Campaigning for a social Zuidas
9 July 2006 – Amsterdammers want the government to impose
social conditions on companies that use public money. Proponents
of such conditions need not passively wait what happens, a successful
civic initiative in London shows. Might a similar approach work
at the Amsterdam Zuidas?
In 2012, London will host the Olympic Games. “Often with
such large projects, people complain afterwards that the local community
has not benefited”, explained Andrew Crossley of the London
Citizens organisation. “In this case, we wanted to get involved
at an early stage, in order to make sure that the local community
London Citizens is a coalition of trade unions, schools, churches,
mosques, and other community organisations. By mobilising Londoners
for campaigns and election meetings, the coalition got Mayor Ken
Livingstone to sign an Olympic Charter.
In this Charter, he promises to promote the use of local labour;
ensure that workers are paid a living wage; train local residents
for these jobs, especially in construction; build at least 4,500
affordable houses; and improve local services. London Citizens will
have access to the contracting process to make sure that these conditions
London thus decided to attach social conditions to the money the
government invests in a large project. Among Amsterdammers, there
is broad support for such social conditions, an opinion poll commissioned
by News from Amsterdam showed.
After the summer, alderman Ahmed Aboutaleb will present a plan to
make agreements about work placements when work is contracted out
by the municipality. However, there is at present no intention to
apply such conditions to the largest project that the municipality
invests in, the Zuidas.
On the contrary, pressurised by Minister Sybilla Dekker, the municipality
is considering loosening the social norms for this project. The
Minister thinks that it is a waste to have low-income people live
at such an expensive location, and therefore refuses to pay for
social housing. The municipality is now considering lowering the
share of social housing for a part of the Zuidas.
“Nonsense”, comments Rutger Groot Wassink, who is policy
advisor with the Netherlands Confederation of Trade Unions (FNV)
and district council member in Westerpark for the GroenLinks party.
“We must not create islands. Especially a prestigious project
such as the Zuidas would benefit from social housing. I am sure
that this would be very healthy for the other people who will be
living there as well”.
“I also think that the municipality should impose social
conditions on the companies that carry out the work, for example
regarding work placements”, Groot Wassink says. He does expect
that there may be resistance: “Civil servants may be reluctant;
they do not always like doing things in a different way”.
Nevertheless, it should be possible to implement such a policy.
“Especially in a city such as Amsterdam, with a progressive
government. I am definitely in favour of GroenLinks advocating such
an approach in the city council. And I am also in favour of coalitions
of social organisations putting some pressure on the government”.
A reason why some social pressure may be required, is the structure
of the Zuidas project. The municipality, the national government
and financial institutions are to create the Zuidas NV, which will
be responsible for the project. ABNAMRO Bank, Bank Nederlandse Gemeenten,
Fortis Bank, ING Real Estate en Rabobank Netherlands are candidates
This type of public-private partnerships runs the risk of evading
democratic control. As a result, the interests of the businesses
involved may gain the upper hand, at the expense of the public interest,
writes Professor Erik Swyngedouw of Oxford University in his contribution
to the book Amsterdam Zuidas European Space.
“Amsterdam’s future, and the planning and implementation
of its new Southern expansion, is too important to be left to a
small crowd of political and economic elites”, Swyngedouw
A practical problem is that it is difficult to mobilise people
at projects such as the Zuidas, says Bastiaan van Perlo of the Amsterdam
Tenants’ Association (HA). “It is different with projects
where a lot of existing houses are demolished. With such projects,
there is always far more debate and protest”. At the large
new housing projects, there are no local residents’ associations.
“You might say that these projects are something of a blind
spot. Perhaps we should deal with this at the city level”.
A profession that might benefit from social conditions at the Zuidas
project are the cleaners. In America and the United Kingdom, trade
unions sometimes use the local government as a tool to put pressure
on employers and their clients to pay decent wages to the cleaners
in prestigious office buildings.
“I think that we should adopt that approach in the Netherlands
as well”, says Eddy Stam, who is responsible for organising
cleaners at the FNV Bondgenoten trade union. He has a close collaboration
with the American service employees’ union SEIU, famous for
its successful Justice for Janitors campaign.
Following the American example, Stam is investigating ways to pressurise
employers indirectly. An example are the picket lines at companies
that are clients of the cleaning giant ISS, such as the Shell office
in Rijswijk. However, the municipality is not yet in sight as a
possible means to pressurise employers.
Stam does keep a close watch on developments at the Zuidas. “I
have been there once already, at the headquarters of the ING bank
and at one of the large law firms, Houthoff Buruma. In the near
future, we are going to systematically organise cleaners at the
office buildings along that part of the Ring Road”.
The London example is based on the article Community Unionism in
City. Results of the opinion poll. More
on the Zuidas
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