[Marxism] The situation in the Netherlands

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Sat Feb 21 06:43:00 MST 2004


Queen Beatrix receives about 727,000 euros a year in personal income. Royal
Dutch Shell announced a net profit of around 1.2 billion euros for the
business year 2002-2003. The before-tax figure, according to the company, is
almost identical to the after-tax amount, as Shell pays 0.66 percent of tax
on profits to the Netherlands state. The basic salary of Shell's manager is
between 1 and 2.5 billion euros per annum (excluding bonuses, subsidies or
similar options). The managing director of the retail chain Ahold, Anders
Moberg, is paid 10 million euros annually as the managing director of a
company whose US subsidiary has recently been investigated for fraud for
recording 465 million euros of non-existent profits. Albert Heijn
supermarkets, which belongs to the Ahold group, announced the scrapping of
440 jobs from supermarkets in the Netherlands after its market share dropped
by around 1 percent. The majority of businesses in the Netherlands intend to
proceed in the same way. According to a survey, approximately one third of
all enterprises in the country intend to carry out extensive job cuts this
year and curtail wage increments (bonuses, company cars, etc.).


Officially, unemployment is rising continuously at the rate of about 14,000
per month. At the beginning of this year exceeded 7 percent. The number of
people dependent on national insurance is increasing faster than those
registered as officially unemployed. In the Netherlands, unemployment
statistics do not include single parents, unemployed people older than 57
years, people receiving income support, people receiving a pension because
they are unable to work for health reasons, and unemployed people whose last
job was part-time amounting to 12 hours a week or less. The OECD concluded
that the real unemployment figure is around 27 percent. Every third Dutch
job is part-time. The Centre for Work and Income (CWI) estimates that at
present 547,000 are looking for work. At the end of the year, this figure,
10 percent of the real labour force are likely to be out of work. There is
hardly a section of Netherlands business that is not directly affected by
the economic slump and slashing jobs.


The total national debt is currently about half of GDP. According to Dutch
Central Bank assessments, GDP is also expected to decline overall this year
by 0.4 percent. The last time an annual decline of this order occurred was
in 1982. The Balkenende government had planned to reduce the budget deficit
by 0.75 percent of GDP from 2007 and lay the basis for a rapid recovery of
the business sector. With this ruled out, the government now intends to
raise taxes on tobacco and alcohol as well as freeze the salaries of public
servants and social security payments at current levels for two years. It
also proposes a further million euros in savings in unemployment insurance.
The health budget will be back by 1.5 billion euros.

Policies that forced the outpatient service to compete with private clinics
as well as other public heath care measures, introduced ostensibly to
provide better medical care and create more jobs, have had the opposite
result. The low wages of workers in the private sector have placed pressure
on working conditions in the public sector. The number of part-time jobs
increased in both sectors of health care, while wages stagnated or declined
because pay increases did not keep up with levels of inflation. The standard
of medical care available to the broad population suffered under the
pressure of competition and today can only be compared with conditions
existing in Britain. The Dutch trade unions have made clear their
willingness to support the new right-wing government with the same degree of
loyalty they offered the Purple Coalition.


While the funds of the state apparatus are constantly being raised, the
government is axing all other state expenditures, especially in the social
sector, the aim being to reduce spending by about 11 billion euros in the
current govwernment term. According to a report issued by the planning
office for social and cultural affairs last December, the number of
households affected by poverty will rise to 11 percent, or 650,000
households. The planning office defines poverty to begin at a yearly income
of 8,000 euros for single persons and 14,400 euros for families with two
children. At the same time, the report makes the point that poorer
households are confronted with rising indebtedness. At least half of such
households are no longer capable of paying off their debts. This will
probably create a harsher, more rigid class structure.


Increased surveillance and spying on the population are taking place during
the most severe economic recession of the last 20 years. The Dutch coalition
government consisting of the CDA (Christian-Democratic-Appeal), VVD (the
liberal Peoples Party for Freedom and Democracy) and D66 (Democrats '66) is
reacting to the country's economic crisis and growing poverty by limiting
civil rights and strengthening the state apparatus. In particular,
surveillance and spying on the population are to be expanded. For the first
time since the Nazi occupation, Dutch citizens are obliged to carry an
identity card. The police and secret service (AVID) are already permitted to
conduct arbitrary body searches in districts declared to be so-called
"security zones," as well as surveil whole streets using video cameras.
Foreigners and people suspected to be of foreign origin are those most
affected by the growing number of police checks. A newly established police
unit is conducting a systematic hunt of suspected "illegal" aliens. These
measures go hand in hand with an aggressive campaign by the media depicting
allegedly illegal refugees living in the Netherlands and Islamic
fundamentalists as ready to use violence. These kinds of reports are
utilised by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende (CDA) and his government to
justify expanded powers for the police force and secret service.


