“It's time for more tax justice, and therefore for a tax on millionaires” Speech May Day 2023 – Raoul Hedebouw, president of the PTB-PVDA
"Good morning, dear comrades,
Today is May First. May First, International Workers' Day. May First, the day when the workers' world makes its voice heard. May First is the perfect day to talk about the growing inequalities in our society.
Because, comrades, there is a real taboo in this country. A taboo that nobody dares to talk about. A taboo on the real transfers that take place in our country. Because, when it comes to money, the government always acts as if we are all in the same boat, that we should all tighten our belts and work longer. Today, we are going to break this taboo. We are going to talk about the inequalities in our society, we are going to talk about the ultra-rich and the multinationals.
I am thinking in particular of the 37 billionaires in our country. I'm talking about the 1 % of the Belgian population that has a total wealth of 662 billion euros. 662 billion! Never before has there been such a concentration of wealth in our country. Or in the world, for that matter. It's high time to turn to these rich guys.
Today, in our country, a billionaire pays 0 % in taxes on the capital gain he makes on his shares. Zero. Meanwhile, workers are taxed at up to half their income.
Yes, Belgium is a tax hell for workers, but a tax heaven for the ultra-rich and multinationals. A small club of the super-rich is getting richer and richer, while the workers who create the wealth are struggling to make both ends meet. And what does the government do? It increases the excise taxes on our energy bills.
That's why we say with the PTB-PVDA: "Enough is enough", we say: "TAX THE RICH".
It's time for fair taxation in this country. Our proposal for a millionaires' tax is on the table in Parliament. We want to introduce a tax of 1 % on net wealth above 1 million euros, 2 % on net wealth above 2 million euros and 3 % on net wealth above 3 million euros. This way we only touch the ultra-rich. Our millionaires' tax would bring in 8 billion euros and can be voted on this week. 8 billion euros that can be used for our pensions, our health care, our public services.
The government, and the socialists in particular, claim that they are already making the rich guys pay. Via the so-called "tax on securities account". What is the tax on securities accounts? This is a tax of 0.15 % on shares held in a securities account. You can open such an account at your bank to hold your shares. And what do we see? The super-rich do NOT put their shares in securities accounts. They have registered shares, which cannot be placed in such an account. The ultra-rich, the billionaires, are not affected by this tax. This is exactly what my comrade Peter Mertens revealed a few weeks ago: in black and white, based on figures provided by Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem himself. Of the 37 billionaires in our country, not one pays the tax on securities accounts. That's why it brings in so little.
Comrades, capital does not create capital. Plant a euro in the ground, water it, it will not give anything. Never. As the classical economists already said, it is labor that creates capital. The labor of the working class. In our country, an increasingly important part of the wealth, of the wealth produced by the working class, goes to capital. The millionaires' tax is a first step to remedy this situation.
That's why I don't understand why Conner Rousseau (president of Vooruit, the Flemish social-democrats) is already flirting with the N-VA to form a coalition in 2024. The N-VA (the Flemish nationalist party) is a neoliberal party. The N-VA is the party par excellence that defends the ultra-rich. And what do we find? Conner Rousseau wants to punish the unemployed instead of going after the super-rich. Those who want a left-wing policy must turn to the left-wing parties. With the PTB-PVDA, we are here to build a real left alternative, in Flanders, in Wallonia, in the whole country.
Look at the difference between Antwerp and Zelzate. In Zelzate, a small municipality where the PTB-PVDA is in the ruling coalition with Vooruit, we voted for fair taxation. In Zelzate, we take money from large multinationals, such as Arcelor Mittal, and give it back to the local middle class and the people of Zelzate. In Zelzate, the dynamic between Vooruit and the PTB-PVDA is good. Of course, we had to swim against the tide and VOKA, the Flemish employers' organization, appealed against this tax. But we won before the State Council. Those who believe in an idea and have the will to fight for it can and will win.
Then of course there are the Georges-Louis Bouchez liberals in our path (president of the MR, liberal party), who openly defend the richest. But the problem is that there are also socialists like Paul Magnette (president of the Socialists Party PS). Those who make great declarations on May A but throw them away on May 2. We must dare to say that we must change the balance of power. It is not only, or even primarily in parliament. It is in the streets, with the trade unions, the social movement, that we must re-establish a balance of power that allows us to have victories.
Achieving victories, even from the opposition benches, is something the PTB does regularly. Together with the civil society. With the mobilization of the working class.
Which party proposed and implemented the health care workforce fund? The PTB. A recent study indicates that this victory created 5,000 jobs. 5 000!
Which party proposed the increase in the minimum pension? It was the PTB that, with 180,000 signatures, put this demand on the political agenda and obtained it in part.
Which party had the Turteltaks abolished because it was unfair for all Flemish households to pay for the highly subsidized solar panels of Fernand Huts (big capitalist) and Co? Once again, the PTB and its formidable force of mobilization. And that's not all...
Which party was the first to demand that energy not be considered a luxury product on which to pay 21 % VAT? If this VAT has now been reduced to 6 %, it is thanks to the PTB, which campaigned for this since 2007, and thanks to the more than 300,000 people who supported us by signing our petition.
And winning victories is also what we did against all the privileges of the political class. When we first came to Parliament in 2014, the right-wing parties, N-VA, MR, Open VLD and CD&V (Flemish Christian democrats), decided that people should work until 67 years old. 67. But in 2015, what happened? The same elite that demanded that people work until 67 years of age allowed themselves to retire at 55 years old. 55. After our struggle, they had to revoke these privileges.
