Belgian rail-workers blockade depots as strike grows

The crash scene on Monday

Belgian rail-workers have organised strikes across the country after the fatal crash yesterday which left 18 people, including the train driver, dead.

Submitted by jef costello on February 16, 2010

Machinists and technical workers have blockaded depots across the country with services most afffected in Wallonia. Train drivers and signal workers are also observing the strike. So far the depots at Braine-le-Comte, Mons, Liège, Ath, Saint-Ghislain, La Louvière, Charleroi, Namur, Ottignies, Tournai and Louvain are reported as being entirely blockaded by strikers and the Belgian Rail Company (SNCB) is admitting that 85% of its depots are affected by the strike.

The strike has seen very high observance and has led to the cancellation of the flagship international services Thalys and Eurostar. Across Wallonia there have been mass cancellations of trains as rail workers join the strikes.

Workers are protesting against the attacks on working conditions that they are undergoing; which can be a contributing factor to accidents like Monday's. The SNCB is initially blaming the report on one of the drivers ignoring a red light, but this has not been confirmed by the black boxes on the trains.

The main unions CGSP and SLFP are claiming not to have been warned of the strikes but that they understood workers' anger. Although this may be due to legal considerations it is also a reflection of the spontaneous nature of these strikes.