Dutch unions in big day of action

September 25, 1991

By Robert Went

AMSTERDAM — More than 600,000 workers went on strike during part of the day on September 17 as part of the campaign by three trade union federations against cuts in social security announced by the government. Trade union leaders called this figure "historic" for the Dutch workers movement, although it was less than the 1 million they had expected.

An estimated 100,000 persons attended the central meetings organised by the unions: 30,000 in Rotterdam, 20,000 in Amsterdam, 10,000 in Groningen, 6500 in Emmen, 1200 in Schipol — this last being the first trade union action ever at this airport.

There was a strike of 24 hours on the docks of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Vlissingen. The whole day there were no trams or buses running in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and public transport in the rest of the country was struck during part of the day.

The only place where the strike was a failure was in rail. As a consequence, plans for train strikes on September 26 and October 7 will be reconsidered. Employer intimidation, divisions between the main unions and the aftermath of recent rail strikes for safer work conditions seemed to play an important role here.

Trade union leaders announced that lightning strikes will be organised from now on, among others on September 27, the day before a special congress of the Partij van de Arbeid, the Social Democratic party that is the junior party in the coalition government. The PvdA congress is expected to put its trust in parliamentary leader Wim Kok and to support the cuts being carried out by the government.

The demonstration in The Hague on October 5 will be very big; all trade union members will get a free train ticket in the mail to participate in this demonstration.

The trade union leaderships, who had been counting on rejection of the proposed cuts by the PvdA congress, are now without a strategy. Already some of them are beginning to say that a final vote by parliament has to be accepted "in our democracy" and will mean the end of the coordinated national campaign, which will then be replaced by much more complicated efforts to gain back in contract negotiations what is taken by government.

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