It’s time for a first retrospective on the #voor14 campaign, seen from Doorbraak. Of course we cannot evaluate the campaign as a whole, because we were only a small part of it and the FNV was not always very transparent towards the grassroots. But what we can talk about was our role in Leiden, where we took the initiative, and to a lesser extent in other cities where we also participated, usually through one or two Doorbraak activists. We conclude with a list of activities in which Doorbraak was involved in one way or another.
How did Doorbraak get involved in the #voor14 campaign?
In Leiden, we ran an organizing project against forced labor imposed on the jobless since 2011. The idea was to use modified community organizing methods to bring together jobless people and sympathizers, build power and together abolish forced labor. We often went to talk to jobless people at the forced labor center, organized protests there, and regularly published articles and blackbooks about abuses. In early 2017, the time had come: the municipality abolished the obligation for benefit recipients to work for free. Our sometimes intense struggle had certainly contributed to this, but not quite in the way we had envisioned. We had hardly succeeded in organizing people outside Doorbraak itself. Of course we had built up a lot of contacts, but we didn’t manage to build any kind of organised movement.
Evaluating was always one of the key elements of our Leiden project. In early 2017, we listed the lessons we had learned. The biggest problems, we realized, were 1. the vulnerability of the jobless who were understandably afraid of losing their last safety net if they openly participated in the collective struggle, and 2. the limited number of people directly affected by forced labor and the lack of interest from the rest of society. There were simply not enough militant people to be found in the already relatively small population of welfare recipients who had to go on forced labor, and those who wanted to fight experienced little support and solidarity. In short, our struggle was too isolated.
In the same period we were also very active in Groningen, unfortunately without many concrete successes, and in Amsterdam, where things went better. There we took part in the committee DwangarbeidNee (Forced Labour No), which did succeed in organizing the unemployed. The high point was a demonstration in which 300 people took part. In Amsterdam, too, we talked a lot with forced labourers, for instance at picket lines, and we published blackbooks. Nationwide, a small network of forced labourers and other unemployed people and sympathizers grew.
Representatives of the Socialist Party (SP) and the FNV also participated in the Amsterdam committee. Encouraged by the active unemployed in its ranks, the union became more actively involved and exerted influence in the campaign. But where the jobless had always opposed forced labor, the FNV limited its struggle to “working without pay”. The union had and has little difficulty with the coercive element, whereas for the jobless who started the campaign it was self-evidently central: after all, it is about their own lives, their freedom. The action committee soon became divided over its cooperation with the FNV. Did we still want FNV reps on the committee, or only the forced labourers themselves? Do we want to be included in an FNV campaign without being asked? Some activists even suspected the FNV reps of having a double agenda: among the board members and employees of the forced labor center against which we were protesting were also FNV reps. But other members of the committee went along with the union’s story. After the forced labor center closed, our action committee came to an end. Shortly thereafter, the FNV also pulled the plug on its campaign against working without pay, at least in Amsterdam. Building up a struggle together with FNV reps was not a success: the union turned out to be an unreliable organization. We experienced this again in 2018 when security guards from the union literally tried to pull the plug, and this time from our own sound equipment that we had brought to the May 1 demonstration in The Hague to also allow the smaller bottom-up organizations to have their say.
After this last ‘incident’, which involved a lot of pushing and shoving, we had an extensive conversation with high-ranking FNV officials, during which we received moral support from some of the organizers of the union. At the time, we had already had pleasant and supportive relationship with them for about ten years, since the cleaners had come into action and we and other left-wing organizations had supported them with our own committee. From the end of 2016 onwards, we were already thinking occasionally with those organizers about a new campaign from within the union that could bring together not only flex workers, but also unemployed and migrant workers in a broad sense. After some time, the idea of a demand for a higher minimum wage came up as a unifying struggle. After all, welfare recipients and state pensioners would also benefit. That was exactly what we were looking for: a broader struggle from the bottom up. It was a while before we could get started, though. The first activities of the brand new organizing campaign #voor14 (then called #samenvoor14) took place from the end of 2018 in South Rotterdam, under the radar. In April 2019, the first major public action took place, also in South Rotterdam. After some preparation, we from Doorbraak organized our first #Leidenvoor14 meeting in the union center in early September of that year.
