René worked for 22 years at Organon in Oss, as did thousands of others in the town. In every street lived someone who worked at the pharmaceutical company, either in the research laboratories or the factory. I was born and grew up in Organon's back yard. For us, Organon was much more than just work: for a hundred years it was the pride of our town. And it was known across the world as the inventor of the contraceptive pill.
Organon belonged in Oss. In the boardroom of AkzoNobel, of which Organon formed part, the great and the good saw things differently. Hans Wijers, who is also a member of centrist party D66 which he once served a Economics Minister, sold the firm to an American corporation. Despite Organon and its employees having made huge profits for AkzoNobel, they were deemed insufficient. The shareholders wanted still more.
With this, any say over the future disappeared across the Atlantic to America, and not only the future of the firm, but the future of Oss. Three years on, and again a takeover further, the Americans decided without so much as a by your leave to close the research labs. Almost 2,200 of the 4,500 employees lost their jobs, including René. Every day workers marched in protest through Oss. From time to time I joined them. You could see the distress of powerlessness etched into their faces. But this didn't bother the directors, far away in the United States. They were interested only in quick profits. For them, Organon was no more than a dot on the map.
The overwhelming power of shareholders is causing jobs to disappear from perfectly healthy Dutch firms, while the politicians look the other way. In order to placate big capital, foreign investors have just had a gift worth €1.4 billion from the government of Mark Rutte, while the amount of tax they pay has been reduced by a further 2 billion. But when our jobs are at stake, we have no right to speak.
This has to change. We need to ensure that it is not only the shareholders who have the right to vote on takeovers, but the workers too, and that the government can block takeovers where they come at the expense of the general interest.
Companies are more than playthings for their shareholders. That's why we need to ensure that together we have something to say about them. For René, for the Netherlands, for each other.
Lilian Marijnissen was elected parliamentary leader of the SP in December, following the resignation of Emile Roemer.