the Imperialists! Defend Iraq!
International Workers Solidarity!
Protest Calls for Workers’ Boycott
Weapons Transport, Strikes Against the War
Demonstration initiated by the
League for the Fourth International
in Rotterdam, Netherlands, February
25, calling for workers boycott
of war materiel and strikes against
the war. (Photo: VVI)
On February 15, more than 80,000 opponents of war on Iraq marched in
Amsterdam, Netherlands, part of a worldwide series of antiwar marches.
It was the biggest protest against a foreign war in Dutch history, bigger
even than the largest peace demonstration during the Vietnam War (January
1973 in Utrecht). Yet simultaneous with this outpouring of antiwar sentiment,
the cabinet of Christian Democratic prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende
secretly gave the green light to U.S. transport of war materiel across
the Netherlands to Atlantic ports for transshipment to the Near East. Some
two dozen trains were scheduled to make the trek to the sea, while roll-on
roll-off ships headed down the Rhine River. As the military trains with
their death cargos appeared in the Dutch countryside there was an immediate
outcry. A Greenpeace team on a rubber boat tried to block a U.S. military
ship in Rotterdam harbor. The government mobilized the Marechaussee (the
Military Police) to guard the ports and railheads.
As the American/British expeditionary force builds up for the invasion
of Iraq, the Pentagon has been moving vast quantities of war materiel to
the eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions. Tanks, helicopters,
trucks, jeeps, armored cars and ammunition are stored at U.S. military
bases in Germany, remnants of the anti-Soviet Cold War. Initially, much
of the war cargo was shipped from the V Army Corps and 1st Armored Division
through Belgium, but protests at the port of Antwerp were increasing. On
February 16, direct action pacifists outside the town of Melsele brought
a war train to a stop and chained themselves to the engine. Eleven protesters
were arrested and the train went on its way, but U.S. authorities were
looking for a more “secure” route. With the Austrian government nixing
war transport because of the neutrality clause of its constitution and
the French government balking in the UN over voting for war, they chose
the Netherlands with its pliant “center-right” government.
The umbrella “peace” coalition, the Platform Against the “New War,”
called a national day of action against war transport for February 25.
This was the anniversary of the 1941 February Strike against the Nazi deportation
of Jews from the German-occupied Netherlands, traditionally a day for pious
speeches by politicians (see box). For the most part, the national “action”
day against war transport consisted in pacifist gestures denouncing the
impending war and leafleting. In Groningen, some 300 people gathered for
a torch-light vigil at the railway station, while the NCPN presented a
resolution to the provincial assembly. At Schipol Airport, where charter
planes with U.S. troops heading for the Near East have made stopovers,
about 40 people participated in a symbolic “citizens’ inspection and sit-in.
The SP (which boasts of having 40,000 members) asked questions in parliament
and called vigils. Seeking a more militant form of protest, an Action Group
Against Military Transport went to the headquarters of the MTMC (Military
Traffic Management Command) at Capelle aan den IJssel, near Rotterdam,
and chained themselves to the gates.
in Workers Initiative Against Weapons Transport protest march toward the
Rotterdam harbor, February 25. (Photo: VVI)
In contrast to the classless appeals to “citizens” and civil disobedience,
the Verbond voor de Vierde Internationale (VVI – League for the Fourth
International) has been calling since last fall to mobilize workers action
to stop the war cargos. A leaflet put out by the VVI in October 2002 appealed
to dock workers to boycott U.S. and Dutch warships, and to refuse to handle
military goods. It also emphasized that the war preparations were linked
to racist harassment and repression directed against immigrants in the
Netherlands, calling on the workers movement to demand full citizenship
rights for immigrants, and that the bosses were taking aim at the right
to strike. In response to the news of trains with U.S. military equipment
heading to Rotterdam, the VVI issued an appeal for a mobilization on February
25 that would march to the docks of the company shipping war goods to the
Gulf. Leaflets of the VVI and a united-front flyer calling for the action
were distributed in largely immigrant and working-class areas of South
Rotterdam and the protest was announced on Radio Rijmond (in Rotterdam).
