Successful protest in Leiden: “You will regret every minute you force us to work for free”

Trees decorated with balloons with flyers in the centre of the square right in front of the DZB forced labour centre.
Trees decorated with balloons with flyers in the centre of the square right in front of the DZB forced labour centre.

On November 27th, 2013, in front of the forced labour centre DZB in Leiden some 45 people have warned politicians, civil servants and employers against using forced labour. The protest took place during the ceremony of awarding the ‘Eureka’ prize by the management of the centre. The protesters gave speeches, chanted slogans, handed out flyers (this had been forbidden by the authorities beforehand!), and presented the five new T-shirts with slogans against forced labour.

The original text in Dutch (November 28th, 2013)
Translated into English by Jet

The participating protesters were from Leiden but also from other cities where the resistance against forced labour is being built up. There were a number of speeches and some of these were spontaneous and unprepared, but all the more militant. There were no media present, which often happens when we organise protests. This has not prevented us from achieving a good number of results over the past two years. We send our information directly to all parties involved and they are obviously motivated to read the reports that Doorbraak provides.

Some of the slogans that were used– Hey you at the DZB, get rid of forced labour!
– Long live the battle against forced labour!
– Are you lying Bas van Drooge? We want our contract from day one!
– More forced labour, more jobs gone!
– Do what’s right and pay wages!
– Forced labour, don’t give a shit!
– Fight against forced labour, we are the fighters against forced labour!
– They fear our strength, they fear our power!
– We want wages and security, they want our subservience!
– We stand strong until forced labour is gone!
– We fight for wages, contracts and rights!
– What do we want? Decent wages. What do we want? End forced labour. When do we want it? NOW!
– Stop the war against the poor! Fight from the bottom-up!
– For each minute you make us work for free you’ll be sorry sorry sorry!
– For each second you force us to work you’ll get protests protests protests

Over the past few weeks we asked our supporters to help us with slogans for T-shirts against forced labour. Many people responded and during the protest five activists showed the five shirts with the following slogans: “I want wages, rights and a contract”, “Give me a job, not work experience”, “Reintegration till kingdom come”, “Forced labour, don’t give a shit”, “Forced labour forces out jobs”. These can be bought in our web shop and at protests. Forced labourers get the shirts for free of course.


Prior to the action the mayor had determined that we should ‘line up’ at the back of the square that lies in front of the centre, in a section of one and a half metres wide, and that he would ‘not allow’ handing out flyers. Unfortunately the judge did not overturn his decision in the lawsuit we had immediately filed. That is why we brought along some fifty balloons with flyers attached, and had these float towards the DZB and its guests. It was a beautiful sight. You will find the text of the flyer at the bottom of this report.

Throwing the balloons with flyers.
Throwing the balloons with flyers.

It was remarkable that so few police were present. Here and there a single policeman was wandering around at the back and along the side of the manifestation. Some hundred metres away there was a police van with two additional policemen. We were not directed towards a separate section. Soon after the start of the manifestation we started to hand out flyers without the police interfering. The majority of the DZB party guests arrived at the centre’s parking lot in outrageously expensive cars. Only a few of them condescended to rolling down the window and accepting a flyer. Most of the guests arriving on foot were less difficult and just took our flyers. In the end we were able to distribute some twenty flyers.

During the protest more and more participants took to the forbidden square in order to be closer to the speeches and to have a better look at the new T-shirts. Later on people started to pick up the balloons and to hang these in the trees on the square. This had a funny, Christmas tree effect. It was obvious that the policeman considered his presence superfluous and that he did not intend to take action against the violation of the mayor’s regulations. He even squeezed in between the protesters to gain a glimpse of slogans on the T-shirts. He chuckled a number of times during the presentation and told us he though the slogans were “quite creative”.

In the trees.
In the trees.

