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Interview with De Fabel van de illegaal

"Taking part in the historical struggle for a better world." (2)

jeudi 22 septembre 2005

What actions has De Fabel organized ?

Eric : "We have organized probably a 100 or 150 actions in these 15 years, large and small ones. The bigger ones often together with other organizations. It would be impossible to name them all. The most important to us were those together with refugees and immigrants. We organized a national chain church asylum action with Iranian refugees from June, 15, to November, 30, 1997. It took us a year to set it up, and during that time we also organize smaller actions with these refugees in order to attract media attention. We also organized a national protest caravan with a couple of dozen undocumented people in September 1998. We were furthermore supported hungerstrikes in The Hague and Amsterdam on a daily basis in December 1998 (135 migrant workers), Februari/March 1999 (15 migrant women), Februari/March 1999 (34 immigrants), Februari/May 2001 (5 refugees), March/May 2003 (15 migrant workers). We have also organized many actions and demonstrations against for instance new migration control laws being implemented or fascist manifestations. We have also organized large conferences, remembrances (of for instance the Kristallnacht) and protests against Right wing politicians and opinion leaders visiting Leyden.

Harry : "And of course we go to other demonstrations as well and hand out leaflets there."

How does it work, this cooperation with other organizations ?

Eric : "We usually form a platform with several self organizations of immigrants and refugees and some support organizations. Usually we discuss plans the immigrants have made and we decide how we can support them. During the hungerstrikes for instance a daily support committee was formed, which organized support. That means discussing strategy with them, getting funds, getting doctors to attend them, asking politicians to come and visit, organizing demonstrations, writing and sending press releases, sometimes trying to keep the peace during fierce arguments."

Is De Fabel basically a local or a national organization ?

Eric : "We used to be local. It would be best if the Netherlands were covered with support groups like us, each attending matters in their own region and meeting to organize national protests. We have tried to build such structures several times. But since more and more similar groups in other cities have disappeared or are too busy attending to individual immigrants and refugees, we are sometimes forced to act more or less alone on a national level. Immigrant organizations in The Hague and other cities sometimes turn to us, because there are no support groups there anymore."

Tell us about your magazine.

Jan : "Our magazine is published every two months. We have some 1.500 copies printed. It is a tabloid of about 16 pages. People can subscribe to it, but we hand it out for free also on demonstrations."

Is it also on the internet ?

Jan : "Everything we published in 15 years can be read on the internet. We have some 2.500 articles, brochures and press releases on our homepage. And 120 translated pieces. We get some 40.000 unique visitors a month requesting a total of 150.000 pages. A lot of our articles come up first when people use google. When people search for the IOM (International Organization on Migration) using google, they will get several of our articles on top. In this sense we control part of the information on this subject. The internet brings a whole lot of hate mail also, and we hardly ever see any serious discussions on the internet. But we do get new friends through the web, like Ni patrie ni frontières."

How many hours a week are you politically active ? Do you work and in what sector ? What is the relation between your politics and your work ?

Jan : "Until a year ago, I was on the dole and I could spend all my time at De Fabel. Now I work about 45 hours a week in a warehouse. I try to be active at De Fabel as much as possible in the evenings and in the weekends. But I would like to have more time for De Fabel. At work I can speak freely in discussions. But I do not organize political activities there. I am not yet a union member, but I am considering it. The union could give me legal aid in conflict situations."

Ellen : "I have always had part time jobs because I do not want my work to take up my whole week. So I have time to be active at De Fabel. In my former job, my colleagues were more feminist and Left than in my current job. They were less happy with the hierarchy and working conditions. Back then I became a union member and we went demonstrating for better working conditions and payment. That would never happen with my current colleagues. But I’m also not a very active union member. In my sector, health care and social work, most workers are not very militant and neither is the union."

