.
Hope in Latin America
Because more and more peoples are asking for this new world and this new global balance. Just look at what is happening in Latin America, with the series of left-wing governments that have emerged on the continent in recent years and the hope they give.
The next major battle is being waged in Brazil, to remove far-right President Bolsonaro from power. Remember Dilma Rousseff's visit to ManiFiesta in 2019. "Lula Libre": at the time, the issue was to have Lula freed from Brazil's prisons. Now that he is free, we all hope he will win the elections and that, in October, we will be able to say, "Lula presidente".
Freedom to negotiate wages
Let's go back to the situation in Belgium. As always in times of crisis, the FEB, the big bosses' club, wants to impose its shock strategy. It is pushing for wages to be frozen and indexation to be called into question.
But, what the FEB is not saying is that the automatic indexation of wages only partially covers the current record inflation. Every month, the working class is losing purchasing power.
What the FEB is not saying is that it is domestic consumption that is still saving growth in Belgium. If salaries are frozen, purchasing power decreases and so too will spending and the orders placed with retailers or SMEs.
What the FEB is not saying is that the problem of the overwhelming majority of companies is not primarily wages but the explosive price of energy.
What the FEB is not saying is that some large multinationals continue to make huge profits despite the crisis. In the last 6 months alone: AB InBev, 2.8 billion; KBC, 1.2 billion; Colruyt, 288 million. And the workers in these companies shouldn't have the right to ask for wage increases? Will the socialists and greens impose a 0% margin for all these workers?
The big employers want to scare people, to push them into submission, to demobilize them and to break the unions. They are, in fact, playing into the hands of the extreme right. With no prospects of social progress and no prospects of change through collective action, it is the forces of division that will take over. With racist and nationalistic narratives that pit workers against each other. It is a real danger, and we are seeing it everywhere in Europe, in Italy, in Sweden and also here in Belgium.
But fortunately, the social movement is not giving up the fight. Autumn promises to be hot. The trade unions have called for action in Brussels on 21 September, to start with. They are calling for a general strike on 9 November for the freedom to negotiate wages and for action to be finally taken against the energy giants. The PTB will be by their side! Thierry and Lut, you can count on us.
The British are leading the way
When you hear Chris Mitchell, it's clear that this fight is a European fight. Everywhere, the working class is confronted with the same problems. The working class, everywhere, has had enough. British workers are taking a stand, with a movement not seen for 40 years. With strikes and mobilizations led by anti-poverty organizations, artists, sports people, etc. "The working class is back," as they say there. "We refuse to be docile. Those days are over." I don't know about you, but it inspires me. In Britain, Belgium and all over Europe: "Enough is enough". "Trop c’est trop". "Trop is teveel".
Planet Not Profit
End of the month, end of the world, same fight. Because it is the same workers who struggle to make it to the end of the month that are the number one victims of climate disruption. We experienced it first hand last year: the ordinary working families living in the lower valleys were the main victims of the floods. It is the people of the South, like the people of Pakistan, who have just been affected by torrential floods that have caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people.
Torrential rain on one side, scorching drought on the other. These are two sides of the same coin: climate disruption. The culprit is our capitalist mode of production based essentially on fossil fuels. But when it comes to the climate, politicians are used to making the people bear the responsibility. They want to introduce carbon taxes and force workers to make sacrifices while saving the system. Meanwhile, this summer, we learned that multi-billionaires take their private jets up to 6 times a day. The billionaire Bernard Arnault, in one month, consumes the equivalent of what a French worker would consume, on average, in 30 years. In the first five months of this year alone, more than 27,000 private jets took off from Belgian airports. They need to stop making us believe that the working class is responsible. It is the system that has to change to save the climate.
The working class and young people hold the future
Comrades, our class, the working class, is the only one that can provide answers to the multiple crises we are facing. Whether it is the energy crisis, the ecological crisis, the financial crisis, the social crisis, the military and geopolitical crisis throughout the world ... all these crises have one thing in common: the search for profit, the search for profits at all costs, the accumulation of wealth by the richest people on the planet. Only we, the working class, can put an end to this system of capitalist exploitation. And that is what we will do.
I would like to end by turning, more particularly, to the young people who are massively present at this wonderful ManiFiesta. You, the young people, are right to mobilize for the climate, against racism, against the inequalities of this capitalist system. You are not only the future, you are the present. You are the ones who are building tomorrow's world, today. With your energy, your creativity, your revolt. We are fighting a unique battle against a capitalism that destroys work and the planet. Don't believe all those among the elite who say, "there is no alternative", "we've always done it this way", "there will never be change". It is not true. History has been written through struggles that have completely changed the face of the earth. Everyone feels that we are at a crossroads. It is your task to dive into this battle and revolutionize this world. There is a place to occupy in society and also in our party. Occupy this place, as it is only with an organized, mobilized and conscious youth that we will be able to bring about the change so needed by this world.
Thank you, all of you
Thank you, ManiFiesta!