Blog: Simon WarburtonGood morning Comrade...

Simon Warburton | 25 November 2011

It's not often I'm addressed as 'Comrade' but I was given the name after spending a fascinating couple of hours this morning (25 November) with the new adviser to the Belgian Trades Union Congress (ABVV) in Brussels, Rudi Kennes.

The new adviser has some union pedigree here. Kennes is extremely well known in Belgium for helping to lead the fight against GM's Antwerp closure plans - a long and bitter battle that eventually resulted in the plant shut and thousands made redundant.

From the "You'll never work alone" scarf on the wall - he's a fan of Liverpool in the Premier League - to the hand-sketched drawing of Che Guevera on the other wall, Kennes is a union man out of central casting but comes bursting with a fund of stories, anecdotes and union tales. He even claimed Liverpool FC songs were union-based - well, the city does have a history of fairly miltant labour disputes, as I said to him.

That's after I found his offices. I confidently said to the taxi driver "Hoogstraat 42" as Rudi had told me only for him to scratch his head and say he'd never heard of it. "Must be main street" I said in French thinking this would do the trick.

It didn't. Further head scratching and muttering to his control finally found the right translation but it gave me a tiny insight in this tiny country into how much language continues to divide the two communities of Flemish and Walloons.

I've been seeing the Union Congress and supplier-based companies today in Brussels - I write this from the airport having just come from Tenneco and Toyota-Boshuko Europe - and having attended the CLEPA aftermarket conference yesterday.

Like or loathe Brussels as the self-appointed arbiter in so much, it is the home to some pretty powerful European instituions with CLEPA's presence reinforcing its role as a key lobbyist for members who represent 5m workers across the European continent.

And the decision of so many important companies to be here - I've even just passed a British Telecom building - underlines the city's unique position at the heart of so much.

Addendum: I was filing some copy last evening when 'ping', an email popped up from Eurostar. I'd travelled over from London on the rattler and was fairly amazed not to have wi-fi on board - even of the paying variety - despite my very much being in steerage.

Eurostar got in touch and thanks to them for being so prompt to say, well, there wasn't any yet but it would start to be introduced from 2013 and on its shiny new train sets.

I rang the press office but they weren't able to say if the service would be free or not. Even Chiltern Railways in the UK has free wi-fi so surely Eurostar...?



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