What appealed to you most about the new FNV campaign?
First of all, of course, the organizing of people at the bottom of the labor market. Perhaps it would be better to say the bottom of society, since the campaign did not only address people in paid employment. It was the community organizing, the bringing together of everyone in a particular city or region, and not just a specific sector, that appealed to us. The fact that the project came from organizers we knew made us confident enough to give it a chance, despite our previous negative experiences with the union bosses.
The fact that anti-racism was explicitly mentioned and given a place in the middle of the campaign was unique (for the FNV) and one of the main reasons for us to participate. The maxim was: never point at each other, but always upwards. So no: those migrant workers are taking our jobs, or: yes, but you unemployed have it easy. No, it’s the bosses who play us off against each other, we don’t participate in that. The campaign thus provided an opportunity to involve jobless and non-white workers in the struggle (and the union), something that still happens far too little. Nationwide, millions of people would benefit from a higher minimum wage, that could bind people together, especially in all the diverse positions we find ourselves in.
We also found it strong that 14 euros was demanded right away, and this by January 1, 2022. More than four euros up from the minimum wage at the time. It seemed unfeasible, almost utopian, but we felt it would mobilize more people than a cautious demand of one or two percent more. And after a while it became ‘normal’ in the movement, the media, science and politics to talk in terms of 14 euros. Politicians had to take it seriously. Of course, they often tried to take some euro’s off, or spread the increase over the rest of the decade or so. But at some point it was considered normal and feasible, and recently activists even started thinking about demanding 15 euros (now that the “deadline” has passed).
And finally, we also liked the fact that there was explicit room in the campaign to also fight against other problems that participants experienced. Participants could also take part in housing struggles, women’s struggles and anti-racism demonstrations. The participants were not reduced to ‘just’ workers, but could be seen in their completeness, with all the other identities they also have: tenant, parent, student, user of care, of a community center and of public transport. And importantly, the decisions to take up other struggles in addition to the fight for the minimum wage could be made autonomously locally by the active members. It had to be a movement for the people of the people, supported by the organizers of the campaign. A movement that at some point would be so strong that it could possibly continue to fight without the union.
How did you go to work?
Doorbraak activists joined the campaign in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Tilburg and Nijmegen, among other places. In Groningen, Leeuwarden and Weert we sometimes joined in an action, and even took the lead on occasion. But only in Leiden did we take the initiative to form a local group ourselves. The rest of our text will mainly focus on that group. Whereas other local groups often relied heavily on an organizer, #Leidenvoor14 operated relatively autonomously.
The initiative came from the Leiden Doorbraak activists, but from the very beginning we deliberately did not participate in #Leidenvoor14 as Doorbrakers but as individuals. There were no separate Leiden Doorbraak meetings about the campaign after the preparation period, and everything around #voor14 was discussed exclusively in the #Leidenvoor14 meetings. We wanted real democracy and in no way a unified block of Doorbrakers in the meetings. The structure was basic democracy with a series of subgroups to mobilize more people, to put pressure on the political parties and the city council, to increase the diversity of the group, to organize demonstrations, and also a media group, a group to train new people, and later also a women’s group and a group working on a workers’ survey. From the beginning, #Leidenvoor14 also functioned as a kind of regional hub with people there from The Hague, Delft and Katwijk.
How did you like the campaign in practice?
Very well, especially up until the national elections last spring. We were able to operate autonomously in the larger context of the campaign. It really helped if the people we talked to on the street, which we did frequently, perceived us as part of a larger organization. It made us and our struggle more relevant and serious in their eyes. There is this idea, here and there within the Left, that people don’t want to know much about unions anymore, partly because of bad experiences. But we rarely heard that sound. Most people never saw or heard anything about unions and actually found our struggle sympathetic. It was a win-win situation: we brought the union closer to the people, and the image of a big union helped us involve people in our local struggle.
Of course, we had no illusions that we were really cooperating with the union. For that, the power differences are too great between our relatively small organization and the FNV with nearly a million members. And of course we knew that the union would ultimately determine the direction and duration of the campaign. And of course we realized that we were making a free contribution to recruiting members for another organization, of which many of us are members though. And that this would never be reciprocal: the FNV would never promote Doorbraak, or even endorse any of our actions.
