Netherlands: How to restore the tradition of Labour Day?

Good response to CWI paper and leaflets in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Offensief on the mayday march

As an exception to neighbouring countries, such as Belgium and Germany, 1 May is not celebrated as a national holiday in the Netherlands. This year however, the Christian holiday, Ascension Day, collided with May Day, and, therefore, more workers than usual were given the possibility to take part in May Day celebrations.

However, as the fact that May Day is not a national holiday shows, there is not a strong tradition in the Netherlands to celebrate 1 May. In fact, when Queen’s Day, which is celebrated every year on the 30 April, draws tens of thousands of people throughout the country to different activities, May Day celebrations are limited to several thousands of participants.

Big May Day demonstrations, such as take place in Belgium every year all across the country, are a rare phenomenon in the Netherlands. In fact, the only city in the Netherlands where such a demonstration takes place is Rotterdam. Around 1,000 participated. The lack of tradition is also shown by the absence of trade union delegations.

Assembling outside Rotterdam city hall

rotterdam may day march

Rotterdam may day march

The broad reformist Socialist Party has a branch in Rotterdam, which is strongly under the influence of the Dutch section of the Fourth International, which every year prefers to sidestep this demonstration and organise their own little festival, which had a maximum of between 200 and 300 visitors this year. This means that supporters of the LTTE/Tamil Tigers and PKK-leader Öcalan, for instance, have a wide presence on the May Day demonstration. Reportedly, after this year’s demo, there were clashse between PKK supporters and those of the far-right Turkish group, the “Grey Wolves”.

Patrick Zoomermeijer

Patrick Zoomermeijer

In some other parts of the country, meetings were held to commemorate the traditions of May Day, such as in the city of Zaanstad, which once was considered to be a ’red stronghold’. This May Day demo was co-organised by the SP , the local branch of the Greens, the union branch of FNV Bondgenoten and a Turkish workers’ organisation called DIDF. An Offensiv comrade, An Offensiv comrade, Patrick Zoomermeijer, spoke on behalf of the local branch of the SP at the rally, on the history of 1 May. Other comrades from Amsterdam were present at this May Day meeting with our paper and handed out a a leaflet for a public meeting on ‘May 1968’, which we are organising in Amsterdam at the end of May.

Although we lack strong May Day traditions, the Dutch section of the CWI had a good response to its paper and leaflets in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. But it is clear the Dutch workers’ movement will have to rebuild the tradition of May Day.

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May 2008