The Netherlands: Set on a stormy course

The Netherlands used to be the most politically boring country in Europe. It was dominated by extreme "political correctness", the very existence of problems was denied and there was a suffocating culture of "consensus". After the killing in May of Pim Fortuyn, the flamboyant far-right demagogue, the Dutch people have woken up to a completely new country.

The Netherlands used to be the most politically boring country in Europe. It was dominated by extreme "political correctness" up to denying the very existence of problems and was oppressed by a suffocating culture of "consensus". After the killing at the beginning of May of Pim Fortuyn, the flamboyant far-right demagogue, the Dutch people have woken up to a completely new country.

The electoral earthquake that followed on May 15 signals the end of the self-proclaimed Dutch model. The PVDA, the Dutch Labour Party which has been in power for the last 8 years with the Liberals forming the Purple Coalition, has lost almost half of its seats in parliament. This is its their lowest result since the second world war. Its liberal coalition partner the VVD also loses strongly. The great winners are the "Pim Fortuyn List" which gained 26 seats, becoming the second largest party in parliament, and the conservative Christian party which becomes the first party of Dutch Politics. This shift to the right is nevertheless not one-sided. The small Socialist Party, a former extreme-left grouping which became a left reformist party, almost doubled its seats from 4 to 9. It has definitely reaped the fruits of being a rare left critic of the "Third Way" government policies over the last 8 years.

The Dutch electorate has clearly wanted to put an end to the governing coalition The results of the racist and taboo-breaking Pim Fortuyn reflect the deep-seated frustration and discontent with the Dutch social and political reality.

In the last years Dutch people have started to realise the chimera of their consensus model. It started with the catastrophic plane crash on a housing estate in Bijlmermeer. Then followed other catastrophe at a new year party where hundreds were killed in a fire and the explosion at a firecracker factory that destroyed a whole neighbourhood. Then followed the reports on the complicity of the Dutch UN contingent in the ethnic cleansing of the local Muslim community in Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia. This forced the government to collectively resign. Other "affairs" also helped to feed the general scepticism towards the "establishment".

The social prize of the Dutch model added to the "bad feeling factor" of ordinary Dutch people. This model was formalised in 1982 in the famous "Akkoord van Wassenaar" between the unions and the government. The agreement consisted fundamentally in an imposed moderation and restraint in the wage demands and the generalisation of flexibility in the labour market.

The engine of Dutch economic growth since then has caused a multiplication of sources of insecurity and instability inside and outside the workplace: unpredictable timetables and working days, casual labour, intensification of labour; the culture of competition in all spheres of human activity, destructive individualism, psychological violence, mobbing, intimidation, management by stress. It is clear that generalised social insecurity has fuelled the "miracles" of the Dutch economy.

As a result of privatisation the national railways have experienced a slow descent into hell, causing hardship for workers as well as commuters. Long waiting lists for medical care has motivated Dutch patients to get treatment over the border in Germany, but more importantly in Belgium.

Pim Fortuyn tried with temporary success to channel and manipulate the growing discontent of this situation in ultra-liberal and racist solutions. Especially his slogan: "Holland is full" referring to what he considers the exaggerated number of foreigners and immigrants in his country.

Yes indeed Holland is full, but full of frustration, tension and alienation that sometimes takes the form of non-social attitudes and "senseless" violence. When the official labour movement and the left in general sides with the system responsible for this accumulated anger it leaves a big and screaming gap amongst large layers of the population, the middle class included. A demagogue like Fortuyn appealed to those politically orphaned layers. He seemed to have a monopoly on criticism of the system. No wonder that many disorientated voters from the Labour party have voted for this list. There are not many countries in the world where so much contradiction exists between the material and technological resources and the lack of social harmony.

Since the birth date of the new Dutch model in 1982 up to the year 2000 profits increased by 873%! No wonder a notorious Dutch consultant could declare that "in the 80s and the beginnings of the 90s our country witnessed a tremendous lowering of the cost of labour and this without too many strikes." But wages have not followed this increase in profits.

Just consider this other figure and you will be able to imagine the level of pressure and stress enforced by the government, bosses and union leaders on the working class. To get a net profit of 1 million guilder in 1981 you needed the 145 workers. In 2000 the same profit is pressed out of just 23 workers.

The meteoric rise the of the Pim Fortuyn List and the demise of the Labour Party indicates the extreme volatility of the Dutch people. Of course there is nothing progressive in the support for Pim Fortuyn. But when his racism seemed to connect with the feelings of a part of the population we must remember the words of Bertolt Brecht the famous leftwing dramatist and poet. He wrote that a racist is someone who is mistaken about his anger.

Yes indeed a large part of the discontented cannot identify the real causes of their situation. They think that the only way, electoraly speaking, to change things is to create a shockwave by voting for a false Messiah. But this is only the early stage of many tumultuous years to come in Holland. The workers, the students, the poor and other oppressed layers of society will have to go through the experience of the new right-wing government. The shells and blinkers will then start to fall from their eyes. The root cause - that is capitalism - of their position will became slowly clearer. The Dutch people will give new shocks to their society. The pendulum of politics will see violent movements to the left and the right.

Class struggle is appearing again in Holland even if it had never really left the scene. At the beginning of May building workers gained a victory in their wage struggle after seven weeks of strike. This was the longest ever strike in this sector. Earlier in March the 30 sites of the Phillips electronic factory also closed down in what is considered to be the strongest strike at Phillips in 50 years. Class struggle reappears in industries that were considered by postmodernists as examples of the workplace and contracts of the future (without unions, no hierarchy, social relations more adapted to the individual aspirations of the workers, etc).

For example, the IT workers. At the end of March the bosses of the IT sector in the Netherlands agreed not to give pay rises any more to their staff. This was a shock as there was a culture in this sector of individual negotiations of pay and conditions and that since the emergence of this sector there had always been pay rises. A Dutch paper, the Volkskrant comments: "The same malaise [i.e. the economic crisis] which brings the bosses together is uniting the workers on one line. It becomes a workers versus bosses situation. The old times come to life again." In recent years on the railways, many workers and union activists have set up "collectives of workers" to overcome the bureaucratic deadweight in their unions.

What a paradox also to see the result of a referendum on privatisation of public transport the same day of the parliamentary election in Amsterdam. The parliamentary election gives a majority to the right but the referendum gives a majority to those who oppose privatisation! Those in the right-wing parties and the bourgeoisie who think that they received a mandate for an ultra-liberal policy are in for some big surprises. All the things that seemed "so un-Dutch" (such as class struggle, sharp political tension, mass strikes, etc) are reappearing with full strength. Welcome Holland to the normal world of 21st century capitalism!

Yes, the coming to power of the right in Holland is a threat for the workers, black and white. No, there is no danger of fascism as explained in Alan Woods' article After the French and Dutch Elections - Is there a threat of Fascism in Europe?. The Dutch labour movement has to be regenerated from top to bottom. Third Way policies have to be rooted out of the unions and the Labour Party. The small Socialist Party although successful in these elections will not be an alternative either. Despite some good elements in their program they are a fundamentally a left version of reformism. What is needed is a more fundamental and profound change in society. This means a revolutionary break with capitalism.

This perspective seems remote for most of the people in the Netherlands. In the short time this way seems even to be blocked. The movement to the right will inevitably prepare sooner or later a new and further shift to the left. The social potential is there. It needs to be organised and to find the correct political expression that only Marxism is able to give, if it is rooted in the unions and labour movement.