We may not have been directly recruiting members for ourselves, but through the union we have ‘discovered’ dozens of interesting comrades locally and nationally who we can certainly continue to work with in the future. It has always been useful for the radical Left to be able to operate in a broader movement that partly pursues the same short-term goals. This gives them room to manoeuvre, the possibility of coming into contact with more people and getting them on board, to have Left-wing discussions outside their own circles, and to help shape the movement. We saw this in the 1980s with the peace movement and the anti-apartheid movement and now, for example, with the housing movement. Of course, it will always be a love-hate relationship in which both parties stand to gain, as long as it can be maintained.
Did you succeed in organizing all those people?
Whether many people became members of the union through the campaign, specifically in our region, we don’t know exactly. Nationwide they did, we heard later. Leiden’s #voor14 group grew pretty fast at one point. Especially after the pandemic started in March 2020 and you could only take action on a small scale, in your own city. Many people who might otherwise have gone to actions in Amsterdam or The Hague now came to participate in our frequent chalk actions. The growth of course also had to do with the fact that Doorbraak (and its predecessor organisations) had been active as organisers in Leiden for over thirty years, so we already knew quite a few people who could be involved in this struggle as well. But there were also many new young people, especially students. The vast majority of them, of course, also work, often in minimum wage jobs.
At the start of #Leidenvoor14, Doorbraak was still a bit wary of having to set up everything ourselves. But that fear never materialized: a large group of people was immediately active, from circles around the local union center and also from outside the union. At the peak we had meetings of more than twenty people, while in the signal group there were about forty people joining in debates. In the first three months we managed to organize a demonstration with 80 people taking part, which was unprecedented for Leiden, especially when it came to protests about income.
What about diversity?
The #Leidenvoor14 group was also quite diverse in terms of gender, color and origin. Unfortunately there were no participants with a Turkish or Moroccan background, which are two large communities in Leiden with a lot of poverty. We had just planned to organize meetings in community centers in the less wealthy neighborhoods of Leiden, where many non-white people live, when in early March the pandemic hit hard and many of our plans fell through. We were also unable to organize any more demonstrations. We did, however, start chalking actions at the end of March, which we could do safely from a distance, using slogans that linked up with ideas about “essential professions” that were suddenly very much alive. We were one of the first to make street chalking political – earlier people were already doing it for grandma and grandpa in the nursing home, for example – and were thus a bit of a trendsetter.
Because we were forced to have digital meetings, the threshold for the somewhat older, mostly white union members to participate became higher. Our chalk campaigns were not so suitable for them either. As a result, they soon dropped out, no matter how hard we tried to keep them on board. The fact that the group culture was very different from what they were used to will also have played a role. We were constantly trying to give anti-racism a prominent place in our campaign, hoping that the non-white people would feel as much at home there as the white ones, but many of the people around the local union center found talking about racism mostly uncomfortable. We would only be excluding the people who wouldn’t want to talk about it, and who wanted to limit themselves purely to the minimum wage. To which we, of course, replied that it is only possible to bring so many different people together in one movement if we are properly aware of their different social positions and are prepared to fight extra for the most oppressed and exploited people in the movement. Later we also discussed at length how we were not giving enough attention to the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands and the terrible situation there. Of the other local groups, as far as we knew them, we had the impression that they were predominantly white, and often had little knowledge of anti-racism. Among the organizers, however, diversity seemed to be reasonably good.
Compared to anti-racism, we have unfortunately generally paid too little attention to anti-sexism. However, on Women’s Day 2021 we did have a nice action tour through Leiden, especially in the surrounding, less wealthy neighborhoods. We also failed to involve the less educated in the group. Presumably the vast majority of participants had higher or even university education. It was good, however, that we managed to build a close-knit and supportive group, in which a safe atmosphere and mutual support were of paramount importance. With some regularity members brought in individual problems, which often, as expected, turned out not to be so individual at all. And where possible, they were supported by the others. Maintaining a safe atmosphere proved to be quite a task in the long periods that we could only see and speak to each other via monitors and otherwise communicated mainly via chats. It is through these media, as everyone will have experienced in the past two years, much more difficult to interpret each other’s non-verbal signals and to understand emotions, and to take them into account in stressful times. We are convinced that the group would have functioned much better if we had not been overwhelmed by corona.