A report on the action by the VVI and pictures of the demonstration
appeared on the Indymedia.nl Internet site:
“Today, February 25, instead of passively commemorating the
February Strike, a first step was undertaken to carry out in practice the
principle of workers solidarity with the oppressed. At 3 p.m. in
Rotterdam-Zuid, a demonstration was held against the planned war of mass
murder and pillage against Iraq, aimed at mobilizing dock and rail workers
in the port of Rotterdam, with its history of wildcat strikes, to defend
Recent events have underscored the very real possibility of mobilizing
workers action against the imperialist war. But to achieve this, it is
necessary to combat the betrayals of the pro-capitalist union misleaders
and the pacifist illusions spread by the “antiwar” popular front. A February
28 VVI leaflet reporting on the Rotterdam worker/immigrant demonstration
“Behind a banner with the slogans, ‘Boycott Weapons Transport!’ and
‘Workers Strikes Against the War!’ some 50 participants, including Dutch,
Turks, Moroccans and other immigrants, marched through the Tarwewijk area
toward the port area of Waalhaven, four kilometers away. Our loud chants
of ‘Defend Iraq’ and ‘Boycott the weapons’ echoed through the streets and
attracted attention. This highly necessary step toward mobilizing the workers
movement, immigrants and youth against the war on Iraq was undertaken by
the Arbeiders Initiatief ‘Stop Wapen Transporten’ (Workers Initiative to
Stop Weapons Transport), a united front initiated on a few days’ notice
by the Verbond voor de Vierde Internationale.
“Upon arriving at the pier, where a production facility of the Steinweg
Handelsveem (which loads and unloads U.S. war materiel) is situated, we
marched toward its gate. Our way was barred by a security guard with a
watchdog and three police cars. An attempt was made to speak with the Steinweg
workers, but this was refused, and with our loud voices we sought to send
the message of international workers solidarity over the huge green gate.
“A speech by a representative of the VVI explained the need to defend
Iraq through the call for workers action against the war, including trade-union
boycotts and strikes. He also emphasized defense of the immigrant population,
which is under constant racist attack as imperialist war in Afghanistan
and elsewhere is brought home. Our call for ‘Full citizenship for all immigrants
and their families’ received loud applause. Plans were announced to get
together in the near future to go beyond this initial act toward a boycott
of arms transport and workers strikes against the war.”
“Train cars carrying an arsenal of jeeps, heavy trucks and
tanks for NATO arrive daily in Rotterdam, bloody cargos of death and destruction
aimed at the Iraqi people.
“This must be stopped! The working class has the power to make this
happen. In Scotland, railway engineers stopped a munitions train in January.
This last weekend, Italian rail workers and antiwar activists blocked a
train with war materiel. There are numerous reports of significant opposition
among workers of the Raillion freight company to transporting war goods.
But the FNV (Netherlands Labor Federation) has declared that … it has no
position on the massacre of thousands upon thousands of Iraqis.
the union bureaucrats are following the leadership of the Labor Party (PvdA)
which junked its so-called ‘opposition’ to the war in order to jump into
bed with the Christian Democrats (CDA) in a rerun of the ‘Purple’ cabinets
[of the ‘red’ social democrats and ‘blue’ liberals which governed the Netherlands
for most of the last decade]. Down with class collaboration! While Stalinist
and social-democratic reformists call to ‘Stop USA’ and look to the European
imperialists, the League for the Fourth International instead calls for
the defeat of all the imperialists, not only the blood-soaked U.S. and
British but also the Dutch imperialists who bomb the Afghan population
with their F-16s and occupy former Yugoslavia in the name of NATO.
“Imperialist war at home means racist raids and police surveillance
everywhere, an assault on the entire multi-national, multi-ethnic working
class. Dockers and railway workers are under attack by decaying Dutch capitalism.
‘Liberalization’ of the ports and more layoffs on the railways and at the
ECT container terminals are threatened. The profit motive has meant that
at the ECT Maasvlakte oil terminal in Rotterdam, six workers were recently
injured because of a chemical leak. Unemployment and repression are hitting
“The war on Iraq is also a war on workers ‘at home.’ We must defeat
the bosses’ war in order to end the endless wars. We must crush the capitalist
system that breeds death and poverty, by fighting for international socialist
revolution. What’s needed to turn things around is not a call on the good
will of mankind, such as the Socialist Party does, but on the workers against
this bloody war, to win our fellow workers to carry out genuine workers
actions against the war. Instead of parading with candles, the League for
the Fourth International has from the outset called for mobilizing workers
power against the war.”
– Verbond voor de Vierde Internationale (League for the Fourth International)
28 February 2003
February Strike of 1941
The recent protests against the transport of war materiel through the
Netherlands for the imperialist invasion of Iraq were called for February
25, the anniversary of the 1941 mass strike that against the World War
II German occupation regime and its deportation of Jews. The “February
Strike” is annually commemorated in Amsterdam, including by bourgeois politicians,
but is little known outside Holland.
