“Fair Shares and an Attack on Poverty”

1 May 2010

“Fair Shares and an Attack on Poverty”

Taking a polaroid picture with SP leader Emile Roemer
Speaking in Den Helder, SP leader Emile Roemer used his May Day address to argue for a fair share for all, for poverty to be attacked, the retirement age to be maintained at 65 and for the return of Dutch soldiers from the war in Afghanistan.

"With fair trade and tax justice the unequal division of prosperity in the world can be addressed. That will be better for everyone," said the SP's new leading candidate in the coming elections. "As things stand, as many people in the poorer parts of the world die from a lack of food as die in the richer part from eating too much, or too much fatty food."

Even in our own country, prosperity is unequally distributed. The SP leader praised the courage of striking cleaners and sanitation workers and called for more respect for the people who are given the task of keeping the Netherlands clean. He warned of the growth of a class of working poor, people who can't make ends meet on a single wage. Roemer spoke of the shameful failure of the government's policies on poverty and the plans of many parties to scrap financial assistance for students, threatening to make the chance to learn something that was available only to the well off.

Roemer wants to see the preservation of the basic grant and a rise in the social minimum. "That could be done if people on high incomes also paid a top rate of income tax of 65 percent, large property owners paid property taxes and major corporations more tax on their profits." Roemer also wants to see mortgage relief returned to its original purpose, giving ordinary people the chance to buy their own houses, with relief up to a level of €350,000.

The pensionable age should remain at 65, argued Roemer, provided we ensure that people under that age who have no job can return to work. He said that it was senseless that people under 65 were deprived of a job while those over 65 would soon see their pension rights reduced by two years. May Day 2010 has been named by the SP as the 'Day of Labour and Pensions' and in dozens of places demonstrations and other actions have been carried out, places associated with famous people from labour movement history.

The SP leader gave special attention to the question of Dutch involvement in Afghanistan, expressing his disappointment over Labour leader Job Cohen's television statement that, despite the express opposition of his own party in Parliament, which voted against prolonging the Dutch military presence, he was for a renewed mission. "So the Labour Party once again turns around. It seems as if this party has such behaviour in its genes. You too, Job, have done this. Turned around when you should have shown some backbone. Your party promised it to the people, brought down the government – our soldiers must come back from Afghanistan. And now you want to send more soldiers. This, dear Job Cohen, is not how you treat the voters. This, dear Job Cohen, is above all not how you treat soldiers."

The whole of Emile Roemer's speech

May 1st, Den Helder

Today is the First of May. Labour's Day. On such a day you look at your own hands. You understand that all of the wealth of the world is made by labour. Labour is the ultimate source of all prosperity. That's why our forerunners in the 19th Century wanted this marked with an annual festival: the Workers' Day.

Throughout the world all kinds of workers produce colossal wealth. But the fruit of all this labour, more than a hundred years after the first Workers' Day, is still everywhere unfairly divided. While on one side of the world people are dying from hunger, in the rich west a comparable number die from the consequence of overeating and of eating too much fatty food. The other side of the world seems far away but can be reached by air in a few hours. That goes both ways. It's not surprising that many people want to escape from poverty there and get a slice of the wealth here. But of course that's no solution. We want poor countries to have the chance to develop. We want them to have a fair share of what they produce, to be able to hold on to it for themselves. That demands a fairer system of trade, and the imposition of taxes – fair trade and tax justice, as these things are known globally. As things stand, powerful multinationals stand in the way of such an imposition. The Netherlands plays a major role in the means whereby multinational capital avoids tax. In Amsterdam are thousands of postbox companies which make it possible to avoid taxes elsewhere. That's a scandal. An end must be put to it. We are for international solidarity – including in matters concerning trade and the payment of taxes.

Globally, prosperity is unequally divided. But this is also the case in the Netherlands. Just think of the cleaners' brave struggle. And now the sanitation workers, the people who empty our bins. The cleaners were fighting for a euro or so more an hour. The bosses didn't want to pay. But the cleaners won. I heartily congratulate them. Now the sanitation workers are in action. They keep the Netherlands clean and yet are treated filthily by the bosses. Their employers are often firms which in the recent past were state-owned, but now, as they say, stand at some distance from that. A fine thing. I wish the sanitation workers the same success that the cleaners have already achieved. They deserve a decent wage, decent work and more respect. That's something to think about on Workers' Day.

Emile Roemer gets a thumbs up

What we should also be thinking about on this May Day of 2010 is the old saying that when your work is done it's good to rest. That's why the labour movement in the course of time was able to demand and win the eight-hour day. Yet now we see that there exists a growing group of working poor, even in the Netherlands. People who can't cover their costs with a single job and must therefore take another as well. As a rule such jobs are heavy and underpaid. And the right to rest is as nothing at all. That's a scandal. That's something that should be being said on this Workers' Day.

