Dutch Socialist Party: the reason for their success

November 28, 2006 12:29 | by Paul Falzon

An anti-neoliberal party which last year brought about the failure of
the European Constitution, the SP knows how to defend clear
alternative proposals in the face of a consensus of left and right.

At a time when anti-neoliberals in France are attempting to define a
common strategy for the elections due to take place in 2007, the Dutch
legislative elections last Wednesday saw the success of a formation
clearly committed to the struggle against neoliberalism, the Socialist
Party (SP). The SP has quite simply tripled its representation, from
nine to twenty-six MPs (from a total of 150), establishing itself as
the country’s third political force, after the Labour Party (PvdA, 32
MPs) and the Christian Democrats (CDA, 41). If this result, given the
polls, was no surprise, it nevertheless marks the calling into
question of the policies followed for the last twenty years. “The
Netherlands has voted and shown that it wants a country which is more
human, and more ‘social'”, was how SP leader Jan Marijnissen summed
things up, emphasising that, for the first time, “the socialists have
overtaken the liberals” of the VVD, a party allied to the CDA in the
outgoing government, and one which eulogises ultraliberalism both in
its own country and in the EU. Ex-Commissioner Frits Bolkestein
numbers amongst its members. The SP is also hot on the heels of
Labour, which in recent times has had no serious competition to its
left.

The SP’s strength resides primarily in its capacity to resist the
spirit of consensus which often deprives the Dutch electorate of a
political alternative. This is true of social questions, such as
immigration, where they lately proposed a generous right of asylum in
the face of the restrictive plans of the right and Labour, and above
all on economic questions. Arriving at the front of the political
stage at the time of the referendum on the European constitution,
where they were the only ones on the left to campaign for a ‘no’
against the consensus of the right and Labour, the SP was able to set
in motion a debate on the dangers of liberalisation and the weakening
of social protection. Their reward was a huge victory for the ‘no’
(61,6 %), three days after the treaty’s rejection in France.

During the parliamentary election campaign, the SP was able to draw a
link between European issues and Dutch realities. “I live in a working
class neighbourhood in Amsterdam, and when you talk about everyday
problems such as unemployment benefit or assistance to families and
show how the direction these were going in were laid down by the
European Union, people understand,” explains Hans van Heijningen, who
was in charge of the SP’s parliamentary election campaign.

In the last few years, the government of Jan Peter Balkenende (CDA)
has charged ahead with a series of extremely harsh reforms which have
pushed to the limits of neoliberalism the consensus-based social
system established in 1982 – the famous “polder model”. The invalidity
benefit system, which deals not only with the sick and disabled but
with thousands of people who have taken early retirement, as well as
victims of social developments, has been tightened up in an attempt to
reduce by two-thirds the number of new claimants, while pensions have
been shaved. Unemployment benefits have also been reduced, and the
retirement age put back to sixty-five. At the same time, privatisation
has multiplied, affecting the energy sector, health care and
transport.

For trade unionists the pill has been hard to swallow, all the more so
when they have accepted within the ‘polder model’, that part-time and
insecure employment, as the pay-off for safeguarding the welfare
state, has incessantly increased until it affects a third of the
workforce, in particular women. The country’s main trade union
federation, the FNV (closely linked to the Labour Party), considers
that Wednesday’s parliamentary elections have sent a “clear message”
to politicians that they must conduct “a different social policy”.

FNV president Agnes Jongerius says that “The continuation of the
policies of the last few years is not an option for the future
government… The employers have had free rein, while the workers have
lost one form of social protection after another.”

If the SP has been able to make itself “the close friend of social
discontent”, to quote the business daily Het Financieele Dagblad,
Labour has paid the price of its lack of alternative proposals. Party
leader Wouter Bos said yesterday that he had “understood the message.
The Dutch people want to see the gap between rich and poor reduced.”.
The PvdA’s separation from less favoured social layers was already
making itself felt at the time of the constitutional referendum; now
we see the party in free fall, with ten fewer MPs, unable to form a
coalition of the left. The right being incapable of forming a majority
after having lost a dozen or so seats, the Netherlands is moving
towards a “grand coalition” on the German model, uniting Christian
Democrats and Labour, “a situation” fears Hans van Heijningen,
speaking for the SP, “which risks provoking again the feeling that
right and left conduct the same neoliberal policies.”

This article first appeared in the French left daily L’Humanite and
was translated by Steve McGiffen.

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