Netherlands: Opposition Socialist Party surges to first place in polls

Workers need a party with anti-cuts, socialist policies not coalitions with capitalist parties!

The Socialist Party in the Netherlands has recently significantly increased its support, coming first in some polls. In the international press it has been suggested that the party’s popularity has rose because of its opposition to Brussels and its austerity measures. This is partly true. The Socialist Party has, in a limited way, taken the place of the social democratic PvdA (Labour Party) as the party that is widely seen as representing workers’ interests. There were high hopes in the Socialist Party in 2006 when it got 25 seats in the Dutch Parliament out of a total of 150 seats. When it failed to take up workers’ interests sufficiently, in spite of the start of the global economic crisis in 2007/8, disappointment set in. One of the main beneficiaries of the mood at the time was the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders, a right wing party that combined anti-Islamist policies with verbal opposition to cuts in the welfare state.

Financial Times Graphic, 31 January 2012

The Party for Freedom is now part of the government. It does not have any government ministers but it has agreed to support the present administration that is made up of the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats, the traditional parties of Dutch capitalism. The deal is that the government implements 18 billion of cuts and that the PVV provides them with a smokescreen with its anti-Islam rhetoric. It is clear that the Party for Freedom has made some major concessions on its social and economic program, for example over the pension age, which is due to eventually rise from 65 to 67. Now that the cuts are starting to bite and with more cuts in the air (the government will decide about another painful 5-10 billion euro of cuts next March) the popularity of the government and the PVV is falling. Some anti-Islamist measures have been taken, like a ban on the Burka but these are largely symbolic (hardly anybody has ever seen a Burka in the Netherlands) but the cuts are real.

SP in local coalitions

This means that a sizeable group of voters are moving from the Party for Freedom to the Socialist Party, which is seen by many Dutch people as the only opposition party worthy that name in Parliament. It could well be that many of these voters moved from the Socialist Party to the PVV after 2006. Yet while many voters indicate a yearning for a clear anti-cuts party, the Socialist Party leadership is moving in the direction of a coalition with pro-capitalist parties. In cities and in Dutch provinces, like Brabant, the SP has already entered local administrations. The present leader of the Socialist Party, Emil Roemer, was an alderman in Brabant, as part of a local coalition with the Liberal Party. He announced that he wants to repeat that experience on a national level. Unfortunately for Roemer, the present leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister, much as he indicates he likes Mr. Roemer personally, says he does not see it happening! But a SP coalition with other ‘mainstream’ parties, like the Labour Party, the Green Lefts or the Christian Democrats perhaps, is a real possibility after future elections.

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 has to be firmly opposed.

Lack of union resistance

Another factor contributing to the growth of the SP in the polls is the lack of trade union resistance. Last September the tops of the unions concluded a rotten pension deal with the employers and the government, which means that all the investment risks are placed onto the backs of workers. The majority of members of the largest Dutch unions in the public and private sectors opposed the deal but because a number of smaller unions make up the majority of affiliates in the largest Dutch trade union federation, FNV, the deal was pushed through. This led to an irreconcilable conflict between the FNV and the presidents of the largest unions which have around 60% of the federations’ membership. ‘Conflict mediation’ (by an ex-banker and Labour Party politician) was called in and the FNV trade union federation was “dissolved”. A plan for a new trade union movement will be drawn up in the next year under the lead of another Labour Party politician, responsible for many welfare cuts. This means that further large scale mobilizations of trade union opposition against the government cuts, like those in Belgium and Britain, are blocked temporarily, workers are looking to the political front.

The movement towards the SP in the polls shows the potential for bold, anti-capitalist and socialist alternative but there are no major elections until the municipal elections in 2014 and the situation then could then be very different for the SP, particularly if its leadership continues with its ‘coalitionist’ policies.

The Dutch ruling class is very dependent on the European internal market and the euro and worries about the anti-EU sentiments among Dutch voters. Only the Party for Freedom and the SP use anti –EU rhetoric. But the anti-EU stand of the PVV is not much of a problem for the present government because they can look to the Labour Party in parliament for support for the EU. This brings many Labour Party supporters to the SP. If a government was formed involving the SP (now the largest party in the opinion polls) the ruling class might have a serious problem.

Big economic pitfalls

There have been no major expressions of class struggle in the Netherlands, such as general strikes, but there have been a large number of smaller struggles, like workers moving into action over cuts in workplaces for the disabled, against cuts to personal health budgets, students taking action against grant reductions and action by public transport workers. Recently, strike plans were drawn up against the closure of the Mitsubishi car factory in the south of Holland.

The country faces potentially big economic pitfalls, like mortgage debts. The Netherlands has a 7 million square meters of empty office blocks in the world. Many people are ‘self employed’ but are struggling on low incomes or not working but do not show up in unemployment figures.

A socialist party with bold, socialist policies could make a huge difference in the situation in the Netherlands. But a Socialist Party that tries to manage capitalism better than the capitalist political parties, or even calls for them to form a future governing coalition, means no real progress at all for Dutch workers and the poor.

For socialist policies!

The only real viable perspective for the Socialist Party, if it is to avoid big losses in support due to continuing disastrous coalitions with cuts-making capitalist parties at a local and possibly national level, 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 imperialist wars 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 also cut across the poisonous lies of the Party for Freedom.

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February 2012