Blog: Simon WarburtonBelgian Ministry of Truth

Simon Warburton | 28 February 2013

Day three of my Brussels visit and I was summoned by Belgian union, ABVV, the largest of Ford of Europe's Genk labour bodies, for an interview to discuss the latest plant update.

Ford plans to close its Genk plant with the loss of around 4,300 immediate jobs, but some research suggests this figure could soar to more than 11,000 once the supply chain impact is taken into account.

I was told by ABVV provincial union leader, Rohnny Champagne, to make my way to the exit of Brussels South station, that cavernous building where the Eurostar decants passengers from London and on leaving, I saw Rohnny waving at me from the enormous Ministry of Labour building where the Ford talks are taking place.

The Ministry of Labour is as huge as its Orwellian name suggests - I couldn't get Ministry of Truth out of my head - and that in a city whose small size nonetheless contains myriad vast superstructures - and this was no exception.

Talks are at a crucial stage with the unions - three of them - asking for significantly improved redundancy terms from Ford - with both parties now undergoing government arbitration in a bid to thrash out a deal for the thousands of workers facing redundancy.

ABVV represents around 150,000 workers in Belgium - mostly in the metalworking business - and the Limberg region where Ford Genk is situated looks to be hit hard when the axe finally falls on the factory.

Of no little import either is the fact that Champagne's Limberg region - of which he is ABVV leader - will lose around 2,000 of its 15,000 members. When you consider union dues are around EUR15 per month per employee, that's no small consideration for the labour body, which has to make its own ends meet.

I got a taxi to Brussels South station - and the impact of plunging Sterling really hits home - it's pretty much £1 to EUR1 now - which suddenly makes Brussels - and Europe - a lot pricier than it has been.

The taxi drove down what seems to be on of several gigantic motorways that carve straight through the city - a bizarre sight that makes crossing the road challenging although the law-abiding Belgians wait stoically until the green man appears.

Brussels is such a hotch-potch of architecture - encompassing just about every style going - that it's impossible to pigeon-hole as having a single, overriding feel to it.

Just as the hundreds of nations gathered here to do business with the European Commission - its buildings too reflect a dozen wildly different impressions. If there is perhaps one theme among the gargantuan edifices, it is art deco, which rears its head in some of the most surprising places.

Just a snapshot of how international this place is through football. I wanted to watch the tasty Bayern Munich v Dortmund German Cup - or DFB Pokel or 'Pot' as they call it.

In the place I found that was showing the German game, they also had PSG v Olympic Marseille and Middlesbrough v Chelsea, all with their own contingents of vocal supporters.

I'm at Brussels Airport now, waiting for the flight home and am reflecting on what an extraordinary place Brussels is. Love it or loathe it, the world beats a path to its door because if you want any influence, you absolutely have to be here.

 


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