Netherlands: Coalition government falls

Dutch Socialist Party must fight November elections on bold socialist policies

Last week, saw the fall of the Dutch right wing coalition government, made up of the Christian-democrats (CDA) led by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the right wing liberal party (VVD) and the so-called ‘left-liberal’ D66. This was the direct result of the crisis surrounding the withdrawal of a passport for VVD MP Hirsi Ali. The MP, who was brought up as a Muslim, arose to prominence over the last few years for her right wing populist policies on immigrant issues and Islam.

Following marathon discussions in parliament’s lower house, which continued until the early hours of last Thursday morning, the smallest of the three coalition government parties, the D66, supported a motion of censure against Immigration and Integration, Minister Rita Verdonk.

The main focus of the discussions was Verdonk’s announcement, in May, that former MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali technically had not acquired Dutch nationality because she had lied in her naturalisation request when she came to the Netherlands, in the early 1990s. The Minister for Immigration and Integration wanted to show her ‘tough stand’ on refugees to bolster her chances in the VVD party’s leadership contest. This ploy did not get Verdonk to the number one position on the VVD-slate for general the elections, which were then scheduled for spring 2007, but she came close, winning almost 50%.

Last week’s parliament debate looked at events surrounding Verdonk’s more recent announcement that Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a Dutch citizen, after all. The latter statement came after parliament called on the Immigration and Integration Minister to see to it that the issue be settled in such a way that Hirsi could retain her Dutch passport.

Verdonk’s announcement that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch citizen was accompanied by a statement signed by Hirsi Ali, in which she took the blame for the confusion about her nationality, thereby clearing Ms Verdonk of responsibility for the entire affair. Opposition parties in parliament claim Verdonk must have applied pressure to her former party colleague to get her to sign this document.

The smallest coalition party, D66, demanded the resignation of Verdonk, but the other ruling parties did not agree.

One of the opposition parties, ‘GreenLeft’, filed a motion of censure against Minister Verdonk. The motion was backed by several other opposition parties – Labour, the Socialist Party and the Christian Union – but also by junior government party, D66.

Prior to the motion being put to a vote – in which it was defeated- D66’s parliamentary leader, Lousewies van der Laan, told the lower house that Minister Verdonk no longer enjoyed her party’s confidence and that she, therefore, assumed that Ms Verdonk would leave the cabinet. If that were not the case, then the two D66 ministers in the current government would vacate their seats.

At the moment, it seems there will be a CDA-VVD government, supported by the right populist ‘List Pim Fortuyn’ MPs. Elections are postponed for as long as possible, to 22 or 29 November. The government wants to continue to rule the country, supported by LPF (although according to opinion polls the LPF would not win any seats). Even the D66 said it is still willing to support the social and economic ‘reforms’ of the government.

So, effectively, amongst the parties in parliament, there is even a stronger support for the government’s policies than before the recent crisis. However, popular support for this government is lower than for any government in any period since the Second World War. The right wing government anticipates that a recovering economy, combined with ‘nice gifts for the people’ in the new budget, will result in growing support for the ruling parties.

The fall of the government was not just over Hirsi Ali, but also resulted from the coalition’s weak support in society. Though the government recently regained some support, due to economic recovery, there is still widespread hatred amongst the working class towards government policies of cut-backs and privatisations.

However, the Dutch trade union leadership failed to effectively organise mass action to bring down the unpopular government. Large demonstrations and rolling strikes, over the last few years, against the biggest post-war cuts, showed the determined mood of the working class and drew together all sections of working people and the poor. But the union leaders did not develop the struggle any further and step up industrial action, including general strikes, to force the government to back down.

However, the ruling parties were gravely damaged by the cuts. Widespread discontent amongst the working class led to the coalition parties becoming terrified of losing votes. It also led to contradictions between the government parties, and within the ruling parties, coming to the fore.

One wing of the VVD party, around government minister, Verdonk, used racist and right-wing populism to regain support. At the same time, the D66 government party, which was becoming marginalised in the polls, decided to “make a stand” against Verdonk, to survive.

It is not easy to predict what will happen in elections. According to opinion polls, the Christian Democrats will lose 8 seats, and the VVD, with its growing racist profile (Verdonk will be number two on the party’s election slate), will gain one seat. The social democratic party (PvdA) stagnates in the polls but ‘Green-Left’ will grow from 8 to 11 seats. The left reformist Dutch Socialist Party is predicted to spectacularly increase its MP’s from 9 to 17.

The leadership of the trade union movement applauds the fall of the coalition government. But this will not lead to the leaders taking initiatives to fight back in workers’ interests. On the contrary, the union leaders hope for a good election result for the PvdA social democrats, and for the PvdA to form a coalition government with the Christian democrats. It seems that for the next months, if the union leaders have their way, the struggle for change will not be a trade union led struggle, it will be a struggle over the ballot box, as we saw with the EU referendum in the Netherlands and during recent local elections.

A ‘left coalition’ government?

For revolutionary socialists this means calling for a radical alternative and, at the same time, warning about illusions in a so-called ‘left wing coalition’ government, consisting of the PvdA, Green-Left and the SP – although it seems very unlikely that such a government will be the outcome of the November elections. It is clear from remarks made by the leaders of these three parties that such a coalition government would not decisively break with the policies of privatisation, liberalisation and war that come with the logic of capitalism.

Although advocates of such a ‘left wing’ coalition government claim it would make improvements to people’s lives, such as more wage-equality, a halt to the increasing of working hours, and possibly the creation of more secure jobs and the ‘restoration’ of a decent welfare system, the fact that it would accept the logic of capitalism will mean no fundamental change for the working class. Recent international experience shows that, in all likelihood, a ‘left coalition’ government that accepts capitalism, will carry out new attacks on workers’ conditions and living standards to satisfy the big bosses, whatever the hopes of some on the left advocating a coalition.

The task of rebuilding the workers’ movement, on a socialist programme, remains of the outmost importance. This means transforming the unions, so that they are democratic, combative mass organisations representing the working class.

It also means building a mass political voice for the Dutch working class, the poor and immigrants. Offensief members (CWI in Netherlands) participate in the Socialist Party, which has quite wide support amongst workers. We call for it to adopt bold socialist policies and to pursue an independent class line. Alongside developments outside the Socialist Party, this would create the basis for a new mass socialist alternative.

Offensief calls for the SP to fight the coming elections on anti-cuts, anti-privatisation platform, linking this to the need for real reforms, for a living wage, a decent welfare service, jobs for all, and for fundamental social change – for a socialist society. This requires a thorough democratic discussion inside the SP on policies and programme and for the SP to develop genuine, democratic structures, and leadership accountability to the rank and file. It means the SP has to be a party of struggle, a party leading the fight against racism and for workers unity and socialism.

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