Temporary blog of the CWI

Netherlands: End of the era of ‘social peace’

On Wednesday 20 November, for the first time in Dutch history, a national strike of hospital workers took place. On 6 November, the leadership of the education unions was forced to allow a strike after teachers angrily reacted against plans to call off the strike. A little longer ago, on 27 September, a historic number of 35,000 school students went on strike for the climate. The era of “social peace” in the Netherlands is over. Workers and young people understand they have to take action to defend their interests and those of the planet.

By Barbara Veger, Socialistisch Alternatief (CWI in the Netherlands)

Hospital strike

The strike of hospital staff was not only the first national strike in the sector, but also the biggest in this sector ever in the Netherlands. At least 150,000 took part, which means three quarters of all hospital staff! The workers worked at the rhythm of Sunday shifts. At a national event in Utrecht 2,000 participated. In several other cities, local actions were held.

There is a shortage of personnel in the hospitals and therefore a huge workload. The trade unions demand a wage increase of 5% and also better agreements over rest periods. The employers offer only 2.8% per year. A wage increase of 5% is badly needed to attract new personnel. Hospital staff tell us that they often cannot take a break, often have to work overtime, have bad schedules and that there is no time to talk to seriously ill patients.

Teachers strike

Work pressure is also an important reason for the teachers to strike. Teaching is the profession with the highest percentage of burn-outs. It happens that teachers stand in front of a class of more than 50 children. The quality of education suffers. For example, a school regularly has to send the children home two days a week, simply because there is no teacher available. Uncertified educational assistants or even students who want to become teachers are sometimes placed in front of the classroom. If nothing is done, the shortage of teachers will rise to 6,200 by 2025.

One of the reasons why the workload has risen so much is that, as a result of earlier measures, children who previously went to special education are now sent to regular education. This is not a bad measure in itself, as long as there are sufficient resources available to give all children enough attention, but that has not happened. On the contrary, classes have only grown.

After previous strikes, extra money was given to education. But this was not enough: the problems have persisted. The government has now promised a one-off extra of €460 million. The trade union leadership immediately cancelled the planned strike of early November. The reactions of teachers, however, were furious. They understood that this money would not solve the problems in education. The trade union leadership had to make a turn and let the strike continue. The chairperson of AOB, the largest education union, had to resign. Now, a 2 day education strike has been announced for the end of January. 

Climate strike, farmers and builders

For a very large number of young people, it has become clear that climate action is very urgently needed. Hence the historically high turnout on 27 September, also due to the impact of the international week of action in which over 6 million people participated. But the issue of climate does divide the population. Many ordinary workers, and of course the farmers and builders, fear that they will have to pay the price for climate measures. Because of the nitrogen crisis, many construction workers are at risk of losing their jobs. Farmers are trapped between the banks, government regulations and big agro-businesses, forcing them to produce more and more on a larger scale.

We are in favour of a climate policy that tackles the real polluters, big business, and in particular the energy multinationals and agro-businesses. The nitrogen problem is urgent, but it must not lead to the dismissal of a single construction worker. Construction companies that lay off workers because of the nitrogen crisis should be nationalised. Small companies that can show that they are really in trouble because of the nitrogen crisis, should receive support from the government. Nationalization of the agribusinesses and the banks would allow farmers to get a fair price for their product, and cheap credit so that they can produce small-scale, sustainable and animal-friendly.

The actions of farmers and builders received much more attention in the press than the actions of young people, although the climate protests were much more massive. This, of course, is partly because of the spectacular forms of action with farmers blocking the roads. The army was even taken to the streets to control the actions of the farmers!

Indirectly, this shows the need to involve the workers in the climate fight. They have the economic power that young people do not have. But then the climate movement needs a clear programme that makes it clear that it is not the ordinary workers who have to pay, but that we have to tackle the multinationals and their system.