New Communist Party of the Netherlands
by Wil van der Klift
Dear friends, comrades
I am glad to be here to discuss a very important issue with
you. I think
these meetings in Athens are getting more important every
time, as they are getting more concrete and more specific.
Now we are dealing with the very important issue: The
communists and the trade union movement. Problem number one
however is that there is no united communist movement nor a
single trade union movement.
Of course there are many political and ideological
differences that can explain this lack of unity, but I
think there are also differences that are linked with
national divergences. Why the people in Greece are more
radical, more political and more combative than the people
in my country?
This is a very important question. I hope this conference
will give some answers on what is common in our struggle
and what is different. Because only if we know that we will
be able to find the right answers for operational
Anyhow it is in our opinion not by accident that all of us
are coming to Athens. The Greek party, widely supported
morally, not always politically, by a large part of the
Greek society, is strong enough, not only ideologically, or
politically, but also in a material way to be our host. We
thank you again for that.
But on the other hand I can tell you that our party is
dealing with totally other problems and one of them is how
to stay alive, how to continue in a country in witch many
working-class people are ready to follow the capitalists in
their behaviour and ideas. And if they are not following
the bourgeois class in all they are doing at least they
accept the neoliberal politics, stories and solutions. So
what can we do in common?
About two years ago the following article was put in the
most important bourgeois paper in Holland: the Financial
Daily. It could be placed in the paper today. There are
some differences of course but mainly the political and
ideological situation is the same. The headline of the
article was: Dutch strikes mostly short and snappy. And
then the article gave an impression of Dutch
"Anyone passing through the Netherlands in recent weeks
would have been forgiven for thinking they had accidently
entered France or the UK of the
1980s. Public transport strikes, mass walkouts by teachers
and threatened industrial action in the cleaning and
engineering sectors appeared to be the order of the day in
a country normally noted for its harmonious labour
The Netherlands traditionally has one of the lowest strike
records in Europe. EU statistics show that only one working
day per 1,000 employees was lost to strikes in 1997, well
below the EU average of 54 days and second only to Austria,
which reported none at all.
But if latest Dutch figures are anything to go by, that
performance appears to be sliding. National statistics
office (CBS) data show that 25,000 days were lost to
strikes in the first three quarters of 1998, compared with
15,000 over the whole of 1997.
Not only that, the 1998 figure excludes the industrial
action in the health sector in which an estimated 35,000
workers staged protests and walkouts in support of their
campaign for better working conditions.
Figures aside, though, the Dutch picture is still radically
different from that in countries with notoriously high
strike rates. Most of the industrial action is short-lived
wildcat strikes accounted for 70 % of working days lost to
strikes in 1997 -- and most settlements are negotiated with
involvement, indicating the Dutch consensus economy is
alive and well.
Most of the industrial action, too, revolves around new
pay-and-conditions agreements (CAO) which are generally
settled in the spring.
The labour disputes seen in recent weeks have shown some,
if not all, of these uniquely Dutch characteristics. Most
of them have centred on new pay deals, most have involved
public-sector workers and -- where settlements have been
reached -- most were realised through tripartite
Strike action by the police was averted after unions and
police chiefs agreed an annual 2.25% pay rise for two years
-- even though unions had initially demanded 3.5%.
Pay is also the focus of the cleaning workers' grievances
and the teachers' strike. The latter has been gathering
momentum in recent days as unions refuse to budge from
their 4.5% pay claim spread over two years. The teachers
are pushing for a similar deal to that of the police,
arguing that only by raising pay to reasonable level will
they ever improve the image of the profession end attract
This copycat approach points up another peculiar feature of
Dutch labour relations: it goes back to the 1970s, when all
public-sector pay deals were pegged to a single
trend-setting civil service CAO.
This link was broken in the 1980s, when public-sector CAO's
were split up according to sector and pay talks
The teachers' concern to raise the profile of the
profession was also the main motivating factor behind the
work stoppages and mass-protests in the health sector last
year which temporarily crippled hospitals and other care
institutions -- but achieved results.
The teachers, it seems, are sticking to their guns. But not
without some concern for their pupils. To prevent every
single school from closing down, they have staggered their
strikes as part of a campaign of protest.
(Financial Daily, 21-1-99, English page)".
This situation did not change very much since.
A few things immediately are catching the eye:
1. After a long period of silence at the class struggle
front there was an increasing number of strikes. This year
it was very quiet at the front, but the 1998-example is
2. But most of the industrial action is short-lived wildcat
strikes and most settlements are negotiated with union
involvement, indicating the Dutch consensus economy is
alive and well,
3. The strikes always are regional and sectoral. There are
no big general strikes,
4. The strikes never are political, always aimed at
economic goals, mostly payment.
In Holland we have three central unions: The biggest one is
the FNV, Federation of Dutch Unions (social-democrats), the
CNV (Christian democrats) and a younger one the Union
(better payed workers). The number of trade union members
is going down, only about 28 percent of the working class
is organized in trade unions, young people don't feel
attracted. So the trade unions are getting
'consumer-organizations' more and more and the class-enemy
is trying to weaken the power of the trade unions, without
getting rid of them, as Tatcher tried. Dutch capitalists
are more clever.
There is no organization that is fighting for a trade union
that will struggle. In stead many people are proud of the
peaceful way of negotiations in our country.
Of course comrades and friends I can give you a more
detailed report of the actual situation in my country. If
you like to know more there also is a paper dealing with
the history of our trade union movement.
But one thing is sure: One of the main reasons that the
working class people in my country is very careful in
fighting the capitalist attacks is because of the weakness
of the communist movement in Holland and the weakness of my
party. Also the defeat of socialism in the former European
socialist countries has to do with the Dutch way of
negotiations and deals with the ruling class. So politics
and struggle in the trade unions are very much linked. The
social-democrat first minister Kok has been the leader of
the biggest trade union movement the FNV. So capitalism in
Holland is very pleased with both social-democrats in the
government and in the leadership of the trade unions. The
mean question in our opinion is how to reach peoples minds,
how to reach the people anyhow and how to fight back the
strong bourgeois ideological campaign. We hope to learn a
lot of you all, especially of the experiences of PAME. But
never forget Greece is not Holland. So let's see what we
can do united and what we have to do alone.