Dutch residents stand against cuts to public transit

Protesters at a March 11 demonstration organized by the Socialist Party in Zeeland in opposition to proposed reduction of bus routes in the province. The banner reads, “Good, accessible, and affordable public transport.” (Photo: Allison P. /Red Phoenix)

By Allison P., Red Phoenix international correspondent.

The tactics of the bourgeoisie are virtually universal regardless of country: privatization, cost cutting, reducing wages, and strikebreaking. In the Netherlands there have been strikes among public transport workers in recent months over a number of problems including salaries, working conditions, and workloads. In addition there have been plans in Zeeland to remove almost all bus lines from the province. These strikes have additionally been subject to subtle strike breaking tactics.

In the Netherlands the right to strike is legally protected, but the bourgeoisie have created policies which make striking difficult. In other countries it is common for public transit strikes to continue to run the routes for the people who rely on them but instead charge no fares. In the Netherlands, these strikes can only be done by not running the busses and trains. This creates a pressure and conundrum for the transit workers in their strikes. How can they make the strike effective against the bosses, while at the same time not upsetting or causing problems for those who rely on the services? In truth it is not really possible. Not running the lines causes significant inconvenience to those who must rely on public transport, weakening support and sympathy from other workers that they would almost certainly get if they were to strike by providing free transport as in other places. This is a tactic which pits worker against worker and prevents solidarity and mutual understanding. However the underhandedness of this tactic goes even further: as public transport becomes unreliable because of the extended strikes, many people must find alternative means of transportation, or in some cases they may simply be unable to get where they need to go, especially among the disabled and elderly. This primes the justification for more cuts to public transport — if fewer people are using it do we really need so many bus routes?

Above are the new proposed bus system (left) connecting only regionally, compared to the much more extensive current network (right).

In the province of Zeeland there have been plans to cut the bus routes massively by 2025, replacing the numerous convenient routes with a hub system of a single stop in many cities and villages and focusing instead on intercity travel. This would cut bus service entirely for over 100,000 people, including everyone in the cities of Vlissingen and Terneuzen, and would virtually eliminate effective bus service for the entirety of the province. This is a plan supported by all of the liberal parties in the ruling coalition of the Zeeland. This decision will severely affect not only the poorest of the Zeeuws but also the disabled and elderly. The reason for this short-sighted decision is, as with all things under neoliberalism, profit. It is argued that this will make busses more in line with demand however this is completely false. During the week it is rare to ever see a bus below 25% capacity and it is not uncommon to see busses completely full with standing room only. It can be estimated that tens of thousands rely of bus transport to get around and fulfill their daily tasks in this province.

It seems only the socialists — including even the more liberal-aligned democratic socialists — stand against the unending tide of reductions to public services and seek better conditions for the working class. At a recent demonstration organized by the Socialist Party (SP), around 40 people gathered and marched together to protest the cuts to public transit. Only socialists are standing for improving the lives not only of the public transportation workers but also for the passengers, with a goal to provide the service for free and to improve accessibility and sustainability. To the Zeeuwse Government, the solution is clear: if the bus lines are not profitable enough to be run as a private business, perhaps we should instead nationalize the lines and run it as a service for the public good.

Categories: International, Netherlands, Workers Struggle

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