Eric : "Harry, Gerrit and I get paid by the council to work at De Fabel. In the nineties the government created tens of thousands of minimum wage jobs (ID jobs) for the unemployed. Employers got fully subsidized for contracting ID workers. Officially, employers were not allowed to replace their workers with these free ID workers. In practice however, many schools and other organizations in the non-profit sector used these ID workers to fill up vacancies which were left after much personnel had to be fired because of budget cuts. Through the ID jobs the government wanted to activate and discipline the unemployed, and to give them some experience, which would enlarge their value at the labor market. De Fabel posed as employers and managed to get three ID jobs. Although the pay is low, and we do not build up any pension, we do like our jobs. For we are our own bosses, and the council does not check out what we actually do. The ID jobs are being cancelled in January 2007, and we have find others ways to continue our work. There’s already talk in the government of creating new ID jobs at 70 percent of minimum wage, that is : dole level."

How do your personal and political lives mix ?

Eric : "At De Fabel there is much room to talk about personal matters. We want to be perceptive of how is everybody feeling. We try to support and help each other where possible. Most of us live in collective housing projects together with other activists, and we all know each other quite well by now. We try not to separate our political and personal lives too much. But people are free to share whatever they want, and if they don’t want to share certain feelings or thoughts that’s okay too, of course. To be able to really trust each other as comrades, one needs to have strong personal and social ties as well. I believe that without that organizations won’t last in the long run."

What are your relations with Left parties ?

Eric : "The social democratic labor party PvdA is often in the government. The last 20 years often a PvdA member headed the ministry of Justice, which deals with immigration. Most of the current harsh laws are implemented by PvdA ministers. They are not in government now. But we have never been friendly with them, not even on a local level. Then there is GroenLinks (Green Left), a combination of former communists, pacifists and socialists. They attract the richer Left people and usually get some 5 percent of the votes. They often support our concrete demands and speak on larger demonstrations, although they are not against strong immigration controls. The Greens are being surpassed now by the fast growing Socialist Party, a former Maoist party. They have always been somewhat nationalist and racist. They pride on having started the Dutch integration debate, which has been little more than a festival for racists. They believe the immigrant workers curb the Dutch workers movement. They claimed the same about feminism. They do, however, support some of our concrete demands sometimes and they have also spoken on our larger demonstrations. Then there are several smaller parties which are not in parliament, like the Trotskyite Internationale Socialisten (International Socialists). We agree with most of their analysis on migration control, but strongly differ with them on the issue of national liberation and nationalism. We meet them on demonstrations often, but it is not possible to cooperate with them for they are always trying to incorporate everybody into their quite hierarchical party. They quickly hop from one issue to the other in order to attract more members. Luckily, there’s another Trotskyite organization called Socialistische Alternatieve Politiek (Socialist Different Politics). Of all communist parties, we have most in common with them. One of our members went to the SAP a few years ago. Like us, they were involved in January 1999 in founding the Geen mens is illegaal (No one is illegal) Platform, but they didn’t turn up anymore after a few meetings. We have no concrete cooperation with them at the moment. Finally, there are a few very small Stalinist groups. We have no contacts whatsoever with them."

What were the most important political events in your political life ?

Jan : "The radical Left is not doing very well. There have not been any real highlights in my activist days yet."

Eric : "In 1989 some 10.000 activists put up a blockade at the Shell head quarters in Amsterdam. This was an extremely powerful and emotional moment to me. We were together with so many radicalized people, including members of the South African resistance. Also very important to me were the hungerstrikes in Amsterdam in 1999. I was with the migrant workers every day, supporting them, talking with them, organizing demonstrations, having meetings until deep in the night. It was very dynamic and tiring and I felt like really being a part of a larger struggle."

Ellen : "I guess I would choose the same moments as Eric did. But I was personally more involved in the hungerstrike of 1998. I also went there almost every day. I felt it was an important phase in the struggle for the sans papiers in the Netherlands. After two and a half weeks a negotiating committee was formed with the national union leader and church leaders. After their final offer, all hungerstrikers and their supporters stayed up all night discussing the proposal. Everyone was so tired and vulnerable. Of course every hungerstriker looked at his own individual chances, but nobody wanted to be egoistic. They all wanted things to work out well for everybody, including other immigrants in the same position. It was a very emotional night."

