Netherlands: Strike shuts down world’s biggest port

The beginning of a hot autumn

The world’s biggest port was shut down on Tuesday, 20 September, during a 24-hour strike. Around 60,000 angry trade unionists rallied in the centre of Rotterdam to protest the huge cuts plans of the right wing government. They were supported by groups of striking school students, including a lively contingent of 60 who were brought out by student members of Offensief (CWI).

The striking workers were showing their opposition to the deep cuts planned by the Prime Minister, Balkenende, and his coalition government, made up of the Christian-Democrats (CDA), the right wing Liberals (VVD) and ’left wing’ liberals (D66).

It was not only the pension reforms that brought the workers from the docks, the fire fighters, public transport workers and health care workers into the streets. The demonstration was also aimed at the budget cuts in education, in health and social care, in disability benefits etc. It was about the whole package of budget cuts of the right wing government.

School students take action

On the morning of 20th September, members of the socialist organisation, Offensief, (the Dutch section of the CWI) distributed thousands of leaflets at the Institute of Technology (which takes in mainly immigrant people to train to become skilled workers in printing, hair dressing, etc,) and also at another school where an Offensief member organised a school strike. Offensief members succeeded to organise a group of around 60 school students to march to the rallying point of the striking workers. Many of the students were eager to distribute hundreds of Offensief leaflets. They were also very talented in shouting anti-government slogans and by their enthusiasm they ware able to influence the protesting workers into making more noise.

Growing confidence

Speeches were made by the leaders of the different trade union federations (a general one, a Christian Democratic one, and the one for middle and higher ranking employees) and also by the political opposition leaders, Wouter Bos (Social Democrat), Jan Marijnissen (leader of the broad left Socialist Party, in which members of Offensief participate) and Femke Halsema (from Green Left). There was also a cabaret act performed by Rotterdam dockers!

There were clear signs of growing confidence of the Dutch trade union movement after years of the so-called ‘Polder model’ (a ‘social pact’ between union leaders, government and bosses). The number of people that joined the Rotterdam rally definitely exceeded the expected numbers (10-20,000). The 60,000 turnout is an important stimulus for the coming strike next Monday, in Amsterdam, and including surrounding areas, and for the national demonstration on Saturday, 2 October, at which more than 100,000 people are expected to attend (although this may now reach 200,000 or more!).

In the mean time, the general trade union federation has announced that it will demand during the coming collective bargaining a 1.25% pay increase and 1.75% compensation for the damage done by the government’s proposals. In contrast to this total 3% demand, the government and the employers have so far offered 0%.

Thirst for socialist ideas

Offensief members, supported by comrades from our sister Belgian organisation, Left Socialist Party, sold more than 100 copies of the new Dutch paper, which ran the headline: "This government has to go! We have the power to stop them…A general strike is needed."

Many people, mainly youth, gave us their details in order to continue with anti-cuts activities at their schools.

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