To Piet Hein Donner, Minister of Social Affairs, I want to say this: why haven't you done anything about poverty in the Netherlands? And above all about the fact that 300,000 children in our country are growing up in poverty? I find this scandalous. And I also find it scandalous that many parties want to abolish financial aid for students. I don't want the chance to learn to be available only to the well-to-do. As far as I know the SP is the only party that is proposing to increase the social minimum over the next few years and to maintain the basic grant. That's a question of choice. We would have those who earn more than the prime minister pay a top rate of tax of 65 percent. People who own a great deal of property will once again pay property tax. Major corporations will pay more in tax on their profits. We will go back to using mortgage relief for the purpose for which it was intended, to give ordinary people the chance to buy their own house, with mortgage relief up to 350,000 euros. If we take these measures, we can share things a bit more fairly. And people who are now poor will be given more. That's what I call solidarity. And it's a good thing to think about on this Workers' Day.

Decent work, a decent wage, decent leisure time, decent security. To these should be added, a decent system of social insurance. That's why we're opposed to any reduction in unemployment benefits. Decent work, decent wages, decent rest periods, decent security. To which should be added, a decent system of social insurance. That's why we're against cuts in unemployment benefits. That's why health insurance premiums must be tailored to people's means. That's why we want to abolish the 'own risk' element in health insurance. And that's why we want to make child benefits dependent on incomes. Right to rest also means the right to a pension. And on your 65th birthday. Other parties want to deprive people of two years of pension payments. I call that a scandal. Just as it is also scandalous that a million people under 65 can't find work. For them there are no jobs, yet people over 65 will soon have to carry on working. Who dreams up such absurdities?

On the Workers' Day it's good to remember that all of the social rights that we now enjoy have been achieved through struggle, through action. The sun doesn't rise under capitalism for nothing. This is the capitalism which, in recent times, has shown its ugliest face. Banks and investors have speculated with our savings, have paid their top people ridiculous bonuses and salaries and as a consequence saddled society with enormous debts. I call that too a scandal. Not a single banker has been sent to prison. Most of them are sitting just where they were sitting before and see no reason to hesitate to pocket still more bonuses. On this Workers' Day it's good to reflect on the fact that the wealth of banks, investors and executives has collectively fuelled this madness.

On Workers' Day it's good to reflect also on an exceptional kind of work. That of our military. Being a soldier is a dangerous business. Two weeks ago Corporal Houweling and Marine Harders died in Afghanistan. Soldiers were sent there by our government. And for that reason you would expect more care to be taken by the government and political leaders. The opposite is true. Recently replaced Labour Party leader Wouter Bos brought the government down over Afghanistan. With his last act he wanted to prove that the Labour Party was finally tired of constantly going back on its commitments. Good for him, we said. Better halfway back than completely lost, certainly if it's war you're talking about. Last week the Labour Party group in Parliament voted with us against a bizarre plan from the Green Left – which was once pacifist! - and the centrist liberals of D66 – a plan to send a new police mission to Afghanistan, accompanied by 250 soldiers. Yet yesterday morning in a television programme new Labour leader Job Cohen turned this decision of his parliamentary group on its head. It seems as if this sort of thing is in the party's genes! You too, Job, have done this. Turned around when you should have shown some backbone. Your party promised it to the people, brought down the government – our soldiers must come back from Afghanistan. And now you want to send more soldiers. This, dear Job Cohen, is not how you treat the voters. This, dear Job Cohen, is above all not how you treat soldiers!

On all fronts, time is running out. Many parties want to raise the pension age to 67. Many parties want to cut unemployment benefits. Many parties want to cut wages in the public sector. Many parties want to increase the own risk element in health insurance. Many parties want to remove rent controls. Many parties want to trim development aid. Many parties want to get out of the crisis through hard, neoliberal and antisocial policies. Many parties threaten what it has taken a century to construct. Many parties take a dim view of social struggle, of activism, of trade unions.

Not us. We are proud to call ourselves the Socialist Party. We stand for a social route out of the greatest crisis of our times. We stand for a civilised withdrawal of our soldiers from Afghanistan. We stand for a huge clean-up and a clearing away of all of these disastrous right-wing plans. We want to wipe the floor with all of these demolition plans. We want to take the broom to bonuses, ridiculous salaries and costly bureaucracy. We'll run a mop over the public sector. We want to see a breath of fresh air in politics. If you want these things, then we are your party. It's good to make that clear on this Workers' Day.

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