Netherlands: Austerity measures lead to soup kitchens

"In this week’s BN-De Stem [newspaper] there was an article about a new phenomenon in Breda: the soup kitchen.

The following is an edited press statement from the Socialist Party in the town of Breda, in the Netherlands. The Dutch SP is a broad based left party. The statement highlights the return of soup kitchens in the Netherlands. The statement was written by Johann Kwisthout, an elected councillor for the SP in Breda and an active member of Offensief (the Dutch section of the cwi in the Netherlands).

Austerity measures lead to soup kitchens

"This is an institution run by volunteers to supply food to people on low incomes. The SP in Breda thinks that this is a magnificent example of solidarity in society. We are furious at the attempts of the government and the bosses, lead by Zalm and Balkenende [Dutch prime minister], to break solidarity [in society]. The great participation of youth [in the last few months of mass protests] against proposed cuts in pensions shows that the Dutch are opposed to an ‘everybody for himself and God for all of us’ attitude. So the Breda SP welcomes [working] people that are helping others [from poor backgrounds].

"However it is scandalous that a soup kitchen is necessary. The welfare system is meant to cover the necessary costs of existence. When people are forced to soup kitchens there is only one conclusion to draw and that is that [welfare] benefits are too low to live on. What does the [government’s] term "minimum existence" involve? Breda SP will ask the local council’s alderman to give us an explanation at the next meeting.

"This kind extreme situation is no small flaw in the system but that it is inherent in the capitalist system. To be able to compete, companies and the [nation] states are obliged to keep "costs" as low as possible. [What resists this attempt to further exploit workers]…is not the ‘social conscience’ of the ruling class but the level of consciousness, unity and militancy of the working class. All social gains, like the welfare system, an eight-hour working day, and the right to vote, have been wrung out of the ruling class through a long struggle, and they can be withdrawn as easily if the workers’ movement gets weaker. The situations regarding the economy or what [pro-capitalist] governments are in power are not the main issues: poverty and exploitation belong to capitalism as ebb belongs to flow. The only way to structurally ban the kind of extremes of soup kitchens is to struggle for a socialist society, where decisions concerning the economy are not taken by [wealthy] individuals but by society as a whole."

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November 2004