Did you succeed locally in putting up a concrete fight?
In Leiden we not only chalked a lot, but also got political parties to adopt a motion to pay all people, who are directly employed by the municipality, a minimum wage of 14 euros. This was also successful in several dozen other cities, and recently it was even regulated nationally in the collective bargaining agreement. Quite a concrete result. We were however unable to find any starting points for concrete struggle in Leiden itself. The actions had a purely symbolic character, while in our earlier forced labour campaign we were constantly involved in all kinds of fights with aldermen, councillors, directors, guards, the police, etc., about very concrete demands and against repression. You have to develop such points of contention if a campaign is to move forward, if you really want to change things. But that was completely lacking now, with the exception of a few nagging policemen from time to time during a chalk action.
Still, we are not that dissatisfied, on this point. Initially, the pandemic seemed to have completely ruined the campaign, but in the end we managed to still make something of it. Unfortunately without really being able to go out and meet people, because even flyering was not done during the first period, let alone public meetings in community centers and other places! Not to mention direct confrontations on the street, at election rallies, blockades, and whatever else we could have thought of.
In Nijmegen, where we usually participated with only one Doorbraak activist, sometimes with two, things went a little better in that respect. There #Nijmegenvoor14 occupied the city hall because the alderman refused to carry out a motion adopted by the council. It stated: 14 euros minimum wage for everyone who is directly or indirectly employed by the city. They also managed to organize postal workers, after which a large (national) group occupied the headquarters in The Hague. But in Nijmegen the campaign also had many limitations due to corona. There was a nice and inspirational interaction between the local groups of Leiden and Nijmegen.
How was the relationship with the union?
In practice, we actually had very little contact. Whereas through our social media we often promoted national activities, or those in other cities, and also went there, we did not get the impression that the national campaign publicly paid very much attention to our activities. We did get occasional complaints though. Like when we called for solidarity with KOZP, after fascists attacked their congress in The Hague, and the union leadership said we should keep our distance from the anti-racist struggle against the blackface figure of Zwarte Piet. Or when we made headlines in the national media after we caught an Albert Heijn supermarket manager photoshopping away a chalked text for 14 euros minimum for his staff, and the FNV found it annoying because they were in collective bargaining with the company. Or when one vague temporary employment agency complained about some chalk on a nameplate at their branch. But each time the organizers protected us and the right-wing and authoritarian whining barely got through to us. They formed a protective blanket between the top of the union and us, so that we could organize at the grassroots level and fight our battles without being distracted. The union was eager to control the campaign, but we simply wouldn’t let them control us. To be sure: the organizers were actually striving for a dynamic movement, from the bottom up, that would not be heavily controlled by the union, also because that often comes at the expense of spontaneity and energy.
There were union activists in some other cities who saw it as a special task of the campaign to make the union more democratic and anti-racist. Although we appreciated their efforts, we in Leiden consciously never interfered in the internal affairs of the union. Nor did we take any notice of the criticism that trickled down from time to time. We tried to keep looking outwards, to focus on our main task: organizing people, building power and raising the minimum wage. We didn’t need to shout upwards anyway, because we knew that the union leadership was monitoring our activities anyway, and those people were bound to grumble about it among themselves from time to time. For example, about the times we chalked up against forced labor (the union, as mentioned earlier, is only against working without pay, not against its coercive element), about the radical anti-patriarchal speeches on our Women’s Day tour of Leiden, about our co-organizing of the radical Queer Pride March, about our consistent support for and participation in the movement against Zwarte Piet, and so on.
In short, there was a tension from day 1 between the union leadership and us as an autonomous group in the campaign. We tried very consciously to keep that tension alive all the time. On the one hand, by simply doing the things we knew the more Right-wing forces in the union wouldn’t like, and on the other hand by giving Left-wing union forces an extra push. They could say to their bosses: “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it goes in a movement, but this way you can actually hear what’s really going on, what people think and want! At least then you have a certain dynamic, just accept it and make good use of it.” So we were able to help them a little bit in changing the union from an old, rigid, white men’s club into a modern dynamic intersectional fighting organization. After all, the union had to take a bit of notice of what we were doing. The union needed groups like ours; they didn’t have that many active local groups to make the #voor14 campaign a success. But we also needed to make sure that we stayed in the movement, including by participating actively and in solidarity in many activities from the campaign and the rest of the union.
