Netherlands: Rise in industrial struggles

Workers demand living wages

Since September 2007, there has been a rise in the number of industrial struggles in the Netherlands. Different sectors of the workforce have taken action demanding a rise in pay to cope with rising costs of living, as well as other specific demands. This is against the background of several years without any nominal rise in pay for working people, while living costs continue to rise. At the same time, companies profit ratios grew, and the salaries of big business managers and shareholders grew enormously.

Over the last ten months or so, strikes and/or other forms of industrial action were taken by teachers, health care workers, metal workers, dockworkers, workers in the national airport, and by cleaners and truck drivers. Bus drivers were on strike for several weeks. The strike had a national character, but not until after weeks of strike action in different regions of the country, on different days. Such is the anger and discontent with government policy, which only benefits the rich, even police officers and prison guards have taken forms of strike action.

It is clear the Dutch coalition government (Christian Democrats, social democratic Labour Party and the small Christian Union), is, in essence, a very weak administration. For example, attempts by the government to adapt redundancy laws and to make it possible for companies to fire workers more easily, have been put on hold because of threathening social unrest.

Government cabinet ministers realised that further attacks on workers’ living standards, such as were introduced during the previous Christian Democrat-led governments (three governments in four years), were impossible to introduce together or were only possible after making heavy concessions in other areas of government policy.

Government diminished – But where is the alternative?

Support for government parties is severely dimished, but since no clear way forward or alternative is offered to workers, a decisive end to the government has not taken place. Neither the Socialist Party, which positions itself to the left of the Labour Party, nor the trade unions, have shown the will to build on the angry mood of workers, to generalise industrial action and to offer a clear, fighting socialist alternative. The union and Socialist Party leaders have not grasped the immense opportunities to combine the industrial action campaigns, in several sectors, into one national campaign, to get rid of this government and replace it with a left, socialist goverment, which breaks with the ‘logic’ of neo-liberalism and capitalism.

Supporters of Offensiev (CWI in Netherlands) call for a 24 hour national strike, to combine the demands from workers in different sectors, with general demands for the restoration of ‘purchasing power’ (a living wage). We call for clear opposition to government plans to change redundancy laws, and pension plans. We call for a mass campaign against racism, and the pro-big business, neo-liberal European Union. As well as this, we call for the immediate ending of the involvement of the Dutch armed forces in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan.

The growing economic crisis, and huge pressures on the living standards and jobs, means there will be much greater social and industrial storms – it is essential the workers’ movement in the Netherlands starts to urgently create a viable alternative, in the industrial and political fields, to all the pro-market economy parties.

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July 2008