Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Strike shuts down world's biggest port

A 24 hour strike shut down Rotterdam, the world's biggest port, in late September. Around 60,000 angry trade unionists including, workers from the docks, fire fighters, public transport workers and health workers rallied in the centre of Rotterdam to show their deep opposition to the policies of the Dutch government.

By Ashling Golden

The government, made up of the Christian Democrats and right-wing Liberals, are introducing "reforms" which will result in massive attacks on the living standards of working class people.

The protest was organised against the proposed pension reform, which will bring about an increase in the working week from 38 to 40 hours and extend retirement age to 68 from 65. Workers were also eager to show their opposition to the wider range of social cuts in disability benefits, unemployment benefits, sick pay, the education system and in health and social care. The mood of the protest was angry as it was the general feeling that nothing is safe from the government's attacks.

In solidarity with the protesters school students participated on the demonstrations and distributed hundreds of leaflets in support of the protest.

At the strike rallies, speeches were made by the leaders of the different trade union federations and also by the political opposition leaders including Jan Marijnissen from the broad left Socialist Party in which Offensief (the Dutch sister party of the Socialist Party) participates. Rotterdam Dockers also spoke calling for further action to take place. On the protest there were clear signs of growing confidence amongst workers to fight back, after years of been stifled by social partnership. There is a real enthusiasm for a hard hitting campaign and the general trade union federation has announced it will demand during the coming collective bargaining a 1.25% pay increase and 1.75% compensation for the damage done by the government's proposals. In contrast to this total 3% demand, the government and the employers have so far offered a pay freeze.

This march is to be followed up by a bigger and stronger protest in Amsterdam in which it is expected 200,000 people will take part.



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