That strategic tension remained, until the union decided in late 2021 to kill the community organizing part of the campaign. We’ll come back to that later. We kept up the tension until the very end, and secretly have the illusion that for two years we have had some influence in the union, on levels we normally do not have access to, without having been consciously focused on it, or having spent much time on it. No endless internal meetings about structures or power games with all kinds of bosses. But there is little chance that we will be playing this ‘game’ again in the coming years. The #voor14 campaign was an exceptional project – with a new generation of organizers – that came at the right time for us. For us as radical leftist bottom-up activists, the negative experiences are also piling up, and perhaps in the end it is simply too much to ask to again start walking with such an unreliable hierarchical and above all conservative club.
How did the local groups work together?
#Leidenvoor14 was a bit of a local hub, as mentioned, and we had some contacts with people in Haarlem in addition, but otherwise there were no formal links with groups and individuals elsewhere in the country. The picture was of a central national campaign with a series of local groups underneath, each accompanied by an organizer, but without a contact network between them. And since the national campaign shared ridiculously little information through formal channels, Doorbraak actually acted for us as a kind of informal national network, very limited that is. Through the Doorbraak activists in the various cities we kept in touch with other local groups, such as Nijmegen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and we heard what was going on there, what they were doing, how they were organizing and what ideas were circulating there.
In the fall of 2020, when we were about a year in, we tried to build a formal national network. We got a lot of email addresses from the campaign, and we held two zoom meetings with between fifty and seventy active #voor14 participants. One of the ideas that came out of the first meeting was to have a newsletter, once or twice a week, with action plans and reports from the local groups. We sent out between ten and fifteen such newsletters from Leiden, but not a single contribution came from anywhere in the country and not a single response either. After that we just stopped these networking attempts for a while.
Most participants in other cities and regions unfortunately carried with them the passive, wait-and-see culture that so characterizes the union. Many ‘active’ members wait until they are called to action, but are not likely to stand up and make plans on their own, autonomously. If ideas were put forward, questions would soon arise such as: does the union approve? Maybe the union can help? Maybe they know more? Let’s contact this or that manager in that union office or sector. Confidence in one’s own abilities was, to be cautious, not always great. In Doorbraak and the rest of the extra-parliamentary movement, however, the idea of doing things yourself, of making decisions for oneself, of autonomy, is paramount. This culture was present in #Leidenvoor14 and a few other groups, but in the rest of the campaign people mainly looked at what organizers proposed. It is and remains a paradox: through the campaign, the organizers wanted to help start a movement that would be able to continue autonomously, but that movement was almost entirely dependent on the organizers from minute one, and that has never really changed. We see two causes: the need for too much control on the part of the union, and the too small number of participants from outside the union who could have made a culture change.
How did things continue after the election?
After the elections, the campaign came to a bit of a halt, due to a lack of direction to go in. There had been success: many political parties had included an increase of the minimum wage in their election programs, not all towards 14 euros or immediately by 2022, but still. And a growing number of municipalities had promised to pay their own staff at least 14 euros, which was recently even decided in the national collective bargaining agreement. But how things would proceed remained somewhat unclear. The idea began to live of working toward a general national strike in about three years, with a movement that would grow, broaden and radicalize. But in practice, not much happened.
Meanwhile, after the summer, we were invited by #Haarlemvoor14 to participate in organizing a demonstration in the fall. #Amsterdamvoor14 also joined in, and soon a small supra-regional network was formed. After the demonstration in Haarlem in November, another one was organized in Amsterdam in February. The original idea was to organize demonstrations in Rotterdam or Leiden, and maybe later in The Hague and Nijmegen. But the energy was gone. There was, however, a small demonstration in Rotterdam at the end of March.
