Netherlands: Over 250,000 say no cuts!

Massive turnout of trade union movement in Amsterdam

More than 250,000 protesters, mostly trade-union members, assembled on Saturday 2 October, in Museum Square, Amsterdam, to show their anger at the cuts plans of the right wing government (made up of the (Christian Democrats), VVD (right wing Liberals) and D66 (‘left’ Liberals).

For months, the government has talked of its plans to attack pensions, to ‘restructure’ social security, to increase the working week, which, along with growing unemployment, has led to a mood of anger amongst the population in the Netherlands. In polls, 80% say they disagree with the policies of the CDA, VVD and D66 government.

Much to the surprise of almost everybody, including the trade union officials, the turn-out last Saturday was bigger than the expected 100,000. The demonstration followed two regional one day strikes, in Rotterdam, on 20 September (which involved 60,000 workers) and a week later in Amsterdam. The Dutch trade union movement, which for years was embedded in the notorious ‘Polder Model’ (a so-called ‘social pact’ between trade union leaders, governments and bosses) and which appeared almost dead, showed that it is still alive and kicking. The participants on the 2 October were not only ‘grey-haired men’ in their fifties, but people from all sectors and layers of society, that decided to show their anger and that they were not longer prepared to swallow the cuts.

Turn the Tide

Around 25,000 activists assembled earlier on 2 October in Dam Square on the initiative of the broad anti-cuts coalition, ‘Turn the Tide’, in which ‘Offensief’, the Dutch section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), participates. They were welcomed by music from ‘Bots’, a famous band from the seventies. Soon Dam Square was crowded. Youth, elderly people, anti-globalisation activists, migrant workers, asylum seekers, children, trade union members, environmental activists…They were all there. After one hour the demonstration started. It was a lively and noisy protest march that expressed a widely felt opposition to the government’s plans. It took one hour before the protesters arrived at Museum Square, where they joined with the trade unions organising the event. Because of the massive turnout, the Square was packed with people. More than 250,000 assembled and listened to speeches from trade union officials. There was also music and stalls.

Good atmosphere

Amongst the protesters were groups of trade union activists from neighbouring Belgium and Germany, where the governments also plan similar cuts. In these countries the Establishment also wants to slash pensions and social security and want to increase the working week.

Even though 2 October was a magnificent turnout, it could have been bigger. Many people could not make it to Amsterdam as the trains were overcrowded. As people assembled at the Museum Square the first protesters were already marching.

The mood at the demonstration was very much similar to that at the anti-nuclear weapons demonstrations in the eighties. It was a pleasant atmosphere, with music and chanting.

Arrogance of the Establishment

Many protesters made clear they wanted to deepen and expand the movement. But several spokespeople from the government indicated that they were not willing to retreat over the cuts. The Social Affairs Minister indicated that the unions should come back to the negotiating table, but at the same time, he made it clear that there is nothing on offer.

According to the leader of the VVD, one of the governing coalition parties, the protesters were "not well -informed" about the plans of the government. He implied that the trade union movement was aiming for the fall of the administration.

We in Offensief actually think that this is what the trade unions should call for. They have to take the lead of the rising resistance and should make the necessary preparations for a general strike.

Need to break with capitalism

The government has to be removed by the power of the organised working class, using industrial action. But a new government made up of the main parties, for example, one led by the social democratic PvdA, would implement the same kind of policies because they are not willing to break with capitalism. Yet it is the profit system that is the cause of social and economic ills.

Members of Offensief are involved in all the main opposition movements against the cuts: the trade union movement, the broad left Socialist Party, and in the ‘Enough is Enough!’ union rank and file organisation that helped force the union leaders to start the strikes and demonstrations.

Along with members of the Belgian CWI, ‘Left Socialist Party’, Offensief members sold more than 500 copies of a special edition of our paper on 2 October. Many people were attracted to our paper because of its banner headline call for a general strike. We also collected names of people interested in Offensief and we ran stalls at Dam Square and at the Museum Square. As militant socialists we are not only involved in building the movement but we also put forward our socialist ideas to help make the anti-cuts movement larger, stronger and ultimately successful.

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