The same elite that demands that people cannot get a salary increase, that people are subjected to salary freezes, well this same elite pockets more than 6,000 euros net per month. In the Flemish Parliament, they had promised to reduce their own salary by 5 %. And this, under the pressure of public opinion. What happened a few months later: they had not implemented their own decision. It was our MP Jos D'Haese who discovered it and brought it to light! Here too, we have won a victory.
A few weeks ago, a new scandal broke. The pension of politicians is limited by law to a maximum of 7,800 euros. And what do we see? The traditional parties have deliberately sought a way around this legal maximum, allowing them to accumulate a pension of up to 9,375 euros. 9,375 euros. The same parties that blithely affirm that people have to live on small pensions are giving themselves incredible extras. And all parties agreed. All parties. Yes, including Vlaams Belang (the Flemish fascist party). When it comes to taking part in this self-service, Vlaams Belang is always on board.
We have repeatedly proposed cutting politicians' salaries in half. But from the extreme right, it is always a big "no". Vlaams Belang always claims "our own people first". This “own people first”, means in fact "our privileges first". A lot of money for themselves, and hope that people will see nothing and follow them to step on those "below". On migrants, on the unemployed, on the Walloons. This has a purpose, dear friends: that people don't look up to those who help themselves, but look down. It is no coincidence that Vlaams Belang is against any form of wealth tax. This is the true face of Vlaams Belang, a party at the service of the establishment, at the service of the richest and which itself benefits from the privileges.
Comrades, this political self-service has a function. The fact that politicians earn 6,000 euros net per month makes them detached from the reality of the people they represent. It is precisely because politicians can earn pensions of up to 9,000 euros that it is easy for them to reduce the minimum pension. Comrades, we are not the first to want to abolish all these political privileges for this reason. We are Marxists. We know the historical struggle of the working class for democracy. As early as 1871, during the Paris Commune, all political privileges were abolished and politicians had to live on a worker's salary. Elected officials could be called to account at any time and removed from office, with the result that the majority of elected officials were workers or recognized representatives of the working class. Our fight against the self-service culture is therefore a fight for democracy.
Comrades, as we have seen in recent weeks, we play an essential role as a party. To fight the culture of privilege in the political world. To unmask the true face of Vlaams Belang. To really put social issues and social policy on the agenda of this country. And we do this by mobilizing people from the grassroots up. With a real left alternative. That's why I'm launching an appeal today: help us strengthen the PTB-PVDA. Strengthen us in our drive to build a bulwark against the far right, a bulwark against liberal policies, so that we can win even more victories. Support us, become a member, get involved in a local group. Together, we are pushing through change.
Comrades, the government plans to present its new pension reform soon. The same politicians who have given themselves privileges have already decided to reduce the minimum pension. They will force people to work longer. We can already see the Right, but also part of the Left, attacking the so-called "privileged" schemes that allow people to stop working earlier. Remember this, comrades: NEVER let a politician call you "privileged". They are the privileged ones. Because they will not have to stop working prematurely at the end of their career because their body is broken. They don't have an arduous job where, once you reach a certain age, you can no longer endure the pressure, flexibility and stress. If all these politicians worked for even one month as a maintenance worker, a factory worker or a nurse, they might understand a little.
Comrades, we have never produced as much wealth as we do today. Productivity has exploded, and it is the bodies of the workers who pay the price. The question now is: what are we going to do with all this wealth? The government plans to have it disappear into the pockets of shareholders. But for us, it is more than normal that it goes back to those who produce it. Let's return wealth to the workers, in the form of better wages, but also through the right to a decent pension at a reasonable age. When you are 67, all jobs are heavy-duty. Even today, seven out of ten people oppose raising the pension age to 67. A very large majority in the north, south and center of the country. Why aren't they listening to them? The socialists had explicitly promised to enter a government only if the pension age was reduced back to 65: why didn't they keep their promise? For all these reasons, we will continue to fight against the dismantling of our pensions and for the return of the pension age at 65, comrades!
On this International Workers' Day, I can't not say a word about the Delhaizians. All these workers at the Delhaize supermarkets who have been leading a relentless fight for more than 8 weeks against this multinational, Ahold-Delhaize, which wants to treat them as mere commodities. Despite the difficulties, despite the arrogance of the management, despite the bailiffs, despite all that: they are there. This weekend again. Respect to them. This is not only the struggle of the 9,000 Delhaize workers and their families. It is a fight for the working conditions of the whole sector. It is the fight to know what society we want for young people today: a society of precarious contracts, of excessive flexibility, a society where working conditions are constantly declining. This is not the society we want. That's why the struggle of the Delhaizians is also the struggle of all of us, and why we support them with all our strength, comrades!
Dear comrades, today is the First of May. As the beautiful song "The International" says, "So comrades, come rally/And the last fight let us face/The Internationale unites the human race". Today many workers in the world are living in the throes of war and cannot celebrate this beautiful workers' day as we do. In Ukraine, in Yemen, in Palestine, in Congo. Wars for money. Wars for the conquest of new markets. To all these workers we say: we continue the fight for internationalism and against war! We will continue to defend the peace movement. We will continue to oppose the militarization and escalation that threaten to drag us into a new Cold War. "When the rich go to war, it is the poor who die," the saying goes. The working class can only lose the war. That is why we call for a European peace initiative. It is time to hear a true discourse of peace at the international level. And make way for a multipolar and democratic world.
Dear comrades, let's take advantage of this first day of May to celebrate together with many comrades this beautiful international workers' day that is ours. We don't let go. Enjoy your day!