Netherlands: Workers demonstrate against ‘Enemies of the working class’

Interview with dock workers´ leaders

Several hundred dock workers, along with firefighters, hospital workers and steel workers held a lunchtime rally near the docks in west Amsterdam on 11 June. They were protesting against the pension and benefit cuts planned by the right wing coalition government of the Liberals and Christain Democrats. This follows a similar demonstration on 7 June in Rotterdam, which involved 2,000 dockers.

The rallies were initiated by a committee set up recently in the dock workers’ union in Rotterdam, ‘DE MAAT is vol’, which roughly translates into English as, ‘Enough is Enough!’ The committee campaigns for the dock workers´ union leaders and the trade unions to take militant action to stop the sweeping cutbacks. Under pressure, the leaders of the FNV union federation called protest rallies in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

The 11 June Amsterdam rally was lively and militant. Many workers wore bright orange T shirts that read: ‘FNV in actie’ (‘FNV is active!’). Dock workers also wore T Shirts attacking the government as "Enemies of the working class" and their shirts were also emblazoned with the words, "Enough is Enough!" and "Economic terrorists of the working class: De Geus, Zalm, Balkenende, Schraven" (The names of government ministers and the bosses’ federation leader).

Speakers at the rally included the leader of the FNV union federation, a representative from the construction union and dockers´ leaders. The leader of the Dutch Socialist Party, in which the CWI particiaptes, won applause for supporting a call for strike action.

Dutch CWI comrades sold papers and distributed a leaflet at the Amsterdam rally, and also during the 7 June rally in Rotterdam, calling for preparations for a one day general strike of all workers to stop the right wing government´s attacks.

During the 11 June Amsterdam rally, two of the leaders of DE MAAT de vol, in Rotterdam, Ton Le Granse and Herman de Haas, spoke to the CWI about their struggle and the way forward.

Niall Mulholland (NM): What are you protesting about today?

Herman de Haas: This is a protest againsnt the government’s aim to cut pension rights. It is also a political action against government policy over the last six months.

NM: Where did the initiative come from to set up the DE MAAT de Vol committee?

HdH: It came from union officials, who did it ´unofficially´, to start with. Then other union members joined. The committtee was formed to campaign to get the union tops to take some action against the cuts. We want to get rid of the Dutch ‘Polder Model’. This ‘model’ has meant that the union leaders have always negoitated, over the last twenty to twenty five years, with governments and employers to get results that they claimed ‘benefitted everybody’. But the results for workers were backward results.

NM: What action have the union leaders been forced to take, so far?

Ton Le Granse (TLG): Last Monday, 2,000 dockers in Rotterdam took action, which is a very good start. We want national action in the autumn. We need militant action. The Liberal and Christain Democrats government is even worse than the previous 15 years of Liberal and Labour Party governments. For all those years we were told by union leaders and Labour to ‘Leave it to us’

HdH: The ‘Polder Model’ is like a cancer in Holland. We need a one day strike in the autumn. We will build up for it with other actions like today’s.

TLG: On 2 September, the government gives its ‘State of the Union’ address, when it presents its policies for the next 12 months. We see this day as a good opportunity to go on strike. We will keep the campaign going to achieve this aim. We need to get rid of this extreme government.

NM: What do you think of the PvdA (Dutch Labour Party)

TLG: The Labour Party is no alternative. Wim Kok, its last leader, and former prime minister, now sits on the board of banks. He argues that Dutch managers need to be paid more to keep them from going to work abroad. Yet dockers and other workers are expected to take a cut in pay, pensions and benefits. The government proposes to raise the retirement age to 65 to 66 years.

HdH: The Dutch Socialist Party has supported us in our fight against the liberalisation of the docks and throughout this campaign.

NM: How do you think you can win your demands?

HdH: Lots of work has to be done by the working class, not just in the Netherlands, but across Europe. The other side over the years has looked after their interests and we need to do the same. They put us to sleep with their kings, queens, royal babies, TV and football. But when an elephant knows it is strong it will not stand still in a zoo.

I was in Hamburg last week for a union meeting and it struck me that workers in Germany, France, Belgium – all over Europe – face the same attacks.

NM: I notice other workers are here today protesting. That´s a very welcome development.

HdH: Yes, fire fighters, ambulance drivers. They all face cuts in social benefits. They will come and join us at lunchtime today. This is a little start. The Amsterdam protest is a good mix of labour. Rotterdam has mainly involved dockers, so far.

NM: Thank you, Herman and Ton, and good luck with your struggle.

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June 2004