Netherlands: Large Amsterdam demonstration opposes cuts

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Last Saturday, 20 September, 25,000 people took it to the streets of Amsterdam to angrily protest against huge cuts.

The broad committee, ‘Turn The Tide’, that consists of over 300 organisations, called the demonstration. It includes the Dutch Socialist Party (the broad left party inside which Dutch CWI members are active), GroenLinks (’Green Left’) and the social democratic party, PvdA. That means the three main opposition parties are part of it.

The demonstration and other forthcoming actions are being called to fight huge cuts announced by the recently elected right wing government. The coalition is made up of Christian Democrats (CDA), conservative liberals (VVD) and so called ‘leftwing’ liberals (D66). Under the guidance of Christian Democratic premier Balkenende, the coalition is determined to dismantle the welfare state. The cuts will amount to 17 billion Euros, the biggest package since the Second World War. The cuts will affect the one million people who are dependent on permanent health insurance (WAO), rent subsidies, the wages of civil servants, all kinds of charity organisations, refurbishment projects for old houses, and people on the dole. Government departments will have to fire a part of their workforces and it will no longer be possible to retire early with a full pension. Healthcare, education and public transport, which have been hit badly by cuts in the Nineties under previous coalition governments, that included the now oppositional social democrats, will not get the extra funds they desperately need.

In general, the attitude to the unemployed is that they “should be forced to work”, that immigrants “should be forced to adapt”, zand that workers “should not demand compensation for inflation”. This, of course, is a result of the economic recession that the Dutch economy faces. The social democrats do not deny the “need” to have cuts, and

actually, earlier this year, were in negotiations with the Christian Democrats to form a government that was willing to cut an almost as big amount of money. During the debate in parliament on the new government plans, the PvdA (and also the Socialist Party) supported the goal of not trespassing the 3% limit that is part of the European stability pact. When the opposition parties will be further challenged by the government to come forward with their alternatives they will also put forward budget cuts. Of course, this will create tensions inside the Turn the Tide campaign.

Industrial action needed

Demonstrating alone is not enough. The turnout at last weekend’s demonstration was very positive, but we will have to continue and push for other ways of protesting and to generalise and deepen the struggle. Inside the trade union movement preparations are being made for strikes. This will not be easy because the trade union leadership has supported the ‘polder model’ (of wage restraints etc) for so many years. They were committed to a policy of low wages and they tried to turn the unions into to some kind of insurance company. Now it is clear that the government does not want to negotiate with the unions and the unions are in financial and organisational crisis and are organizing less and less workers. It is imperative now for the unions to change course. Although they sent a speaker to the Turn the Tide demonstration they did not campaign actively to build for the protest. Fortunately there were still many union activists in attendance.

Along with CWI comrades from Belgium, Offensief members formed a lively and visible block on last weekend’s demonstration. We shouted militant slogans and handed out thousands of leaflets that announced our public meeting straight after the demo, with international speakers from Sweden, France and Belgium. During the meeting the speakers explained how we could struggle against the European wide assault against workers and young people.

The demonstration was a first step against the policies of the new government. Preparations are being made for strike action, which may result in a ‘hot’ autumn.

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September 2003