Sunday, 1 July, 2018
First published on Libcom.org, here: http://libcom.org/blog/serious-public-transport-strike-netherlands-01072018 Edited a bit.
A serious public transport strike in the Netherlands
There is some serious strike action going on in the Netherlands. Regional public transport – mainly bus, but also some regional train lines – has seens substantial strikes. Also, there have been strikes of metal workers. Both are organized through the main trade unions. However, especially the public transport strikes have been relatively militant. They are like a breath of fresh air in a country where the Right is on the rampage and workers’ struggles have been quite subdued for much too long.
Public transport workers – mainly bus drivers, but some train drivers as well – fight for a new labour contract. They demand higher wages: a 3.5 persent rise, while the bosses offer just two. They demand measures against work pressure that has been rising all the time. In particular, toilet breaks have become an issue of more than symbolic importance. The trade unions demand a toilet break every 2.5 hours. The bosses say they need more time to calculate the costs. Trade unionist patience, however, has worn thin, and with reason. The first strike on this issue was on January 4. The second one was on 31 April and (yes!) May First. There have been regional strikes since. A risky move away from all-out action by the trade unions, this shift away from nationwide strikes: it takes some of the pressure out of the conflict., while the other side did not show many signs of moving at all.
However, after postponing it a few days after announcing it for 25 June, last Wednesday, 27 June, trade unions finally started a nationwide strike, for a three days duration as far as the christian CNV federation was concerned, while the main union federation FNV called for a strike for an indefinite time. This seriously raised the temperature. The FNV claimed that at least 80 percent of the 12.000 workers involved were ons strike. Even if that may be an exaggeration, there must haven been several thousands of strikers. After the three days, negotioations did not resume. The strike went on. However, the union federatuions decided to sustend strike action during rush hours, while still calling for s continuation ot the strikes during the rest of the day. A sad, but sadly characteristic, trade union step back from all-out confrontation.
There were strike rallies and meetings at the places where buses unually start their services. This is not just a ‘stay-at-home-while negotiators do their job’ strike. Groups of workers tried to block strikebreakers’ efforts to drive some buses. Bosses’ efforts to continue limited services were only partly succesful. There have been complaints from the bosses’ side of ‘intimidation’ of strike breakers by strikers. There is considerable anger amongst the striking workers. Earlier remarks from managements’ side thart workers ‘should drink less’, so that they don’t need to go to the toilet that often, probably added fuel to the fire. Bosses refuse to restart negotiations while the strike continues.
Now, in other countries, all this would hardly be news. This is a regular strike, organized through regular trade unions and under regular union control. For the Netherlands, however, this is still quite a big thing. Strikes of indefinite duration are quite rare in this country. The scenes of militancy, with strikers trying to block strikebreakers, are quite unusual too. Besides, this is a high-profile strike: everyone notices this strike: at the very least all those workers and students and school children needing to take the bus or visiting somebody at the hospital or whatever. Of course, some of these people are annoyed. But everyone can understand how awful workers feel who are presurised to continue driving while badly needing to go to the toilet. This strike is less impopular, I think, than similar strikes in the past. This strike could end in victory – if at the very least the unions don’t take more steps back, or if workers start to move beyond what unions propose. Signs of the latter happening, however, are not really to be seen. Militancy? Yes. Autonomous workes organisation? A very big question mark.
The context is important too. Last year saw quite high numbers of strike hours. This year will probably see even higher numbers. The workers’ movement in the Netherlands is still extremely weak. Its militancy leaves much to be desired. But there are stirrings. Life on the front lines of the class struggle is much more exciting than it has been in years.
Not that organizations in the radical movements take notice, by the way. There has hardly been any attention in both marxist and anarchist circles for the current public transport strikes. This, at the very least as far as class struggle anarchism/ libertarian communism is concerned, needs to change quickly. When workers move, class-struggle anarchists/ libertarian communists should at least take note. Even when, due to our limited numebers, we may not be able to do much more.
A few English-language sources from mainstream media:
I wrote an article on the strike on my website, in Dutch: https://www.ravotr.nl/2018/06/27/de-grote-staking-het-streekvervoer-en-de-solidariteit/