Harry : "Most important to me was becoming a full time political activist, being politically involved on a daily and structural basis and working toward some kind of revolution. Second, the commitment we made in 1990 with 4 or 5 comrades to struggle not for a few years, but for the rest of our lives. We go for it ! And the third important moment to me was perhaps the most recent hungerstrike. Although I was doing a lot of work on the background, it did influence me emotionally. People were starving themselves for 57 days because it was the only way they thought they could still struggle."

What did De Fabel bring you ? And what has been negative for you ?

Jan : "De Fabel brought me a lot. I learned how to write an article and how to speak in public. I also learned to analyze the power relations in society and to argue for structural changes. On the negative side : I’m very disappointed by former comrades that left the group and are not politically involved anymore."

Eric : "Most important to me is to be able to work collectively. And being a responsible part of De Fabel and the radical Left in general. Taking part in the historical struggle for a better world. Negative is the state of the Left movement at the moment. I’ve seen things deteriorate year by year."

Ellen : "I learned a lot being a Fabel member, by reading, discussing, researching, writing, and organizing. I also learnt patience. It can take years or even decades for things to change. We don’t have the power to force changes. It’s difficult to remain optimistic with only the real small victories we have achieved. And I do not see many people anymore really wanting progressive changes. I used to believe that things would turn for the better after maybe 2 or 3 years. But the ultra Right and racist atmosphere in the Netherlands is growing worse all the time. But we have to carry on, it is always better than to do nothing any more."

Harry : "The possibility of being active on a daily basis, of taking responsibilities, and of building structures. The experience of really being involved in political struggles, a knowledge one shares with ones comrades. I am also negative about the radical Left movement, and people leaving. But even more about them not even doing more passive things anymore, like donating money. Why do they seem to completely forget and ignore their former political lives ? But I also learn from the negative experiences. I just conclude that that I have to do better, try again and this time harder."

How do you see the future of De Fabel ?

Eric : "Based on our experiences of the past 15 years, I guess we will always remain active with maybe 5 or 6 comrades. We feel a responsibility as Leftist activists and will remain committed. The circumstances in which we operate might differ 10 years from now, but we will then probably still be trying to struggle from below and to build political structures. We will remain thinking of ways to bring fundamental changes closer. But we are a small group, and due to the ultra Right atmosphere right now not many people will join, I think. So, for the near future we can probably only be defensive. We are of course not in a position to just create a new social movement. But we will always be on the outlook for a new one coming up ! There will always be people protesting against injustice and we need to be around them."

Leyden, July 2005.

Some numbers

Leyden has 118.000 inhabitants. There are 16,2 million people living in the Netherlands, according to official statistics. The government categorizes 3 million of them as "allochthonous", which means that they themselves, or at least one of their parents, were born abroad. About 1,6 million of the "allochthones" are called "non-western allochthones", meaning they, or at least of their parents, came from the so-called Third World. Most "allochthones" (2,3 million) have Dutch passports and many of them are born in the Netherlands. The categories of "allochthones" and "non-western allochthones" were created to treat colored people differently - that is : more repressive - without using racist categories.

Among the so-called "non-western allochthones" there are 320.000 Turks, 272.000 Moroccans, 310.000 people from Surinam and 117.000 from the Antilles. So, people from the Antilles are also considered "allochthonous", although non of them, nor their parents, can be born abroad, since the Antilles are part of the Dutch kingdom. So, for people of the Antilles the only criterion is the color of their skin.

The largest communities of refugees are from former Yugoslavia (71.000), Iraq (38.000), Somalia (30.000), Afghanistan (26.000), Iran (24.000), Ghana (16.000) and Vietnam (15.000).

Next to all these statistics, there is also a fast growing number of people who are being illegalized by the government, after being refused residence papers or rejected in refugee procedures. Many do not apply at all any more, for the chances of getting residence papers are close to zero nowadays. Estimations of undocumented people in the Netherlands run from 50.000 up to 250.000.

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