SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 140 - July/August 2010

Dutch elections

Gains for Liberals and the far-right

FROM THE point of view of the Dutch ruling class, the general election on 9 June was supposed to provide a stable political basis for a new government to carry out enormous budget cuts. But the outcome offers no such thing. There was a big increase in seats for the Liberal Party, winning 31 of the parliament’s 150 lower house seats, which proposes tough cuts. The Liberals leapt from fourth place to first and now have an opportunity to lead a new coalition government for the first time since 1918.

Although not performing as well as expected a few months ago, the other winner was the Freedom Party, under the leadership of Geert Wilders, which won 24 seats (15%). This is a right-wing party in favour of huge cuts, targeting so-called ‘left-wing hobbies’. The Freedom Party is also an opponent of Islam and an anti-immigrant party with racist overtones. With the Liberal Party and the Freedom Party in the ascendancy – in itself a concern for the workers’ movement – you might think that the election represented a swing to the right. But the Christian Democrats, a conservative party, which has been in coalition governments for decades, lost 20 seats, plunging to 14% of the vote, the worst result in its history. In fact, the total gain for right-wing political parties is just four seats.

It is, therefore, very difficult for these three right-wing parties to form a stable government. Such a coalition would only have 76 of the 150 seats, the smallest possible majority, a precarious position. The Christian Democrats have to recover from their huge losses and the predecessors of the Freedom Party have been notoriously unstable participants in previous governments.

In the past, this situation would have led, by now, to attempts to form a new government involving the Liberal Party and the Labour Party, which came second with 31 seats. This was possible in the 1990s when the booming economy enabled them to patch up their differences. But the parties are now at odds with each other, at least as far as the depth and speed of the cuts is concerned. There are other smaller parties but it is difficult to see a stable combination.

The election result is easily explained. The ‘reform’ agenda that was commonly debated after the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 – supervision of the financial sector, taxes on the banks, nationalisation under state control, etc – was thrown out of the window by the main pro-market parties. What remained was an agenda of cuts, cuts and more cuts. The financial markets instigated this demand. Banks and other financial institutions were saved by government money in 2008. Their debts were transferred to governments which are acting as bailiffs to collect the debt from the workers. The financial markets have decided, with deep gratitude for being saved, that it might be too difficult for governments to collect this enormous amount of money, and are therefore refusing to lend any more to governments.

If cuts are the ‘only alternative’, as the main parties and media like to present it, then the party that ‘cuts best’ is seen as the best choice. This is true also in some sections of the middle class, and even among some workers – for the time being, at least. The Liberal Party gained support in some working-class areas. Of course, this is before the cuts actually hit.

Like other European countries, the Netherlands faces a period of serious industrial and social conflict. It will be difficult enough to establish a government and to draw up a concrete plan of cuts. Any government will become extremely unpopular in a short time. There will be resistance at attempts to raise the retirement age, to shorten benefits for the unemployed and to make people pay much more for healthcare and education.

The Socialist Party in the Netherlands, which has the potential to develop into a broader workers’ party, lost ten of its 25 national parliament seats. Although it was earlier expected to go down as far as eight seats, the actual result is still a considerable setback. Yet, if the SP is prepared to campaign actively against cuts and to open up its structures to young people and workers on a democratic basis, it could make up for this loss.

The programme of the Socialist Party was, by far, the best as far as the interests of workers are concerned, at least on paper. But even this programme accepted the need for ‘contained cuts’ – though much less than the other parties – which meant that many workers understandably placed the Socialist Party in the same category as the other parties.

The other weakness of the Socialist Party was its often-expressed willingness to enter into coalition with parties that propose cuts and other neo-liberal policies, like the Green Lefts, who increased their seats to ten. Socialists are not opposed in principle to working with other parties on concrete issues, as long as there is principled opposition to cuts and other attacks on the rights and conditions of working people. But joining or supporting a coalition government which attacks workers’ rights and living standards, albeit more slowly than other parties, has to be firmly opposed.

With the political front blocked for working people, resistance will first manifest itself at the trade union level. For these struggles to be successful, they will have to cut across the racist divide that the Freedom Party is trying to establish, now that it has emerged stronger from the elections. The unions will need to lead bold struggles, taking all necessary action, including strikes, to see off the attacks on the working class.

The surge of mass resistance will change the political landscape. A long period of political and social conflict lies ahead. Workers in the cleaning sector have already shown their militancy. Much more is to come. Workers will not tolerate a government that tries to make them pay for the economic crisis of the bosses’ system

Pieter Brans

Offensief (CWI supporters in Netherlands)


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