Last Friday, January 21, the Netherlands saw student action on a massive scale. Fifteen thousand students and sympathisers, maybe more, came together for a protest rally on the Malieveld in The Hague, the city in which the Dutch government is located. The action was called by student unions.
The rally was preceded by a demonstration in which left wing groups and individuals participated. Rood, the youth branch of the Socialist Party (left wing social democrats) was there; the youth branch of the PvdA (Labour party) was there as well. And the Internationale Socialisten participated, as did anti-authoriarian groups like the Kritische Studenten Utrecht and a radical initiative against austerity, Greece Is Everywhere (GIE), in which I have been involved and to which I remain close (1).
The demonstration brought between 600 and thousand people on the street, accompanied by an large and quite intimidating police presence: cops on horseback, police vans, etcetera. We got to the Malieveld safely, however, where we joined the rally that was still growing, with al large stream of students from Central Station to the muddy field. There, we got speeches by politicians – even by the Secretary of Education responsible for the attacks that students were protesting against…
The attacks that triggered the protests mainly consist of a big raise in student fees for those who take much time to finish their studies. At the same time, funding for universities is under pressure. Students and sympathizers argue that higher education will become less accessible for students from poorer background: college will become an elite thing once again. Students with rich parents willing to pay can take ther time for study; students without rich parents are forced to go even deeper in debt. One of the slogans on a banner I saw was: “Rich parents for everyone”: ) That made the point quite nicely.
The attacks are part of an austerity program forced upon Dutch society by a right wing government, made up of Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrats (CDA) with extreme right wing support from the side of the islamophobic racists of the PVV, led by Geert Wilders. Other sectors of society have already been protesting as well: the art and culture sector, for instance, in a protest that brought several tens of thousands on the streets on 20 November last year. There have been student protests as well: several demonstrations on 10 December 2010 sawsizeble crowds, about 5000 all together.
After the big rally of January 21, several hundreds of students and sympathizers marched in several groups, one to the vicinity of the governmental center, one to the Ministry of Education. Riot police attacked at both actions, there were clashes, some people got badly beaten,or bitten by police dogs (of the four foot variety, of course; I will not insult other animals by comparing them to police); cops arrested 28 people, five of them will stand on rushed trial this week.
The actions combined were an expression of a growing mood of struggle in various sectors of society. The police violence is an expression of a more and more openly authoritarian trend drom the direction of the state. We will see if and how struggle will grow nevertheless, but I think students can be pwoud of what they did so far, and we all can feel encopuraged by their spirit and example.
Some pieces on the student struggle:
On Dear Kitty: “Dutch Students fight education cuts” (with a video of a student occupation on the Monday preceding last Friday’s rally);
On the website of Greece Is Everywhere: “De Strijd van Studenten is een Strijd van ons Allen – The Struggle of Students is a Struggle of All of Us” (in Dutch and in English)
(1): I quit GIE, mainly for health reasons; I couldn’t handle organisational pressures, especially in combination with my writing activity. However, the comradeship between me and GIE will remain and has, if anything, only gotten stronger).