In an interview in De Volkskrant, FNV Chairwoman Agnes Jongerius not only announces protests ‘between now and Christmas’ if lobbying efforts to stop raising the age at which people are eligible for state pension (AOW) from 65 to 67 fail; she also discusses the role of the Socialist Party (SP) and Geert Wilders’ right wing populist PVV. According to De Volkskrant, the FNV is looking for new allies after its alternative AOW plan was rudely rejected by employers’ organisations.
Jongerius: “The SP simply says ’65 remains 65’. That nicely fits on a banner. Our sign would be a bit longer, for we want people to be able to retire at 65, but also to be able to work longer.”
And regarding the PVV: “Geert Wilders also has a problem with our proposals for making retirement age more flexible. His alternative for raising retirement age – a moratorium on immigrants, expel all Muslims and doing away with left-wing hobbies – is absolutely not ours.”
“I would also like to talk to the PVV. Until now, they have categorically kept off any rapprochement. Up until Prinsjesdag [the day on which the Queen presents next year’s policies], when PVV MP Tony van Dijck approached me on the street and said that we should have a talk soon. All of a sudden, the PVV no longer ignores us. We haven’t yet been able to schedule an appointment, but there will definitely be a meeting.”
Asked whether future FNV protests will feature symbols of the SP and the PVV, she says: “We won’t allow any party at our stage. They can attend though, like any other party.”
Geert Wilders, who used to be a neoliberal hardliner on socio-economic issues, has recently opted for a pro-welfare state stance. According to De Volkskrant, polls suggest that 17% of FNV members would vote PVV.
Media have interpreted Jongerius’ statements as suggesting that the FNV would be willing to ‘collaborate’ with the PVV, causing something of a controversy. On Twitter, Marthy Schuurman, an official of FNV-affiliated public sector union ABVAKABO FNV, says that upon reading Jongerius’ statements, he is ‘thrilled’ that social partners have recently issued an advice on conscientious objections. The advice says that it should not be possible for employers to fire employees who refuse work on moral grounds.
Egbert Schellenberg, official at private sector union FNV Bondgenoten, points out that the FNV has more ethnic minority members than any other organisation in the Netherlands. For that reason, he argues, the FNV should confront the PVV rather than ‘flirt’ with it. Christian union confederation CNV says that the rapprochement should consist of not more than one meeting in which to explain the position of the union confederations on the AOW to the PVV.
On his weblog, union member and welfare activist Piet van der Lende raises strategic objections to the FNV strategy. “So this means that we can’t oppose other PVV views too strongly in our campaign, for this would weaken the new ‘unity front’. So we are no longer free to offer our own analysis of other PVV views. We help the PVV, which is joining forces with the FNV, obtain a ‘social’ image, and make it appear as a quite reasonable party that one can vote for without a problem.”
In a response to the controversy, ABVAKABO FNV issued a statement saying that the FNV will ‘if necessary’ have talks with all parties that are represented in Parliament, but that the line should be drawn there. The proposals of the PVV run against the basic principles of the FNV, ABVAKABO FNV insists.