Massive protest against neoliberal cuts

4 October 2004

Massive protest against neoliberal cuts

At least 300.000 people demonstrated in Amsterdam last Saturday, 2nd October, against cuts in social spending planned by the right-wing government of Jan Peter Balkenende. Museumplein, one of Amsterdam’s biggest squares, was packed with demonstrators, as were all of the streets leading into it from the city’s railway stations. The huge turnout might have been even larger, as many people were unable to reach the capital because the railways, despite employing every last bit of available rolling stock and personnel, simply could not cope with the numbers wanting to travel.

Made up of Christian Democrats (CDA), right-wing liberals (VVD) and allegedly less right-wing liberals (D66), the Balkenende government put forward in last week’s annual budget a broad package of measures necessary, by the government’s own account, to maintain the Dutch economy’s competitiveness and keep the pensions, social security and health care systems affordable in the face, over the coming decades, of an ageing population.

Trade unions and opposition parties see things differently, however, describing the proposed package as an act of systematic destruction. Early retirement will become almost impossible, access to unemployment, sickness and disability benefits will be made even more difficult than at present, rents will be deregulated and a “no claims bonus” will be introduced into national health insurance. Under this grotesque proposal, premiums will be raised and only those who do not seek treatment will receive a refund. The sick will thus pay more than the healthy. The government is heading at an accelerating rate towards the abolition of collective provision – whether provided by the state under legal obligation or by employers as a result of collective agreements – all under the guise of encouraging citizens to take more individual responsibility.

For the first time in twenty years of the so-called “polder model” – which seeks to replace industrial conflict with a corporatist approach based on national collective bargaining and tripartheid negotiations – the trade unions have initiated mass action. The demonstration of 2nd October was the culmination of a process which has being going on for several weeks under which workers have downed tools for short periods and held demonstrations against the government’s policy under the slogan “The Netherlands deserves better”.

The entire opposition of left and centre-left supported these actions. The social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA), the Green Left and the Socialist Party (which would, according to current polls, together form a majority in Parliament if elections were to be held now) have co-operated well during parliamentary debates on the budget. SP leader Jan Marijnissen has condemned the government for spreading lies and unnecessary anxiety over the country’s labour productivity and the likely consequences of an ageing population, all in order to push through a neoliberal agenda inspired by Reagan and Thatcher. “Balkenende’s quack doctors have got things back-to-front,” said Mr Marijnissen. “Their treatments are worthless; all they succeed in doing is making our country sicker – economically, socially, and morally.”

The SP has played a major role in this growing movement, mobilising huge numbers of members and supporters for last Saturday’s demonstration and organising a national campaign over the last few months against the introduction of the “no claims” rule in health care, a campaign conducted under the slogan (in English), “No claim? No way!”

SP leader Jan Marijnissen speaks

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