Netherlands: Thousands demonstrate against government cuts

Dutch people want a real alternative to austerity

Last weekend, 5,000 people demonstrated in Amsterdam against new government cuts. This marked a big step forward, given that in the last six months the struggle against government policy was left to refugees and home care staff. A platform of union branches and left organisations originally called for the demonstration. But it is clear that this tough austerity government will not stop making cuts because of one demonstration. The march on 20 September should be the basis for a campaign to hold a large trade union demonstration on 30 November. After that, the strike weapon must be used. However last Saturday’s demonstration did finally provide an outlet to the anger of many people about government cuts and rising poverty and unemployment, falling pensions, increased reliance on food banks, the lack of work for self-employed professionals, zero hour contracts and the breakdown of health care.

The turnout at the demonstration was good considering that national newspapers, like ‘De Volkskrant’, for example, more or less printed a propaganda offensive saying that people should not demonstrate. There was a tendentious article that described pensioners as stupid, greedy and stating they should not complain. A columnist Martin Sommer, wrote that debt is something people purely bring on themselves and that the government should not have to pay for it… ("people too easily think that the Government must pay for their problems"). An editorial in a daily paper claimed that the abolition of the welfare State is "inevitable and defensible". Elsewhere the paper praised “green entrepreneurs” as the way forward. Protesters were presented as not understanding modern society. In the media, workers are regarded as Neanderthals because they do not accept attacks on them. Trade unions are “out-dated” while companies and entrepreneurs are dynamic, the source of all wisdom and so on.

Role of the SP

What about the movement against the cuts after the demonstration? The participation of the Dutch Socialist Party (SP), on a national level, was a step forward (previously just some SP branches participated in anti-cuts events nationally). In his speech to the protesters, SP leader, Roemer, promised an autumn of resistance to the government. But he was not very specific about what the SP was going to do. His speech focused on the Labour Party, which is in the coalition government, rather than on the protesters and activists. Roemer called on the Labour Party to break away from the Liberal Party and leave the coalition.

What Roemer did not say (but he might well have meant) was that the Labour Party, after splitting away from the coalition government with the VVD (Liberal-Conservative Party), should form a coalition government with the SP. But that is not a credible alternative to the government. How can the SP go into coalition with the PvdA after all the cuts Labour are responsible for – home care (Labour party-State Secretary Van RIjn), elderly and people on welfare (Labour Party-Secretary Klijnsma), the decision to buy the Joint Strike Fighter decision (PvdA leader Samson put more effort into this than the VVD Minister of Defence Hennis)? The Labour Party has a tradition of twenty years of betrayals of the working class, which seriously began in the early 1990s with the cuts on disability insurance made when the party was in power. Apart from the political problems of such a Labour/SP governing coalition, how broad is the basis for the Labour Party? According to polls, even on a purely practical level, such a coalition would only have 34 seats in Parliament (150 seats in total).

Roemer’s speech did not indicate how the SP is going to topple the current coalition government, but shifted the responsibility to the Labour Party leadership. But Labour leaders are doing their utmost to save the coalition as its collapse would mean new elections, with disastrous results for the Labour Party and the Liberal/Conservatives.

The SP should reject the political realities of entering into a coalition with the Labour Party and other pro-capitalist parties. It should consider and choose a strategy to bring the SP to power on the basis of majority support and with a socialist programme. But the approach of the SP leadership means that seems to be far away.

A coalition with the Labour party or with other pro-bourgeois parties is not a real option for working people. In such a coalition, the SP would be forced to act as a battering ram to force through cuts demanded by the other parties.

Yet the enormous anger of working people over the cuts and the fact that broad layers of the population face falling living standards and working conditions can be the basis on which the SP can fight for a majority government. The reality is that Dutch people do not want another coalition, which brings more or less the same cuts, but a real alternative.

Because the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) recently decided to hold a large demonstration on 30 November, a clear and impressive presence of the FNV on last week’s protest would have been a good way to build for 30 November. There is a lot of work to be done! The VVD is trying in every way possible to move away from the Social Accord, an agreement concluded between the tops of the unions and the government. This kind of “Accord” only serves the government. The VVD shoves these agreements aside as soon as they no longer suit their purposes. Their strategy is to first reach an agreement and later they declare that it is necessary to be flexible and that means they scrap even the most minimal concessions. The government has unleashed a social war that the unions can only counter by taking a hard stand against these politics of procrastination and deception.

November 30th demo

The FNV demonstration on 30 November should not have the usual (unofficial) motto; "Nice that you’ve been here and see you soon again". Instead November 30th must be the starting point for more militant and determined action against the government’s policies; for local events, ‘warning strikes’, broader actions in other sectors, where possible and appropriate, such as home care and prison wardens and getting the active support of retired union members and union members on welfare. The wage demand of 3% and stalled negotiations municipalities sector are all good reasons for protest action. The resistance can be combined and lead to a general strike next spring. It is not even sure that the government would step back after such a show of workers’ strength. So, even more mass pressure would be needed to stop the cuts.

The tenure of the speeches at union demonstrations is often that the VVD, Labour Party and other parties “do not understand” the implications of the cuts. The idea that is presented on many demonstrations is that government would not make cuts, if they realized what the awful consequences are.

The reality of the situation, however, is that the effects of the cuts, poverty and unemployment, are the objectives of all these neo-Liberals. The crisis of 2007/8 was an economic disaster but a political godsend… to carry out attacks against workers living standards that capitalist government only dared to dream about in the past. Capitalism, in general, and the Dutch government, in particular, wants to create 19th century-style conditions for the employed and unemployed in the Netherlands. They want workers employed on the lowest possible pay rates and to sack them at will. These so-called ‘reforms’, according to defenders of the capitalist system, are always "inevitable and well defencible". We must reject this "logic". We must face the truth – all these attacks will only stop if the working class stops this decline with its huge collective strength. There are no solutions without a fight!

  • Fight all the cuts and privatisations
  • Stop the pension cuts and raising of the retirement age
  • Compensate for the price increases in wages, benefits and pensions
  • No degradation of unemployment benefits
  • Share out all work; for a 32-hour work week with no loss of pay
  • No to the Joint Strike Fighter
  • No to wage freezes in the public sector
  • For permanent jobs in the home-care sector
  • An union campaign for action and a 24-hour general strike; mobilize the massive potential of the trade union movement against all cuts
  • The Dutch Socialist Party should represent workers and people who suffer from the cuts and form a combative political alternative to the austerity parties
  • For a socialist alternative to cuts and capitalism, with a democratic socialist plan of production based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people and not those of a small super rich elite

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September 2013