Netherlands: Local elections see big losses for governing Coalition parties and opposition Socialist Party

Geert Wilders’ anti-immigrant, right wing ‘Freedom Party’ makes gains

In last week’s Dutch local elections, held just after the fall of the coalition government, the Christian Democrats (the largest party in the recent government) and the opposition Socialist Party suffered major losses. The Labour Party also lost a large number of seats but not as many as was predicted when they were still sharing power in government together with the Christian Democrats. The racist Freedom Party made major gains in the two cities where they participated, gathering about 25% of the vote in these constituencies.

The results of the local elections, and the low turnout (54%), were a ‘day of reckoning’ for the Coalition government that fell apart two weeks ago and a confirmation of the general confusion and distrust of ‘politics’ amongst voters.

The national elections on 9 June is now regarded as a ‘race’ between the Freedom Party’s leader, Geert Wilders, the Christian Democratic leader, Balkenende, whose position has weakened, and the Labour leader, Bos. The Socialist Party is predicted to go from its present 25 seats in parliament to about 11. Its leader, Agnes Kant, stepped down after the local elections.

For the Dutch workers’ movement, difficult days lie ahead. The trade union leadership refuses to organize serious resistance against the increase of the pension age from 67 to 67 years, disregarding several motions adopted by mass union members’ meetings. The Freedom Party’s leader, Geert Wilders, who reaped votes in the local elections, continuously calls for state ethnic and religious-based discrimination, the police shooting of demonstrators, a “holy war” on Islam and for the deportation millions of people from Europe.

How is it possible, many commentators ask, that the Dutch Socialist Party, the ‘champion’ of protest and the ‘voice’ of the workers (the party which led and won referendum on the EU Constitution in 2005 and which scored well in the local and scoring high in the national elections in 2006) has lost so much support, during the most serious crisis of capitalism since the 1930’s?

The Dutch ruling elite hope for a stable majority after the national elections on 9 June, so as to implement the enormous cuts that they consider ‘unavoidable and necessary’. Any new coalition government will be very unpopular soon but the main parties that form a government hope they can ‘weather the storm’ and stay in power until the next elections, due to take place in 2014. All parties, except the Socialist Party, offer the usual neo-liberal fare of cuts and other attacks on the living conditions of working people. All the main parties believe that the 100 billion euros given by government to save the banks must be recouped from workers’ wallets. One main party prefers cuts from development aid, culture and education, another call for cuts in defence, another would rather cut education and health care than the police…but they all want major cuts!

Why is support falling for the Socialist Party?

The Socialist Party is the only party that does not formally accept this neo-liberal logic. But its loss of support in the local elections (the SP vote was halved in many areas) and the abrupt stepping-down of SP party leader, Agnes Kant (she even quit politics altogether), has damaged the Socialist Party.

The SP’s last leader, Jan Marijnissen, who previously was a factory worker, was widely regarded as a politician who was able to speak the ‘language’ of workers. Agnes Kant, by contrast, worked at a university and was under continuous pressure from the media. For Kant, it was almost an impossible job to succeed the popular Marijnissen. But it is even more difficult for the new SP leader, Emile Roemer, to get established in the three months to the upcoming election. The danger is that the SP will go down from 25 seats (parliament has 150) to about 10 (as predicted by polls) or even less. That would be a serious setback for the hopes many working class people have put in the SP.

However Agnes Kant was not the main cause for the SP losses in the elections. That must be attributed to all the leadership’s energy being spent on possible coalitions with pro-capitalist parties, giving uncritical support to the vast sums spent on saving the banks, and the SP’s lack of initiative in organizing resistance to the consequences of the economic crisis. While voters turned their back on the Socialist Party (and socialists were even expelled from the SP’s ranks!) the SP leadership either looked to the right, or ignored the possibilities to lead workers’ and youth resistance to cuts.

The Dutch Labour Party has supported almost all of the government’s recent social cuts. Withdrawing its support for the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan (the cause of the fall of the government, two weeks ago) was not a matter of political conviction (the Labour leaders agreed to an extension of the mission previously) but was an attempt to save Labour from serious political defeat. The Green Left party, which picked up some extra support in the local elections, supported government environmental measures but was in favour of giving employers more legislation to fire workers and to increase the retirement age.

For working people and youth neither the Green Left nor Labour have anything to offer.

The Freedom Party (led by Geert Wilders, who visited the House of Lords in London, last week, leading to street protests) tries to divide workers along racial lines and has had some success. The lack of resistance, of organization and ideas on the left and in the unions and in the SP, and the fact that the Labour Party and the Green Lefts have nothing to offer, means a big political vacuum now exists. Who will take up workers’ interests? The Freedom Party exploits this situation. Wilders plays on frustrations of working people about a ruling elite that is determined to attack the welfare state. The Freedom Party has, to a degree and temporarily, managed to capture the general mood of anger and frustration and to win ‘protest’ votes against the main parties and establishment.

Elections results clear rejection of main parties

From the results of the local elections it is clear that most people reject the main parties. Hundreds of thousands of votes went to local-based parties and to the Freedom Party. Many voters feel they are not being taken seriously by the existing political parties. The Socialist Party received a sizeable number of votes in town where they participated for the first time, but it was not enough to offset the losses in other cities.

A decisive period for the Socialist Party is coming up. The SP leadership has invested a lot of time and energy exploring possible coalitions with other parties. A coalition with the Labour Party or with the Green Left is not what workers need; these parties also want to bill the working class for the crisis of the profit system. On the basis of current polling, such coalitions will anyway prove impossible in numerical terms after the general election.

If the SP goes for a “dented shield” approach and accepts the ‘logic’ of cuts, it will go into a dangerous trap. It will become more difficult for the SP to regain its position as the ‘party of protest’, which helped the party to make important poll gains in 2005 and 2006.

The only real viable perspective for the Socialist Party, if it is to avoid another electoral defeat and a possible irreversible decline, is to aim to win support from working people, the unemployed and youth, by boldly opposing cuts and the elimination of the welfare state, and by putting forward a clear socialist alternative: jobs for all, properly funded education and health service, decent and affordable housing, opposition to war in Afghanistan and so on. Only when the big banks and main planks of the economy are taken into public ownership, under democratic control and management of working people, will the huge resources of society be employed to meet the needs of working class people. The SP must also radically change if it is to succeed; it must have open and democratic structures, if it is to attract new layers of workers and youth.

Bold socialist policies and decisive union resistance to cuts – appealing to working class unity across all ethnic and religious divisions – can cut across the poisonous lies of the Freedom Party and seriously undermine its growing support.

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