Belgian strike of 1886
The Belgian strikes of 1886, occasionally known as the social revolt of 1886 (French: Révolte sociale de 1886), was a violent period of industrial strikes and riots in Belgium between 18–29 March 1886. The strike or labour revolt was provoked by social inequalities in Belgian society and has compared to the peasant jacqueries of the Middle Ages.
The strike of 1886 was originally organised by anarchists in Liège as a small commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune. The call met with unexpected support and between 800-900 workers, many from the city's metal works, attended the initial demonstration led by August Wagener. Rather than abating, the strike soon spread across Belgium's industrial regions to the Province of Hainaut. In Hainaut, it was notably led by the radical socialist Alfred Defuisseaux.
The 1886 strike became famous for its violence. A glass factory, that had been known for automating its production, was destroyed by strikers. The Belgian army was deployed to the region. Several dozen people were killed in confrontations, including ten workers in a single incident in Roux. According to modern historians, the 1886 revolt was "the biggest and most violent strike wave ever to sweep across industrial Wallonia".
Although the strike failed to achieve any tangible objectives, it is considered by historians to be the first time the Belgian working class achieved significant concessions from the national government. A parliamentary Labour Commission (Enquête du Travail) was created which led to the first labour legislation in Belgian history. Two leaders of the Glassmakers union, blamed for the damage, were defended in court by the future Walloon socialist politician Jules Destrée. They were found guilty but amnestied in 1888.
Politically, the strikes led to the emergence of a parliamentary socialist party which aimed to redirect workers' demands away from violence and towards the cause of electoral reform. This led to a decisive break between socialists and the Liberal Party. Defuisseaux was expelled from the Belgian Workers' Party and established his own radical socialist party, the Parti Socialiste Républicaine. He also published a hugely successful pamphlet entitled Le catéchisme du peuple (literally, "The People's Catechism"). The 1886 strikes led to the rapid expansion of the trade unions across Belgium. The Liberals also splintered politically, leading to the creation of a separate, new and more radical party, the Parti Progressiste under Paul Janson, which would remain separate until 1900. For the governing centre-right Catholic Party of Auguste Beernaert, the strikes led to a change of ideology towards social Catholicism. It was followed by further strikes in 1887, 1890 and 1891, as well as a general strike in 1893.
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- Dennis, James M. (2011). Robert Koehler's The Strike: The Improbable Story of an Iconic 1886 Painting of Labor Protest. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-25133-8.
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- Les émeutes ouvrières de mars 1886 at Charleroi-Decouverte (official website)