250.000 march in Amsterdam against government cutbacks
Herman de Tollenaere
On Saturday 2 October, more than two hundred fifty thousand
demonstrators were in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; though organizers had
expected only 100.000. This was the biggest trade union demonstration in
Dutch history, and the biggest demonstration of any kind in Amsterdam
since the anti-nuclear missiles demonstration twenty years ago. The
people protested the plans of the Dutch government. For drastic cutbacks
on social services and pension rights, while following George W. Bush's
disastrous war policy.
According to public opinion polls, if there would be new elections now,
Prime Minister Balkenende's three party coalition would lose its
majority to opposition parties to its Left. One of the demonstrators
today was Klaas Zantingh, CNV trade unionist and chair of Balkenende's
CDA party in Emmen. However, if the CDA does not change its policies, he
said, I will resign from the party.
Photographs of this demonstration are at:
Besides the three Dutch trade union federations FNV, CNV (Christian),
and MHP (higher and middle level employees), about 500 big and smaller
organizations also participated (political parties, refugees rights
organizations etc. etc.). The Keer het Tij (Turn the Tide) platform
includes these 500 organizations.
Even from Brugues, Ghent, and elsewhere in Belgium, many trade unionists
had come by bus. A young Dutch Yugoslav man carried a hammer and sickle
flag of the Yugoslav Communist League with the Serbo-Croatian slogan:
Workers of all countries, unite! He told me his father had died recently
and as his last wish, had asked his son to carry that banner on this
demonstration. "So, in a sense, my father demonstrates here as well."
Mass meeting at Dam square
People arrived on Dam square, already about 10 o'clock. At 11 o'clock,
when rock band Bots from Eindhoven started to play, Dam square and the
road from Central Station to it were already very overcrowded. Among the
slogans on many signs and banners were: "No to Balkenende and the
[expensive US warplane which the government wants to buy] Joint Strike
Fighter. Yes to pension rights." "No to cutbacks, to occupation of Iraq,
"Government pension plans: CTRL-ALT-DEL." "Government, resign."
"Ministers, cut your own high pay." "De Geus (Social Affairs minister)
on the dole". "Against privatization of energy." "Construction
corporations scandal: Betuwe railway, High Speed railway: the bosses get
fraudulent profits, the workers get screwed."
There were stands by many organizations, including the International
Socialists and the VVMC, a railway workers union, member of Keer het Tij,
but not attached to a union federation. I am very grateful to them, and
so should you, as they gave away ballpoint pens, enabling me to write
this report after my own ballpoint ran out.
There were red and black anarchist flags, a Frisian flag with red PvdA
[Labour] balloon attached to it, Che Guevara, and FNV and CNV union
federation flags. Firefighters made pyrotechnic explosions.
The first speaker was Gregor Falkenheim, of the ver.di union in Germany.
He represented the German Monday demonstrations against the Schroeder
government anti unemployed measures. On this 2 October, there was also
in Berlin a big anti cutbacks demonstration. Falkenheim spoke of robber
barons' practices across Europe.
Next came Ms. Fatma Özgümüs, of the Refugees organizations in The
Netherlands. She said refugees in The Netherlands have big problems with
government plans to expel them. However, they have also big problems
with anti-poor people government policy in general. Immigrant and
non-immigrant people shoukd fight these policies together.
Next was Ms. Femke Halsema, the Green Left political party leader in
parliament. Then, Herrie Hoogenboom, from the biggest union in the FNV
federation. An activist at Heineken beer breweries in Zoeterwoude, he
told about the strikes there of a few weeks ago and today. He said the
government always talks about people taking their responsibility. Well,
look around here, demonstrators everywhere, THESE are really people
taking their responsibility!
Next, the Reverend Ms. Ineke Bakker (a Protestant preacher, speaking for
the Sociale Alliantie, a network of anti poverty organizations), was
asked whether Prime Minister Balkenende's administration still had any
right to call themselves Christians. She said that Christian churches,
together with humanists, would continue to press for social justice.
Leo, of senior citizens organization ANBO, attacked government tactics
of setting age groups against each other. Jan Laurier, of the tenants
organization, attacked government housing policy
Jan Marijnissen, of the Socialist Party, said that the government was
already getting scared of the protests. This is just the beginning; we
will continue the fight!
Ms. Kim Toering (National Students Union) attacked education policy,
which threatens 15.000 Euro university fees, making education available
only for the rich. Maria van Sambeeck (League of unemployed people)
attacked the government's making poor people poorer and poorer.
Ruud Koole (chair of the PvdA; sister party of British Labour etc) said
the government was indecent. Vera Dalm (of the League for Defense of the
Environment) pointed out there would be the Dutch Social Forum in
Amsterdam, 26-28 November, and called on all people present to come
again to the Dam on 28 November for its concluding demonstration.
At 11.55 uur, we were told to go demonstrate to the Museumplein by Ms.
Agnes Jongerius, vice chair and action coordinator of the FNV, the
biggest Dutch trade union federation with over a million members. She
said the government says their problem is communicating their policies,
implying the people are too stupid to understand, so the solution is
supposedly more spin doctors and PR. No, she said, the people understand
the government very well. That is why we are here! "Do we want to go the
Museumplein?!" YES!!" "Then we are going to the Museumplein!" [ a
paraphrase of a famous saying at a trade union demonstration twenty
years ago: "Are we going to the Dam?" Well, we were already at the Dam,
so Agnes could not say it completely identically].
From Dam to Museumplein
The demonstration went from the Dam square to
Huijgenstraat- Van Baerlestraat- Museumplein.
People shouted: "Resistance to this government". They sang the
Internationale; and a new version of the old Dutch song "Berend Botje
ging uit varen". It was originally about a skipper, who usually sailed
in the Northern Netherlands, but suddenly disappeared. The new version
went: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 [zeven], where is Balkenende now [gebleven]?
He's not here, he is not there [daar]. He is with that murderer [moordenaar;
Bush in Washington. In the original last line, Berend turned up in
"America"]. The song can also be sung with: "Where has all our money
gone? To Wassenaar [where many millionaires live]!" Signs said: "Welcome
to the 51st US state?". "Bush, Blair, Balkenende: Big Brothers."
Many thousands of people arrived late, or not at all, in Amsterdam
because of a lack of trains. Police warned demonstrators arriving at the
Central Station not to go the Museumplein "for security reasons".
As I, amid ten thousands of demonstrators, approached the Museumplein,
many people went into the direction opposite to us to make space for the
newly arriving. Still, the biggest square of Amsterdam was extremely
crowded. I, together with hundred thousands of others, improved the low
speed record for the Museumplein, previously held by a snail. At last, I
arrived at the Keer het Tij tent, full of people, where I was supposed
to debate with Raf
Verbeke of the Belgian Sociaal Forum voor Werk, and a representative of
the Amsterdam May Day Committee, on international anti-capitalist
cooperation. However, they apparently could not make progress in the
overcrowded square, so there was no debate, and I will publish my
introductory speech elsewhere. Children made drawings. One of them said:
"I am certain that my parents' working hours are long enough".
The Lodewijk de Waal (chair of FNV trade union federation) spoke at the
rally. Again, he said the problem was not, as the government states,
that the people don't understand the government. He said that trade
unions will try to collect 600.000 signatures for a referendum against
the government pension plans.
When the people arrived at Central Station, they found it blocked by
police. Thousands had to wait as there were not enough trains. Time for
a better public transport policy, as the environmentalist speaker had
already said at the Dam. Actions will need to continue.