Netherlands: Successful first meeting of ‘Offensief Against Racism’

Rotterdam campaign receives far right and police attention

Last Sunday, 11 July, we organised the first meeting of our new anti-racist youth campaign, ’Offensief Tegen Racisme’ (Offensief Against Racism –‘Offensief’ is the name of the Dutch section of the CWI).

We chose to start the campaign in Rotterdam, the second biggest city in the Netherlands, because its local government is ‘hard-right’ – made up of conservative liberals and ’Liveable Rotterdam’ (the party established by the right wing, populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assisinated two years ago).

Rotterdam Council has discussed a ban on new immigrants entering the city, introduced a ‘law and order’ policy for the police, implemented many cuts in social services, and the Council wants to introduce a ban on poor people renting a house in certain parts of the city.

The last measure, in particular, provoked a lot of anger amongst working people in Rotterdam, and recently led to a demonstration of several hundred (mostly immigrant people) outside the city hall.

When, in response to the Council’s attacks, we announced the meeting of our new campaign ‘Offensief Against Racism’, we got the strangest possible response! Michiel Smit, an extreme right City councillor and known racist, wanted to take part in the meeting! Smit is an ex-member of the Liveable Rotterdam-party (he departed due to his extreme political views) and started his own party called ‘Nieuw Rechts’ (New Right).

We responded with a press release in which we stated that either Michiel Smit must have become an anti-racist overnight, or he might be trying to disrupt our meeting. Since the former was highly unlikely we said we would not have him at our meeting.

After that, a debate started on different extreme right websites, as well as the Dutch left activists’ ‘Indymedia’ site. Michiel Smit did not turn up to the meeting, despite the attention it got on the internet, and in the local media, or perhaps this attention is why Smit did not attend.

The police, however, were present, with about a dozen officers (including some who know us from earlier activities in different local committees against the Iraq war and against government cuts). The police sent some people away from the meeting who were trying to take photographs of those attending so as to make our faces known to the extreme right.

Full meeting

The meeting went very well. We had a good turn-out – a full room – including some new youth. Some found out about our meeting through our website, some by receiving leaflets handed out at a music festival the week before, and others through the debate at the Indymedia site. Youth who we met at different demonstrations recently also turned up.

Belgian CWI comrades were also present, to provide the meeting with the valuable experiences of ‘Blokbuster’ (set up by CWI members in the 1990s, to counter the far right Flemish ‘Vlaams Blok’, which has relations with Michiel Smit and his party in Rotterdam).

The meeting consisted of thorough debates on the nature of the extreme right, on the causes of wars today (introduced by a member of the Rotterdam anti-war committee in which we take part), on the struggle against the Flemish Bloc, and on the nature of capitalism and our socialist alternative.

We also decided on several activities, including a picket later this week against the Rotterdam Council’s attacks on poor people. We will argue for a real solution to the problems facing all working people: not the scapegoating of the poor, but jobs, affordable housing and decent wages.

After the meeting a young health worker decided, straight away, to join Offensief.

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July 2004