The Netherlands were invaded by the Wehrmacht (army) on 10 May 1940.
The fighting was over after six days, culminating in the German bombardment
of Rotterdam the entire center of the city was destroyed, killing upwards
of 30,000. Throughout 1940, Hitler’s Reichskommisar, the Austrian Nazi
Seyss-Inquart, escalated anti-Semitic repression. When Jews were banned
from public employment in November, students launched protests, leading
to the occupation of the universities by the Nazi SD. Jews were ordered
to register with the occupation authorities.
In early 1941, Dutch fascists of the NSB and its paramilitary thugs
of the WA staged provocations in Jewish neighborhoods, smashing windows
and randomly beating up Jews. Simultaneously, the occupation government
began sending thousands of Dutch workers to Germany as forced labor, leading
to protests. Members of battalions of unemployed workers sent into the
countryside to repair dikes rioted over their starvation pay and miserable
conditions. On February 9, fighting broke out against the Germans in Amsterdam;
two days later there was a pitched battle in which 20 NSB fascists were
wounded and a WA member later died. In reprisal, the Germans sealed
off the old Jewish quarter and machine gun nests were set up in the surrounding
On February 17, workers at the NSM shipbuilding company put down their
tools when it was announced that a number of single workers were being
sent to Germany; the strike quickly spread through the shipyards and wharves,
and the measures were rescinded. On the weekend of February 22-23, German
and Dutch Nazi paramilitary forces occupied the Jewish quarter and rounded
up 427 young Jewish men in the Jonas Daniël Meijer Square, from where
they were deported to the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Mauthausen.
This manhunt sparked general indignation, and on the evening of the 23rd,
district leaders of the illegal Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN)
decided to call for a strike.
Even before a call was issued, by the next afternoon (February 24) workers
spontaneously went into the streets, with dock workers among the first
to go out. In the evening the Communist Party held a protest demonstration
of several hundred at the Meijer Square. That night the CPN ran off a mimeographed
manifesto calling on working people of Amsterdam to “Protest the Abominable
Persecution of the Jews,” and ending with the call “Strike!!! Strike!!!
Strike!!!” The next day, February 25, the whole city ground to a halt,
with some 300,000 people participating in the strike. Most street cars
never left the depots; the few that did were waylaid by militant workers
who sent them back to the barns. Shops closed and huge crowds gathered
in the streets. That evening, the Germans sent in an SS Death’s Head battalion
making arrests through the night.
The next morning (February 26), the strike at first seemed to be over,
but in the afternoon the municipal works, shipyards, Fokker aircraft factory
and railway freight yards went out. The strike spread to the Zaanstreck,
Hilversum, Haarlem, Utrecht and elsewhere. After a couple of days it was
suppressed by massive repression, and an attempt by the CPN to organize
a strike the next month fizzled. The Nazi occupation authorities responded
by arresting more than 100 workers and others thought to be “ringleaders.”
Yet two years later, in April-May 1943, half a million Dutch workers again
struck against the occupation regime, when the Germans threatened to intern
all former Dutch soldiers. Coal miners in Limberg, Phillips electronics
workers in Eindhoven, agricultural workers in Friesland stopped work. The
Germans responded by shooting down almost 100 people in the streets; another
80 were executed after summary trials.
The February Strike did not stop the decimation of the Jewish population:
Dutch police and the Marechausee helped the SS round up thousands, holding
them in the Westerbork concentration camp until they were shipped east.
Of 120,000 Jews in Holland before the war, barely 20,000 managed to escape
the Holocaust by obtaining false papers and going underground with the
aid and protection of fellow workers and neighbors. But the February 1941
strike and April-May strikes of 1943 demonstrated the tremendous strength
and courage of the working class fighting against the most overwhelming
odds. These strike movements could have laid the basis for a workers uprising
at the end of the war, but what was lacking was revolutionary leadership.
Following the Stalinist line of support for “democratic” imperialism, the
CPN pushed a nationalist anti-German policy, dropped the demand for immediate
independence of Indonesia and chained the workers to the Dutch bourgeoisie
through the popular-front Resistance Council (RVV), thus aiding the return
of the monarchy.
Left: Westerbork concentration camp
in 1944. Right: Train carrying Jews from Westerbork to extermination camp
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