Rightwing populist Wilders promotes forced labour for the jobless

Rightwing populist Machiel de Graaf.
Rightwing populist Machiel de Graaf.
Doorbraak activists regularly talk to unemployed people and forced labourers about the misery they experience every day. From time to time it emerges that they put their faith in Geert Wilders. “The PVV is the only party defending our rights against the government”, they will say. The former VVD (conservative liberal party) politician who moved further to the right indeed criticises the government from time to time, but usually because he wants state secretary Jetta Klijnsma to be tougher on the unemployed.

The original text in Dutch
(February 10th, 2014)
Translated into English by Jet.

When it is about forcing the unemployed into forced labour the neo-liberal Wilders is always leading the way. As early as 2005 the PVV wrote: “Benefit recipients who are not permanently disabled should take on social tasks in exchange for their benefits (for example work in healthcare, public gardens, etc.), until they return to regular employment.” Also in 2008 the party argued for “voluntary work for those receiving benefits”: “The PVV would be in favour of extending the regulation for benefit recipients working as volunteers, especially in healthcare. More specifically: the elderly unemployed (50 plus) who are at a disadvantage in the labour market and over 1 year unemployed can be easily put to work as healthcare volunteer (for example in home care services).”

Another two years later, in 2010, the PVV together with the VVD advocated the obligatory “do something in exchange”. The ultra-right opinion magazine Elsevier wrote: “VVD parliamentarian Malik Azmani supports immediate regulations to oblige benefit recipients to work in exchange for their benefits. Azmani is proposing serving coffee in retirement homes or maintenance of public gardens. The VVD parliamentarian announced on Tuesday that he will argue for this during the Social Affairs budget discussions. PVV parliamentarian Leon de Jong agrees with Azmani. According to De Jong the coalition agreement (condoned by the non-government party PVV) states that any abuse of benefits will be rigorously dealt with. ‘If someone hinders their application process as a result of their behaviour or appearance the benefit payments must be cut’, according to De Jong.” This is his way of clarifying that the PVV is not only advocating forced labour.

Wilders’ gang uses every opportunity to demand tough measures against the unemployed, if only to be able to agitate, to depict the unemployed as lazy parasites who are themselves to blame for their misery. The debate on December 16 2013 on the new plans for social benefits presented by state secretary Klijnsma made this very clear. PVV-parliamentarian Machiel de Graaf said: “The proposal states that benefit recipients should ‘refrain from serious misbehaviour’ during their work. In our opinion raising a finger in whatever way against a civil servant is misbehaviour in itself. What is the line between misbehaviour and serious misbehaviour? The PVV sees every form of violence or misbehaviour as sufficient reason to cut benefit allowances. Not just for three months because then everything starts all over again; no: for life. People will never learn if they receive benefits again after a while, and they will misbehave again and then lose their benefits again for just three short months. We want to deny them benefits for the rest of their lives.”

Benefit cuts and denial

This is how rightwing populists talk about the unemployed. When for example two years ago the municipality of The Hague started sending unemployed people by bus to the greenhouses in the Westland area, the local PVV immediately started provoking the council with questions such as: “Are you willing to immediately and irrevocably cut the unemployment allowance of any benefit recipient who refuses to work, or who would even dare refuse this free trip for the unemployed to the greenhouses, and if not then why not?” Recently De Graaf even submitted a proposal to “deny benefits to welfare recipients who refuse work for no good reason or who prematurely drop out of seasonal or other labour without justification”. If municipalities would not stop paying these benefits the budgets of these municipalities should be cut in turn as well. In addition Wilders is not averse to general cuts on benefits. In his 2010 election programme, for example, he proposed to abolish the allowance supplement for long-term benefit recipients and – not surprisingly – to penalise “benefits fraud” for a longer period of time. In 2011 PVV member of the First Chamber Reinette Klever supported the so-called “household means test” by which living together of people on benefits was penalised by cuts. And during the recent debate of December 16 De Graaf reconfirmed this view: “The PVV will cut the allowances of first degree relatives. I am crystal clear and honest about this.”


During this debate it indeed became “crystal clear” again what position the PVV takes where it concerns pestering the unemployed. “Four weeks waiting time is fine”, according to De Graaf when referring to the period that unemployed people will now have to wait before they receive benefits, and “we consider the mutual obligation without pay a good plan, too”. He did seem critical about the crowding-out of regular jobs by the “workfare” system when he asked: “How will the state secretary prevent that people are laid off as a result of cost reductions, and subsequently – as in the example already given by the lady of the Socialist Party – being hired to do the same work for less money as benefits recipients?” But of course he was not really interested: he did not support the Socialist Party parliamentarian Sadet Karabulut when she submitted a motion in which Klijnsma was requested to “inform parliament about the tools and regulations that municipalities are expected to use when managing ‘social obligations’ for those on welfare”.

The good and the bad

In his contributions to the debate De Graaf continuously made the provocative comparison between the long-term unemployed who should be dealt with ruthlessly, and the recently unemployed “hardworking Dutch people”. “The second group that I mention are the people who were made unemployed by this government, and who will end up on welfare faster. When this group ends up on welfare I expect the state secretary to look at what options are available”, the right-wing populist said, somewhat concerned, “are they going to be treated in the same way as those who have been on welfare for years and refuse all intervention by municipal officials trying to get them started with work? There obviously is a huge difference between these two groups”. De Graaf: “I refer to the group of people who have been on welfare for many years and who may have refused dozens or hundreds of job offers, or who do not even show up at appointments.” Maybe many PVV voters assume that they are one of De Graaf’s favourites: “hardworking Dutch people”, and that if ever the PVV would come into power, they would be spared. Most of them probably hope in vain, but the real focus of the PVV is the ruthless throttling of the Dutch “non-Western immigrants” who receive benefits. During every debate on welfare legislation the PVV will single them out as the big evildoers. It is likely that in the mind of the average PVV voter the long-term unemployed and “immigrants” are more or less the same group. De Graaf stated during the December 16 debate: “I would like to talk about the inspection of coffeehouses. We believe that the young people who hang around in the coffee houses should be put to work because otherwise they will not gain any experience. Just take a look in the Hoefkade in The Hague and you will know what I mean. Those young people have been hanging around for not just two months but often for several years. They play rummikub and drink Arabian coffee but otherwise do absolutely nothing. They will never get a job. Why not? Can’t the state secretary make sure that their benefits are stopped in case of repeated refusal to work?”


In the coming municipality elections the PVV will again only take part in The Hague and Almere. Those unemployed who are considering a vote for the rightwing populists should first have a quick look at the local PVV election programme. In The Hague, for example, it reads: “Maximum cuts on benefits in case of refusal of work” and “Do something in exchange for benefits: start working!” And in Almere the programme reads: “Unemployed young people to work in volunteer organisations” and “those who refuse an offer for work loses the right to benefits”. It does not seem to make any difference whether this work is regular paid work because of course the PVV politicians of “entrepreneurial city” Almere do not mention anything about that.

Eric Krebbers