WOONOPSTAND: A Firsthand Account of Police Violence

SÓG, Corcaigh

The CJB’s account, with more photos, can be read on their website voorwaarts.net, here.

The Connolly Youth Movement was represented on October 17th 2021 at the WOONOPSTAND (Housing Uprising) in Rotterdam, in arms with the Communist Youth Movement of the Netherlands (CJB). Over 8,000 people were present in a peaceful protest and march through Rotterdam, to highlight and challenge the crisis which has left hundreds of students in Dutch cities living in large emergency tents or sports halls, and many tens of thousands in grave insecurity, as local authorities demolish social housing to sell land to private developers while the rental market becomes increasingly overheated.

This massive insecurity is disproportionately affecting people of colour, migrants, young people, and the working class, leading to a series of protest marches beginning in September with 15,000 people joining the WOONPROTEST in Amsterdam, and more planned across the Netherlands throughout the rest of the year.

While Amsterdam’s Woonprotest was host to an electric party atmosphere and felt more akin to a festival with bands and loud chanting, Rotterdam’s Woonopstand took on a distinctly more tense and confrontational character, as a direct result of police aggression and violence which saw protesters and wardens baton charged, arrested, and threatened with dogs and water cannons.

The initial program included inspirational speeches in the Afrikaanderpark from the likes of anti-demolition group Tweebosbuurt, who have become symbolic of the struggle against property investors, and Deutsche Wonen & Co Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wonen), the Berlin campaign which saw landmark support for removing large landlords from the housing market.

This was followed by a planned march over the iconic Erasmus bridge to finish outside Markthal, a route which was widely publicised and cleared in advance with authorities. Based on the peaceful experience in Amsterdam, no one was expecting anything untoward, and we set off loudly shouting “VECHT VECHT VECHT! HOUSING IS EEN RECHT!” (Fight Fight Fight! Housing is a right!), eager to spread our message through the city. The CJB, one of the larger of many groups involved in organising these protests, proudly waved their flags and signs high while singing the Internationale in Dutch.

While crossing the Erasmus bridge, we noticed the police presence rapidly increasing – many units of the ME, Dutch riot police, were waiting on the other side with canine and horse units and many riot vans. Then they arrived also from behind and pushed through our ranks – They had cut off and isolated one of the leading groups at the end of the bridge, charged them with batons, and detained them. In a startling and insulting move, the police then commandeered a passing tram, kicking everyone off (including an elderly man using a walker), and using the tram as a barrier between the detainees and protesters. The ME then demanded that the rest of the protesters continue on their march, leaving behind our comrades. On the basis of Samen Uit, Samen Thuis – Out together, Home together – many groups remained on the bridge in solidarity with those detained, demanding their release.

We staged a sitting protest, which was charged by masked police in riot gear, and then formed a standing line, realising that the ME were not present to be peaceful and we couldn’t afford to be either. With the tram taken away, more than 30 protesters onboard, and with canine and horse units backing the ME riot police, and water cannons moving across the bridge, negotiations began between the Woonopstand and the ME. This successfully resulted in a mutual retreat, with the police moving back, and us marching once again, and again peacefully, toward the Markthal, where we eventually finished our planned march, more than two hours late.

It was a victory for the Woonopstand that more violence was avoided, and the march could be completed, despite the upsetting fact that eight people on the tram were eventually arrested, including a protest warden, and two people were taken to hospital for injuries caused by police violence.

Especially disturbing are many photos which appear to show plainclothes officers, some wearing protest stickers and badges, wielding batons and attacking protesters completely unprovoked. We must be especially vigilant in future protests for these bad actors and undercover police. Protesters should stick with their group and people they trust, and it was impressive to see the care and attention the CJB paid to ensuring the safety of their members and nearby protesters.

Indeed, the only escalation came, again and again, from the ME, who seem to have used this as a show of strength and perhaps even a practice run for future demonstrations. The Erasmus bridge is one of Rotterdam’s key monuments, and it is hard not to read into their stopping the protest at this point, a relatively quiet part of the city, with the main body of protestors trapped on the bridge and unable to help. Rather fittingly, many photos of the police brutality feature giant billboards of new luxury apartments as backgrounds, highlighting our struggle. Never has it been more true that “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”, and the police are simply that class’s tool against the working class.

Given this, it will be extremely interesting to monitor public opinion in the run up to future housing demonstrations, and to observe the police’s actions throughout the Netherland’s wave of housing discontent, and to again march in solidarity with the Dutch working class and our comrades in the Communistische Jongerenbeweging.

“Our cities can never be made really habitable or worthy of an enlightened people while the habitations of its citizens remain the property of private individuals. To permanently remedy the evils of city life the citizens must own their city.” – James Connolly, 1899, Landlordism in Towns.

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