Resistance pays off – But the neoliberal agenda is still on the table

6 November 2004

Resistance pays off – But the neoliberal agenda is still on the table

The trade union movement, the hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life who demonstrated against the government’s policies on the 2nd of October, the many who have taken strike action and the majority of the population who have rejected this government have together achieved a great success! The cabinet – composed of VVD (liberals), CDA (christian-democrats) and D66 (social-liberals) – has suffered a big defeat. Yet their plans to demolish the welfare state are not dead.

300,000 demonstrated on the 2nd of October

The decision, already published, not to make any "CAOs" (collective agreements governing working conditions) which include a general increase in wages has been rescinded. This means that increases in wages which are agreed upon as part of a CAO will continue to be applicable to an entire sector. The government has caved in before pressure which has included a complaint to the UN and procedures before the Dutch courts. The liberal assault on labour relations has been beaten off.

The proposed law to scrap short-term unemployment benefits will nevertheless be sent to parliament for approval. Its implementation will, however, be annulled if the national Social-Economic Council develops a plan to decrease unemployment. This law would have negative effects for, in particular, young people, artists, people re-entering the labour market and seasonal labourers.

The law which would have stopped any employee who is sick for more than a year from benefiting from an increase in wages will not be implemented, while the government has backed down on a number of other aspects of its proposals. Rules for access to disability benefits will still be tightened up, but in a less harsh manner than originally foreseen. While the disability-comprise of 2002 between unions and employers will be carried out, and therefore, for instance, part of the disability-premium will now have to be paid by employees, the complete abolition of current disability rights has been forestalled.

In addition, there will be no forced "moderation" of wages, and the clause in the agreement which suspended all salary increases for civil servants has been scrapped..

Fiscal support for prepension schemes for over-55s will still go, with the government committing funds instead to a more individualised system based on increased tax benefits for savers and bonus benefits for those on low incomes. There will be a tax bonus to make it easier for low incomes to participate.

Many aspects of the "reforms" remain unclear, but we can say with pride that this right-wing government’s attempt to break the backbone of the unions has been defeated by militant action. Statements that the unions are dead have been proven wrong. The unions are very much alive and the government has had to back down.

The government’s plans have in large measure been scrapped, but the government remains. The unions have scored a great victory but have yet to win the grand prize, the removal of this government. The locomotive of social demolition has been slowed but not stopped. Increases in rents and the communal taxes and in the costs of education, the introduction of the ‘no claim’ system in health care – the list goes on. All reasons to increase resistance against this government. The union protests prove that the battle can be won!

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