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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, to racism."
"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 Raadhuisstraat-Rozengracht-Nassaukade-Overtoom-1e Constantijn 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.

October 2004


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