The fact that the energy drained so quickly was mainly due to the union’s decision – suddenly after months of great silence – to take organizers off community organizing without any consultation with the movement and direct them all toward the trade sectors. Of course, one of the effects of fighting for an increase in the minimum wage by sector is that the jobless are pushed out. After all, they are dependent on an increase in the national legal minimum wage. While the movement was practically and organizationally carried to a considerable extent by jobless people, in addition to the organizers of course, they were – not coincidentally – the first to be thrown out by the union. The great, elaborate community organizing plans that had been made to expand the campaign, for example in the Amsterdam predominantly black neighborhood Bijlmer, were shelved. During that period, we had our first really good and extensive contact with more organizers, all of whom were extremely disappointed by the national federation’s decision. And they could hardly believe that first there was this call to build a new, large movement, and that then just as easily the plug was pulled from above. What kind of credibility does the union still have now, they asked us rhetorically.
As far as we can see, the official #voor14 campaign now exists mainly on paper. The organizers are housed in various sectors, and here and there the demand for 14 euros is met in collective bargaining, but elsewhere the union just as easily drops it.
What distinguished #voor14 from a regular action campaign?
Looking back, you could say that the union’s community organizing project failed fairly quickly, in the sense that the campaign had become more and more a traditional action campaign, focused on publicity rather than organizing and building countervailing power. Going door to door in South Rotterdam, and thus bringing people together, soon proved too labor-intensive and therefor unworkable. And within a year of starting the campaign corona also made it de facto impossible: organizing at 1.5 meters and though using computer screens is simply not possible. Our experience was, later on, that here and there the campaign pretended to be grassroots, but that in practice a local group sometimes consisted only of an organizer and a few local paid staff and executives of the union. Who showed up at a zoom meeting but did nothing else. That tasted a bit like astroturfing.
It was not that the organizers were not trying. On the contrary, we got to know them as very passionate union activists. And who knows what their mindset and experiences will do for the union in the years to come. We hope they will shake up the sectors they were exiled to, with the experiences and ideas they gained at #voor14. Perhaps they will form the seeds for a more combative union. Because, of course, the campaign was an intensive learning experience for everyone who took part. Organizers now have contacts with activists all over the country. And that has not always been the case. Organizers have watched a squatters’ action (in Rotterdam), and they have regularly had sharp discussions in local groups. Discussions that would normally not be initiated for fear of losing people. In several local groups members quit because they did not want to talk about racism, or they even campaigned for Zwarte Piet. Organizers have learned to actively make room for non-white people, and to no longer to be afraid of the departure of a few diehard racists. Good riddance!
Not that we were necessarily satisfied with everything, especially when it comes to the content of the struggle. All too often the organizers themselves seemed to forget that it was also about the unemployed. How many times have there been actions from the national campaign where the unemployed were not even mentioned, or at best were treated as pathetic victims in need of help. At demonstrations we were always the ones who had to represent that part of the movement, bringing it to people’s attention by shouting slogans or chalking. Unfortunately, it turned out that some of the organizers had thus not been able to consciously detach themselves from the work ethic that so characterizes the union: they still could not perceive the jobless as a permanent part of the working class that fights just as hard. We should never forget that without the active participation of jobless many a movement and union in history could never have survived or even existed.
And did campaign possibly also somewhat influence the social movements?
Definitely! And not just through the #voor14 facemasks that popped up in other actions, from the various housing demonstrations to the heavily besieged anti-Zwarte Piet action in Volendam. In the slipstream of the campaign, for example, the autonomous trade union Cultural Workers Unite was founded in Rotterdam. And in any case, because of #voor14, concrete workers’ struggles gained a somewhat larger role in the thinking of the action movement. Until then, anti-capitalism often remained stuck in the struggle against multinationals, and was much less directly linked to one’s own financial survival. Activists organizing themselves on their identity as workers: we didn’t see that often before (except with our comrades from Vloerwerk and the Radical Riders of course). And even without union support, groups of activists in Rotterdam, Haarlem, Amsterdam and Leiden seem to be continuing the struggle for income, but not necessarily under the banner of #voor14 or #voor15, from which they emerged. In any case, these groups offer the prospect of a new movement and new debates about how to proceed, how to look at the huge institution that the union is, with its failures and yet always present potential.