Frustrated trio

There is a strong feeling that the Leiden police do not just follow the smear campaign that the trio Lenferink (mayor, social democrat), De Haan (councillor, Christian democrat) and Van Drooge (DZB director) are trying to conduct against Doorbraak. They accuse us of threatening people while in fact the DZB employees have physically threatened us, and have intimidated the forced labourers we regularly talk to, and are generally threatening all forced labourers in their social security. The police superintendent probably made the assessment that his men were more needed elsewhere, also based on their experience with four previous Doorbraak protests at the same location in the past two years. The trio are frustrated because of the protests and the disclosures made by Doorbraak that continue to ruin their plans and prevent forced labour from being accepted as ‘normal’. After all, it does not really advance your career or look good on your CV if you are considered a tosser occasionally, for example when you have to admit to the city council that you have been forcing unemployed people to do up to one year of production work without any pay, instead of the agreed six weeks that is supposed to serve as ‘observation’ period.

Activist wearing one of the five new T-shirts: “I want wages, rights and a contract”.
Activist wearing one of the five new T-shirts: “I want wages, rights and a contract”.

It is not uncommon for people in high positions to revert to criminalising and intimidation. But now they find that the police are not following them automatically in this. The police make their own assessments and set their priorities themselves, and fortunately these are not always aligned with those of such professional politicians. Perhaps this explains why in the past four months the police did not interfere with the many conversations of Doorbraak activists with forced labourers: conversations that according to the mayor’s regulations have to be announced in advance through a form of four pages. Recently the mayor is considering more and more Doorbraak activities to be ‘intolerable’ but so far the police appear to be less enthusiastic about his hobby of pestering activists.

The DZB centre had announced an expected hundred to hundred and thirty invitees for its party but if we have counted correctly at most half of these showed up. Contrary to, for example, the event at the occasion of the centre’s opening two years ago this time the party was not held in the big hall at the front of the centre. That would have led to employers and activists looking at each other through the glass wall. No, the award ceremony had to be moved to somewhere at the back of the building, out of everyone’s sight. It seems appropriate since many of the activities of the forced labour centre do not stand the light of day. That is also why the management always tries to keep us out of sight and away from the centre, away from the forced labourers, and this time away from the clients, the employers. As soon as the last protesters had left the square the DZB employees hurried outside to clean up the balloons and especially the flyers. You never know who might get hold of these.

Eric Krebbers

This is the text of the flyer we distributed, also with the balloons:

Dear participant of the award ceremony,In this flyer we would like to explain to you why a demonstration is being held tonight at the same time as the ceremony. A protest does not seem logical. Isn’t the DZB an admirable non-profit organisation that helps people with a work disability to find work? That is correct and the organisation does a good job there.

But in recent years the DZB has changed considerably. The organisation has also engaged in forcing people who receive welfare benefits to work for free. We call this forced labour. It means production work without wages, contract or employee rights under a strict regime that no regular employee would ever accept. Those on welfare benefits are put to work at the DZB itself but also transferred to other companies.

At first it appeared as if one or more of these free employees would be assigned to the winning employer of this evening. After protests from Doorbraak and questions from the Socialist Party indeed councillor De Haan gave the assurance that the welfare beneficiaries assigned to the employer would receive a real contract.

We are here tonight to remind the councillor of his assurances. This is because we do not fully trust him. This summer it became clear that his DZB had kept a large number of so-called unemployed in forced labour for a substantially longer period of time than the six weeks that were agreed by the city council. We demand that all those on benefits who are assigned to the winning employer actually receive a contract for at least the minimum wage from day one. We will be checking this through our many contacts with the forced labourers and dissident DZB employees.

We are also here to warn all those policy makers, other civil servants and entrepreneurs present here. We hear stories from all over the country about entrepreneurs who collect ‘unemployed’ for free at the departments for social affairs, and simply exchange them for ‘new’ unemployed after a couple of weeks or months. That’s a nice and cheap for the employer. But forced labour and this kind of substitution of regular jobs are unacceptable. Employers and reintegration organisations that are involved in these practices will be facing actions by our fast growing movement of forced labourers, other unemployed and their sympathisers.