SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Netherlands right-wing government falls

THE DUTCH coalition government of the Christian Democrats (CDA), the liberals (VVD) and the hard-right Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF – whose leader was shot dead last May), has collapsed. The CDA and the VVD pulled the plug on the administration on 16 October as it had become clear that the LPF was too unreliable for the Netherlands’ capitalist ruling class. There will be a new election in January.

This marks a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the LPF. Seemingly from nowhere this loose coalition of various interests managed to win 26 seats in the May general election, becoming the second-largest party. The LPF’s anti-immigrant and anti-establishment rhetoric attracted votes from wide sections of the population, including some working-class people, who were fed up with years of neo-liberal policies and the corruption of the main parties.

Despite its anti-establishment posturing, however, the LPF was dominated by big- and medium-sized business figures. While claiming it stood for the ‘ordinary person’, the LPF received donations from rich contributors who saw the LPF as a vehicle through which they could exercise more direct influence in parliament, instead of attempting to work through the traditional capitalist parties.

However, the business people backing the LPF engaged in very crude and unsophisticated activities. They fought amongst themselves for control of the party, but lacked the ‘professionalism’ of the established parties and so were incapable of covering up their tracks and hiding their real interests.

The struggle between different groups manifested itself in open fights between LPF MPs, the self-appointed leaders, and even between LPF ministers. For months the LPF was torn apart by disputes. Two MPs were expelled in a desperate hope to stop yet another dispute and five or more ‘camps’ were formed. The high-profile fight between two of the LPF ministers (the former social-democrat Bomhoff and multi-millionaire Heinsbroek) was the last straw for the CDA and VVD coalition ‘partners’.

Significantly, polls have continued to show a sharp decline in support for the LPF, which began as soon as it assumed power and adapted to the neo-liberal agenda of the main parties. The LPF had gained many votes with a false promise of introducing a ‘new kind of politics’. Now many of those who voted for the LPF realise that it is essentially the same as the establishment parties. During the height of the Bomhoff/Heinsbroek clash polls showed that current support for the LPF would see it collapse from 26 seats to four! The same polls showed that the CDA, VVD and the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) would each gain four or five seats.

On this basis, it would be possible for the CDA and VVD to form a majority in the 150-seat parliament after new elections. In theory, the CDA could also form a cabinet with the social democratic PvdA, but there is no indication that it wants to do that. A new two-party cabinet, most likely made up of the CDA and VVD, would offer the most stable capitalist government at the moment. This combination was common before the ‘purple governments’ of 1994-2002 brought the PvdA into coalition.

There is no chance of an LPF recovery in the forthcoming elections. At the same time, the PvdA is still licking its wounds from the blows it received in May’s election. The party is in disarray and has not even chosen a new leader.

Whatever changes in personnel take place at cabinet level, all the main parties promise more of the same neo-liberal policies. Premier Jan Petr Balkenende of the CDA said that once new elections were called the existing government’s plans for cuts would be the basis for his new government. These attacks are no surprise given the situation facing the Dutch economy. Economic growth has been at zero for almost a year (the Netherlands will soon be officially in recession).

So whatever cabinet will be formed it will have the same kind of destructive programme for working-class people as before. Workers are already paying the price for the economic downturn through mass sackings and frozen wages. Right-wing policies agreed upon by the now fallen government will still be carried out. This includes the axing of thousands of subsidised jobs, a reduction in the public-sector workforce, the continual undermining of permanent sick pay (covering one million people who are not able to work before they reach pension age), attacks on university education, below-inflation wage settlements, a 10% price increase for public transport, and a continuation of the crises in healthcare and education.

It is for these reasons that action organised by students, left organisations and workers in subsidised jobs will increase. It has become clear for many working-class people, including those who had some hope in the LPF, that the main parties carry out the same ‘free-market’ programme at the expense of the living standards of working people.

The unions should be to the forefront of resisting the neo-liberal attacks. However, the union leaders proved unwilling to support a 24-hour general strike against government plans, something that Offensief (the Dutch section of the CWI) called for. Instead of taking decisive action, the main union leader, Lodewijk de Waal, said he considered that the collapse of the coalition government was ‘very sad’, since he was ‘in negotiation with them’. Just what he expected to wrest from the most right-wing Dutch government since the second world war is another question.

The Dutch Socialist Party (SP – formerly a Maoist group and now a small, broad, workers’ party), can play a crucial role in future developments. The PvdA has lost a great deal of support amongst workers. The SP, on the other hand, is already half as big as the PvdA. It has nine parliamentary seats (its current poll share would give it 13-15 seats) and has 32,000 members. The SP is, in many respects, beginning to take over the role as the political party that workers look to – a position once held by the PvdA.

Many workers are indicating that they will vote SP this time, even many who voted LPF. Members of Offensief inside the SP argue for the party to fight on a socialist programme. Such a programme must include policies that counter the lies of the populist right and racists, who can continue to make gains at the polls even if the LPF never recovers. The party must call for decent and affordable public housing, jobs for all, and a real living wage. It must campaign to unite all workers, irrespective of colour or creed, in a struggle against right-wing government policies and for the need to fundamentally change society, for a democratic socialist society, based on need not profit.

In the debates inside the SP in the near future and during preparations for the coming election campaign, Offensief members (including six SP councillors) will argue the case for clear socialist policies, and warn of the dangers of going down the social-democratic road. To be successful, the SP needs to help organise resistance on shop-floor level, at schools and universities, in working-class neighbourhoods and on the streets!

Patrick Zoomermeijer

Offensief – CWI Netherlands


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