Not many of the existing radical-Left organizations participated in the campaign. The bottom-up character, in which there was more organizing than discussion, did not really fit in with the traditional ways of thinking and fighting of the more socialist clubs. And anarchist groups, which would have been able to connect with this bottom-up way of fighting, were probably afraid – and not unjustifiably so – that the hierarchical FNV structure would be obstructive. At Doorbraak we sometimes seek out this field of tension between operating autonomously and maintaining contact with larger hierarchical organizations and movements because of the potential it offers. Among the participants in the local groups around the country were many brand-new activists, but unfortunately also quite a few young followers of authoritarian communist movements with ideologies that you had hoped would have finally disappeared decades of Left-wing discussion. Destructive ideologies that really have to disappear from the face of the earth if the radical-Left is ever to have any chance of serious hegemony. Which is not to say that the activists in question cannot also be fine, passionate people. Although their constant attempts to dominate the demonstrations with their red party flags were irritating. Instead of their massive self-promotion, we would have preferred to see homemade action signs with creative slogans for 14 euros on them.
How did it continue in Leiden?
After the summer of 2021, not much happened there anymore around the minimum wage struggle, except for helping to organize the Haarlem demonstration. More than half a year before the FNV pulled the plug, the Leiden group was already fading away. We still met occasionally, but that was more out of habit and duty than the fact that the group was still politically alive. Locally, the group had already participated in organizing the Climate Alarm and the Queer Pride March, and slowly more and more groups emerged from the large #voor14 pond, with more and more new people joining in. More recently, we also had a Housing Revolution demonstration in February. Currently, although we no longer meet with #Leidenvoor14, the social movements in Leiden are larger and more dynamic than we have known in the past two or three decades. Of course, this certainly has not only to do with #Leidenvoor14, but mainly with the spirit of the times. The past five years have seen massive climate, Black Lives Matter and housing demonstrations. For the past two years, #voor14 offered activists from those movements a kind of local condensation point. The workers’ struggle in Leiden has currently been somewhat relegated to the background, but there are calls for it to be taken up again more emphatically. Not necessarily around #voor14, and certainly separate from the union.
We don’t quite know yet how we’re going to continue as Doorbraak in the coming period. In Leiden we’re certainly going to continue to play our part in the broader movement, and that of course applies in the other cities where we’re active. We’ll continue to co-organize upcoming demonstrations and support small-scale workers’ organizing projects that are already in place. Think for example of the Radical Riders. Another one of those struggles where the initiative comes from the bottom up and the union feels forced to respond, just like with the struggle against forced labor and with some of the local actions of #voor14. And in addition, we also support a small-scale local union that is being built in the lee. The beauty of the forced labour and #voor14 fighting projects was that both also focused on the material survival of at least some of our members, and that both (#voor14 a bit more than forced labour) offered the possibility of organising locally and building power in a national context. That also brings nationwide Doorbraak activists more together in a concrete, material struggle from the bottom up.
Doorbraak participation in #voor14 activities
Doorbraak has been involved in the #voor14 campaign since the beginning. The first public action was on April 14, 2019 in Rotterdam. That was then followed by a local meeting and petition action in that city. It is too much to list all the subsequent #voor14 actions, but below is an overview of the actions and other activities we as Doorbraak were at or involved in, mainly through our participation in various local groups.
During 2019, meetings were held in several cities to set up local #voor14 groups. Such as in Leiden (1,2,3,4), Nijmegen and Amsterdam (1,2,3). Separately, another meeting in Amsterdam was organized by the Bijstandsbond, which had also previously expressed support for the campaign. Later in 2020, one followed in The Hague as well.
All kinds of actions also quickly took place, such as flyer actions, chalk actions, a rainy March for 14 in Leiden (with a lot of great speeches), the fierce and diverse public kick-off of the campaign in Amsterdam, and a March for 14 in Amsterdam on Valentine’s Day.
Solidarity, anti-racism and feminism
From the beginning the central point of the #voor14 campaign was solidarity. This meant that anti-racism and feminism were an important part of the campaign, and the link to aow and welfare a non-negotiable demand.