The minister of the interior, Johan Remkes (VVD), is planning a
centralisation of the police force under his control. Until now, the Dutch
police force consisted of 26 regional police corps headed by the offices of
the various town mayors. Remkes plans to place the regional police offices
under his authority by 2005 and establish a uniform structure throughout the
Netherlands. This new police force is to be supplied with an extensive data
processing system to improve the exchange of information. The minister of
justice, Piet Hein Donner (CDA), is planning two measures aimed at severe
limitations of civil rights. One planned change is that testimonies made to
the secret service are to be made available for use in trials-as it is
already the case in Germany-even if the witness does not appear in court and
remains anonymous. This would open the way for arbitrary manipulation of
testimony by the secret service. The other change planned by Donner is a law
that will oblige organisations and institutions to pass on private data to
an authority conducting an inquiry. Recently, the secret service has
continuously increased the number of tapped telephone calls. But the newest
legislative initiative, which recalls the Patriot Act passed in the US, goes
far beyond the existing legislative powers of the police: in addition to
customer, insurance, and account numbers, travel habits and religious,
political, and sexual preferences are also to be registered. With the help
of data acquired from banks, insurance companies, libraries, video
libraries, travel companies, car rentals, etc., the government is planning
to obtain a profile of everyone living in Holland. A new law is already
before parliament that would give authorities access to the data of
telecommunications companies. This will make all Internet users identifiable
to the police. (...) To implement new possibilities of surveillance, it is
stirring up the fear of terrorist attacks in a manner similar to that of the
US. The Dutch secret service has been claiming that the threat of attacks
has been mounting for some time now. An audiotape made public in October,
allegedly from Osama bin Laden, mentions the Netherlands as a prime target.
Even the transport budget has a law-and-order slant. While petrol tax is to
be cut, the state subsidy to public transport "sharply reduced" and new
planned rail lines left unbuilt, the government intends to give supervisors
on public transport additional powers-such as handcuffs, batons, dogs and
the ability to impose travel bans.


The Dutch parliament voted February 17 to expel some 26,000 asylum seekers
from the Netherlands over the next three years.  The bill was passed by 83
to 57 votes in the lower house and has yet to be ratified by parliament's
upper house, but no obstacles are expected. Balkenende and his coalition
partners in the VVD voted for the bill, along with several smaller
right-wing parties. The opposition Labour Party (PvdA), Socialist Party (SP)
and the Green Lefts (GroenLinks) voted against. Although they proposed
measures to soften the legislation, the only one accepted by the government
was not to break up families. The PvdA is asking for an extension of the
amnesty to 8,000 of the 26,000 threatened.

There have been numerous demonstrations against the proposals, and according
to opinion polls, some two-thirds of Dutch people think that an amnesty
should be granted to those who have been in the country for more than five
years. Asylum seekers are threatening mass hunger strikes. One Iranian
asylum seeker sewed up his eyes and mouth in protest. The Dutch Council of
Churches has written to protest the bill. Church groups and individuals have
said that they will take in and protect people threatened with deportation.

 The bill affects all asylum seekers who arrived in the country before April
2001. They include Afghans, Somalis and Chechens facing civil wars or a
return to regions with no functioning government. Many of those affected
have been in the country for more than five years and have had children who
have been raised within Dutch communities. Some have spent up to 10 years
applying for residence, and consider themselves Dutch. All those who arrived
before April 2001, and whose asylum applications have been rejected, are to
be offered plane tickets and given eight weeks to leave the country. Levels
of payment offered are to be assessed on circumstance by special committees.
If asylum seekers refuse, they will be rounded up by immigration officers,
supported by armed police if necessary, and taken to a departure centre.
Here, for up to another eight weeks, they will come under pressure from
lawyers and civil servants to leave voluntarily. The government has already
opened deportation centres for the detention of families. If they still
refuse to leave the country, they face a six-month prison sentence. They
will then also lose any entitlement to a job, welfare, housing and health
care. The government hopes that this will both force their expulsion and
satisfy its obligations to support "voluntary" departure under international
human rights conventions.

The bill was drawn up in response to criticism of the length of time
applicants had to wait under previous governments. Many applicants had
already settled in the country by the time their application was rejected.
The solution of Balkenende and his immigration minister, Rita Verdonk of the
People's Party for Liberty and Democracy (VVD), is to accelerate the
rejections and to drive out those who are already settled. A backlog of
asylum applications had built up under previous governments. When the former
immigration minister, Hilwand Nawijn of the anti-immigrant List Pim Fortuyn
(LPF), announced an amnesty for long-term resident asylum seekers, over
10,000 people who had been waiting more than five years for a decision
applied. Verdonk took on these applications after last year's general
election marginalised the LPF. However, immigration officials were already
writing to applicants telling them they did not meet the criteria even
before the criteria had been established. Once the criteria were set, only
3,260 of the applicants qualified. Of these, Verdonk claimed some 700 were
wanted for war crimes. The total number of those granted residence rights
under the amnesty were just over 2,000. Another 200 were included, on
humanitarian grounds, because of extreme hardship. Asylum applications have
in fact dropped by almost 75 percent in the last four years. They fell from
43,560 in 2000 to 18,670 in 2002. Last year, the figure was estimated to be

(edited down from WSWS website)

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