Netherlands: Right wing coalition government falls

As anticipated, the Dutch government consisting of the Christian Democrats, the CDA, the liberal VVD and the hard right LPF (List Pim Fortuyn, whose leader was shot dead last May), collapsed on the 16 October. Basically the CDA and the VVD pulled the plug on the administration.

It has become clear that the LPF was considered too unreliable for the interests of the ruling class, who prefer a stable and reliable government.

This marks a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of LPF. Seemingly from nowhere the loose coalition of various interests that made up the LPF managed to win 26 seats in the May general elections, becoming the second the largest party. The LPF’s anti-immigrant and anti-establishment rhetoric managed to attract votes from sections of the population, including some working class people, who were fed up with years of neo-liberal policies and the corruption of the main parties.

However despite its anti-establishment posturing, the LPF was largely dominated by sections of big and medium business, including real estate businessmen. While claiming it stood for the ’ordinary person’ the LPF received donations from rich contributors. The LPF’s wealthy backers mainly belonged to a group of entrepreneurs, who often operated behind the scenes influencing party policy. They saw the LPF as a vehicle by which to exercise more direct influence in parliament, instead of attempting to work through the traditional capitalist parties.

List Pim Fortuyn wrecked by disputes

However the business people backing the List Pim Fortuyn were made up of a crude, unsophisticated type. They fought amongst themselves for control of the party, but lacked the ’professionalism’ of the established parties and so were incapable of covering up their tracks and hiding their real interests.

The struggle between the different groups in the LPF manifested itself through the open fights between the bloated egos of many of the MP’s, the self appointed LPF leaders, and even between LPF ministers. For months the LPF was wrecked by disputes, which led to the expulsion of two MPs from the LPF (in a desperate hope to stop yet another dispute), and the forming of five or more ’camps’ inside the LPF. The high profile fight between two of the LPF ministers (the former social democrat member Bomhoff, and the multi-millionaire Heinsbroek) was the ’last straw’ for the CDA and VVD government coalition partners.

Of course, the CDA and VVD could have chosen to maintain the cabinet and government, but, in their opinion, there was no guarantee that after this crisis there would not be another one inside the LPF.

More importantly, recent polls have continued to show a sharp decline in support for the LPF that started as soon as they assumed power and adapted to the existing neo-liberal political agenda of the main parties. The LPF had gained many votes during the last elections with their false promise to introduce ’a new kind of politics’, but now many of those who voted for them see the LFP is essentially the same as the establishment parties. Last week, during the height of the struggle between the two LPF ministers, the polls showed a collapse in support for the party, predicting their share of the parliament would shrink drastically from 26 seats to just 4 seats!

At the same time, according to the polls, the CDA (44 seats) and VVD (24 seats) were each gaining each 4 or 5 seats (as was the social democrats).

On the basis of these results, it would be possible for the CDA and VVD to form a majority in the 150-seat parliament after the new elections. In theory, the CDA could also maybe form a cabinet with the social democratic PvdA, but there is no indication that they want to do that.

A new two party cabinet (most likely made up of the CDA and VVD), which used to be very common before the ’Purple governments’ (1994-2002), would offer the most stable pro-capitalist government at the moment.

With LPF in tatters, there is no chance of a recovery for the formation by the forthcoming elections. At the same time, the social democrats are still licking their wounds from the blow they received during the last elections in May. As an indication of the disarray the party faces, they have not yet even decided on who should be their new leader.

Main parties promise more of the same

Whatever changes in personnel take place at cabinet level, all the main parties promise more of the same neo-liberal policies. Premier Balkenende of the CDA said, once new elections were called, the existing government’s plans for cuts would be the basis for his new government after the elections.

These attacks are no surprise given the situation facing the Dutch economy. Economic growth has been at zero for almost a year (officially the Netherlands will soon be in recession).

So whatever cabinet will be formed after the elections that are most likely to take place in January 2003, it will be a cabinet with the same kind of destructive programme for working class people as before. Working class people already pay the price for the economic down turn in the form of mass sackings and frozen wages.

Even before the elections right wing policies agreed upon by the now fallen government will still be carried out. This includes the axing of thousands of subsidized jobs, a reduction of the amount of workers in public services, ongoing attacks on permanent sick pay (that covers the one million people that are not able to work anymore until they reach pension age), the carrying out of the agreement of Bologna (which means attacks on university courses), overall limited wage increases (under the rate of inflation), a 10% price increase for public transport, and a continuation of the crises in healthcare and education.

Unions and the Socialist Party must lead the resistance

It is for this reason that many actions being organised by students, left organisations and workers in subsidized jobs will increase. It has become clear for many working class people, including those that invested some hope in the LPF in the last elections that the main parties carry out the same free market programme, at the expense of the living standards of working people.

The unions can play a decisive role in resisting the neo-liberal attacks. However the unions’ leadership proved unwilling to support a 24-hour general strike against government plans, something that Offensief (the Dutch section of the CWI) called for. Instead of taking decisive action, the main union leader, Lodewijk de Waal, stated that he considered the collapse of the coalition government was "very sad", since he was "in negotion with them". Just what he expected to wrest from the most right wing Dutch government since World War II is another question.

The Dutch Socialist Party, a former Maoist sect, and now a small broad workers’ party, can play a crucial role in future developments.

The social democrat PvdA has lost a great deal of support amongst workers. The SP, on the contrary, is both in terms of votes (9 seats now, 13-15 in the polls), and in terms of members (32,000 and growing) already half as big as the PvdA. The SP is, in many respects, beginning to take over the role as the party workers look to, which was a position once held by the PvdA.

Many workers’ are indicating that they will vote SP this time, even many of whom voted LPF before. The SP can play a big role in facilitating the resistance against the neo-liberal policies of an incoming government.

Members of Offensief inside the SP argue for the party to fight with a socialist programme. Such a programme must include policies that counter the lies of the populist right and racists, who can continue to make gains at the polls, even if the LPF never recovers.

The party must call for decent and affordable public housing, jobs for all, and a real living wage. It must campaign to unite all workers, irrespective of colour or creed, in a struggle against right wing government policies and for the need to fundamentally change society, for a democratic socialist society, based on need not profit.

In the debates inside the SP in the near future, during preparations for the coming election campaign, Offensief members, including the six SP councillors who have joined, will argue the case for bold socialist policies, and warn of the dangers of going down the road to social democratic policies. To be successful, the SP needs to help organise resistance on shop floors, at schools and universities, in working class neighbourhoods and on the streets!

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October 2002