Anti-racism, for example, took practical shape in the fall of 2019 when #Leidenvoor14 expressed support for the activists against Zwarte Piet (and we criticized the FNV’s reaction to our support). Later, #Leidenvoor14 spoke out against the squeezing of the Caribean island Sint Maarten by the Dutch state.
And these principles were also reflected in, for example, our questions and answers about the campaign, an interview on Carribean FM, an interview on Radio Grani, an interview on the local Leiden station Sleutelstad, our own videos (also in Papiementu), an interview on Extinction Rebellion’s Rebel Radio, and our participation in the celebration of International Women’s Day. And recently #Leidenvoor14 declared solidarity with the university workers of Casual Leiden.
In early 2020, everything changed, and so did our campaign.
Initially, #voor14 reacted to the new corona situation by linking the sudden huge support for “essential workers” to concrete demands: don’t just clap, pay up! #Voor14 therefore launched a petition. There was also a call to shareholders of Ahold Delhaize to increase the wages of their employees.
First in Leiden and later in other cities, we took to the streets in small groups and organised lots of chalk actions. A chalk action in Leiden resulted in a media row after the local Albert Heijn put the chalk action on social media, but photoshopped out the “14 euro minimum wage” part. We also chalked in the run-up to May 1 and on May 1 itself with small street actions throughout the country.
City councils and parliament
With #voor14 we wanted to build a movement from the bottom up, but of course also put pressure on local and national politics. In various cities, municipalities were approached, petitions were offered (including Katwijk and Amsterdam) and motions were submitted via sympathising political parties (including in The Hague and Leiden). In some cities motions were passed to call on national politicians to raise the minimum wage to 14 euros, or to start paying their own employees 14 euros. The latter happened in Nijmegen, but the alderman then refused to carry out the motion, whereupon the pressure was stepped up.
National politics was also put under strong pressure. On January 16, 2021, the #KiesVoor14 campaign kicked off in more than 30 cities, leading up to the national elections in March 2021. With that campaign, parties were pressured to include 14 euro minimum wage in their program (including maintaining link with aow and benefits). Many parties did this under pressure from the actions that were held throughout the country. There was also action at Unilever, among other places. And after the elections we took action to ensure that #voor14 was included in a new coalition agreement.
Even after the elections, there were regular actions in the direction of parliament. On Prinsjesdag, for example, an alternative speech from the king was recited, and (the statue of) mafia boss William of Orange was not spared. At the end of 2020, #voor14 drew up a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives, which was signed by more than 65,000 people.
Part of the campaign included playful actions, and we were forced by corona to be creative. These included the annual Fat Cat day at the beginning of the year (the day when CEOs of large companies have already earned as much as their lowest paid employees will earn in the entire year). We organized the Scrooge election for the most avarice company.
On May 1, 2021, people again took to the streets across the country to celebrate Labor Day, including in Leiden, Nijmegen, The Hague, Rotterdam and Leeuwarden, as well as abroad, in Brussels.
And solidarity and connection with other struggles kept coming back in the campaign. We celebrated International Women’s Day with the “heroines of the working class” (with powerful speeches). We made connections with the housing crisis and squatted a building in Rotterdam. We spoke out against a ban on begging in Leiden, and supported Leiden’s homeless. We stuck up posters voor 14 and against Zwarte Piet. We supported the Heineken strikers.
Experiences and analyses
Of course we published and shared stories on our website with experiences (from, for example, a 16-year-old shelf stocker, and about living on welfare), experiences of fighting together for 14 euros, columns and analyses. We criticized the cowardly attitude of the parliamentary Left and Leftist economists. We drew inspiration from abroad. We analyzed economic developments and developments on the labor market. We criticized a-political initiatives “against poverty”.
We continued to stress the importance of anti-racism in the campaign, as well as the importance of fighting for higher benefits and maintaining the link between benefits and the minimum wage. We thought about how to build union power. And from the beginning, we thought about the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign.
Recently, the focus of the campaign has been shifting to struggles in the trade sectors. We therefore participated, among others, in actions of PostNL workers, who had #voor14 as a central demand. In addition, two marches for 14 have been organized in recent months, in Haarlem (speakers 1,2,3,4,5,6) and Amsterdam (1,2). And finally, at the beginning of March, an action took place at the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) to get municipalities to start paying all their employees 14 euros.