Asscher Unites Dutch Left Against Further Labor Reforms

The Labor Party leader rallies left-wing parties behind a program to protect workers’ rights.

Dutch social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher visits Amsterdam, November 9, 2016
Dutch social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher visits Amsterdam, November 9, 2016 (SZW/Bibi Neuray)

Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher has united left-wing parties in the Netherlands against further liberalizations of the labor market.

Asscher, who serves as social affairs minister in the outgoing coalition government of Mark Rutte, called for a pact to defend workers’ rights this weekend.

The Greens and far-left Socialist Party were quick to embrace his proposals.

They would introduce unemployment insurance for the self-employed and halt reforms that make it easier for businesses to dismiss workers on a full-time contract.

Asscher has also taken issue with the free movement of labor in the European Union, arguing that this creates unfair competition for Dutch workers.

Under EU law, a Dutch companies could hire a Bulgarian carpenter or a Polish truck driver and pay them at the (much lower) rate they would earn in their home country.

Left-wing disunity

Asscher’s pact stops short of committing the three parties to forming a government after the next election.

The Labor leader bemoaned the left’s disunity, which could make the contest in March one between the right-wing liberals and the far-right Freedom Party.

But it is his own party that has always shunned an accord with the left for fear of scaring away centrist voters.

Labor is currently down from 35 to around twelve seats in the polls. The Greens and Socialists are up, but the three parties would struggle to win more than forty seats together.

76 are needed for a majority.

Bridge too far

A center-left coalition would need both the Christian Democrats and liberal Democrats for a majority, but they are in favor of deeper labor market reforms.

So are Rutte’s liberals. All three want to make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.

To have any hope of blocking such reforms, the left would need to team up with Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party, which is also skeptical of labor market reform.

Given the vast differences between them on everything else, though, that looks like it would be a bridge too far.

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