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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Dutch Unions Rally Against Public Spending Cuts in Biggest Protest in Decades

Posted to the IUF website 03-Oct-2004

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An estimated 240,000 demonstrators filled central Amsterdam on October 2 in response to a joint call from the country's trade union confederations. It was the largest demonstration in decades, organized to challenge the biggest public spending cutbacks in Dutch history.

The unions have condemned additional cuts in public spending which the government has proposed to follow the 13 billion euros already eliminated since 2003 under the center-right coalition of Prime Minister Balkanende. The government proposals would slash sickness benefits, eliminate financial incentives to finance early retirement, reduce unemployment for the long-term unemployed and lengthen the workweek, among other measures. Employers are demanding an increase from 36 to 40 weekly hours with no increase in pay.

The unions had arranged for free rail travel for members to attend the protest, but the rail unions now report that as many as 50,000 travelers failed to make it to their final destination of Amsterdam. They are questioning whether the national rail company did all it could to facilitate travel to the rally.

Belgian trade unionists showed their solidarity by travelling to Amsterdam for the demonstration.

The massive demonstration was the culmination of a week of union work stoppages and demonstrations. On Monday September 27, union members in public transport, the food and metal industries, retail distribution and the port held a noon-time rally, supported by civil servants, uniformed military personnel, ambulance drivers and many other workers who came to demonstrate during their lunch break. Workers at the electronics giant Philips also stopped work at noon.

On Wednesday, truck drivers throughout the country answered the call, sent by mobile phone and CB-radio, to pull in at the next motorway rest area for a protest lunch. FNV and CNV officials were on hand to meet the protesting truck drivers.

The national center FNV has called for a referendum on maintaining early retirement schemes, but the government is ruling out negotiations on this issue.