Netherlands: Elections see gains for cuts-making Liberals and far-right Geert Wilders

Big industrial and social conflicts ahead!

The supposed purpose of the Dutch nation elections on 9 June, from the point of view of the ruling class, was to provide a stable political basis for a new government to carry out enormous budget cuts. The outcome offers no such thing.

There was a big increase in seats for the Liberal Party, winning 31 seats, out of parliament’s 150 lower house seats. This party proposes tough cuts. The Liberal Party leapt from fourth place to first, became the biggest party, and now has an opportunity to lead a new coalition government for the first time since 1918! (The 1918 Liberal government, under pressure from the Russian Revolution, granted universal suffrage in the Netherlands).

Although not performing as well as expected a few months ago, the other winner in the June 2010 elections was the Freedom Party, under the leadership of Geert Wilders, which won 24 seats (15%). This is a right wing party in favour of huge cuts, targeting so-called “left-wing hobbies”. The Freedom Party is also an opponent of Islam and an anti-immigrant party with racist overtones. With the Liberal Party and Freedom party in ascendancy, which in itself is a point of concern for the workers’ movement, you might think the election represented a swing to the right by the Dutch electorate. But the Christian Democrats, a conservative party, which has been in coalition governments for decades, lost 20 seats, plunging to 14% of the vote, the worst result in its history. In fact, the total gain for the right wing political parties is just 4 seats. It is therefore very difficult for these three right wing parties to form a stable government. Such a coalition would only have 76 seats in the 150 seat parliament, the smallest possible majority. It would also most likely be precarious. The Christian Democrats have to recover from their huge losses and the predecessors of the Freedom Party have been notoriously unstable in governments in the past.

After previous elections by now attempts would begin to form a new government involving the Liberal Party and the Labour Party, who came second with 31 seats. This was possible in the nineties when the booming economy made it possible to patch up their differences. But the parties are now at odds with each other, at least as far as the depth and the speed of the cuts is concerned. The Netherlands is a country of smaller parties but it is very difficult to see any workable combination of parties that has sufficient support in the parliament.

Main parties promise cuts, cuts and more cuts

The election result is easily explained. The entire ‘reform’ agenda that was commonly debated after the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, – all the ideas of supervision of the financial sector, taxes on the banks, and nationalisation under state control – were thrown out of the window by the main pro-market parties. What remained was an agenda of cuts, cuts and more cuts. The financial ‘markets’ instigated the demand for cuts. Banks and other financial institutions were saved by government money in 2008. There debts were transferred to governments who have to act as bailiffs to collect the debt from the workers. The financial markets have decided, with deep gratitude for being saved, that it might be too difficult for governments to collect this enormous amount of money and are refusing to lend any more to governments…

If cuts are the “only alternative”, as the main parties and media like to present it, then the party that ‘cuts best’ is seen as the ‘best choice’, by some middle class people and even workers; for the time being (the Liberal Party has gained support in some working-class areas) and of course before cuts actually hit.

Like other European countries, the Netherlands face a period of serious industrial and social conflicts. It will be difficult enough to establish a government and to draw up a more concrete plan of cuts. Any government formed will be extremely unpopular in a short time. Many working people might like to think that their neighbours’ living standards will be cut for a while, but they will soon hear the government knocking at their door, as well. There will be resistance at attempts to raise the retirement age, to shorten benefits for the unemployed and to make people pay more and much more for health care and education.

Dutch Socialist Party’s losses

The Socialist Party in the Netherlands, which has the potential to develop into a broader workers’ party, lost 10 of its 25 national parliament seats. Although they were earlier expected to go down as far as 8 seats, the actual result is still a considerable setback. Yet if the SP is prepared to campaign actively against cuts and to open up its structures to youth and workers on a democratic basis, it can make up for this loss. The programme of the Socialist Party was, by far, the best as far as the interests of workers are concerned, at least on paper. But even this programme accepted the need for ‘contained cuts’ (though much less than the other parties), which for many workers meant they understandably placed the Socialist Party in the same category as the other cuts-making parties. The other weakness of the Socialist Party was it willingness, expressed many times, to enter into coalitions with parties that propose cuts and other neo-liberal policies, like the Green Lefts, who increased their number of seats to ten. Socialists are not opposed in principle to working with other parties on concrete issues, as long as there is principled opposition to cuts and other attacks on the rights and conditions of working people. But joining or supporting a coalition government which attacks workers’ rights and living standards, albeit it more slowly than other parties, has to be firmly opposed.

With the political front blocked for working people, resistance will first manifest itself at the trade union level. For these struggles to be successful, they will have to cut across the racist divide that the Freedom Party is trying to establish, now that it has emerged stronger from the elections. The unions will need to lead bold struggles, taking all necessary action, including strikes, to see of the attacks on the working class.

The surge of mass resistance will change the political landscape in the Netherlands. A long period of political and social conflict lies ahead. Workers in the cleaning sector have already shown their militancy. Much more is to come. Workers will not tolerate a government that tries to make them pay for the economic crisis of the bosses’ system

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June 2010