Urban Photography “The industrial ruins of years of Socialism and Unions”
Charleroi is an industrial city in the southern part of Belgium. Once a dominating and prosperous area, now an industrial graveyard that has fallen into total decay . Not at all because of the diminished coal and iron production, but because of hardheaded and stubborn brain dead Socialists for which political power became more important then the cause. Don’t get me wrong, the Socialists Unions did accomplish a lot, certainly at the beginning but they also have an expiry date. A date which is by far past.
The “Black Country” an industrial graveyard that has fallen into total decay
The “Black Country” as it was called attracted workers from allover Belgium and abroad. Those people worked day and night, digging up the black gold “Coal” until their backs were broken. And when there is coal, there is Iron. Not surprisingly that many Iron works flourished around and in the Charleroi area.
Money hungry industrials and aristocrats ran the factories, with “production” as the only driver, workers were just a resource and in abundance. Workers, old , young , boys and girls worked and lived under the industrial tyranny.
Breeding place for rebellion and upraise
Poor health care, housing and education became the perfect breading place for rebellion and upraise. The socialist movement had in its early days a very difficult time to get a foot on the ground in the o so Catholic Belgium, where Church and State were kind of a synonym although officially the country was a secular state. The “black country” as it is called , was named after the black dust on the facades and streets, the result of the coaling processes and ironwork furnaces .
An area that was now subject to unrest and upraise, and rightfully so. It became the ideal place for Socialism and Unions to flourish. And so they did. It all started with the best intentions, break the almighty power of the industrial aristocrats, fight for decent working conditions, proper pay, healthcare, a minimum age for youngsters, education , pension schemes and many other social provisions as we know it today.
Every effort to convert the ever shrinking coal and heavy industry was torpedoed
While the standard of living increased, the Socialist party grew. Unions became super powers. And like anything else it ended up in a race for power. Meanwhile time went on and in the 60’s the first coal mine closures became apparent, by the mid and late 70’s there seemed no way back and the once so booming area started to collapse. Every effort to convert the ever shrinking coal and heavy industry was torpedoed by the Socialist Party and the associated Unions.
Not that I am surprised, a transformed industry would no longer require the same skillsets as before. Hence the socialist party faired that it would lose out and disappears. No wonder they rallied the workers and convinced them how bad things would be without the coal and steel industry, an effort of self preservation.
Workers lost their pride and honor
The Wallonia Socialist Party was given the voters mandates to force the government to decline the needed convergence and change. Instead they arranged subsidies for the entire Black Country.
Most workers lost their pride, became unemployed and lived on welfare supported by the Unions and the Socialist Party. The lucky one (for the time it lasted), continued to work in factories that were heavily subsidized, yet they lost their pride and honor. This continued to well in the 80’s and 90’s, meanwhile the country had evolved and the once poor and agricultural north (Vlaanderen) developed new industries and services. The south (Wallonie) had become an industrial graveyard, with an army of unemployed and demotivated people.
Large sluices for ships that never sailed
The country itself was now broken up into four sub-states (Vlaanderen, Wallonia, German deelstaat and Brussels). The Wallonia Socialist Party insisted that for each project realized in Vlaanderen compensation must be given to Wallonia.
Those compensations came as cash money, large construction works such as metro’s and railway stations that would never be used. Officially they were constructed to transport the workers from the living area’s to the coal and steel plants. Its worth noting that those factories were either closed or at the blink of been closed. New bridges were constructed, yet they did not connect to a road. Large sluices for ships that never sailed.
Millions and millions of euro (franks) were transferred into the “Black Country” on an industry that was as good as death. Yet the Socialist party kept up the appearance. Manipulated and massaged the people until it was to late. Now the Charleroi area, is filled with industrial relics, unemployment and crime, serious crime. Who does not know Marc Dutroux?
And yet there is hope, the Walloon socialist party is crumbling. Slowly but certainly.
Young people take any opportunity to change the situation , not easy but they have the advantage of being young and inventive. And so I ended up in making a “Safari in Charleroi”. A young artist takes you on a daunting trip trough the old industrial relics; a place where you normally would never come back from. So if you are around and you like urban photography, that is the place to be. Be careful and look for a guide. You are warned.
Thanks for reading, Steve.
Co reader Jack Smits