Mass protests in The Netherlands that began over the first weekend in July have now spread to Germany, Poland and Italy.
Dutch farmers are blocking roads, airports and food distribution centers in an effort to shut their country down. These actions are in response to climate laws designed to lower nitrogen levels that will result in putting farms out of business and underscore why addressing the climate crisis requires a just transition for displaced workers. Farmers want the government to know that without farmers, there won’t be food.
The protests are now spreading to more countries. They are occurring as inflation hit double digits in June, especially for food and fuel, and food shortages are expected this fall.
What began with farmers in The Netherlands has now expanded with fisher people blocking ports and conspiracy theorists and anti-government protesters joining in. The protests are being supported, in part, by Big Ag and Big Business.
According to Otto ter Haar of the Dutch Green Party (in a personal communication), the origins of the protests were not ideological but were due to farmers and their family members “fighting for their farms.” He adds that “They are supported by right wing parties and agro-corporations. They are opposed by (left wing) environmental, climate and animal welfare organisations.”
NCR Media reports: (machine translated)
On Monday, the fishermen unexpectedly joined: they fear the expiry of their environmental permits and took some media attention. In the meantime, Covid activists, conspiracy theorists, truck drivers and anti-government protesters are also mixing among the farmers. The farmers seem to be speculating that their protest is turning into abroad anti-state movement–this report takes stock of the new grassroots, or as Fokke and Sukke characterized it, the ‘farmers made’. In a disconcerting film by Nijkerk Nieuws, a demonstrator performs who indeed manages to lump everything together. The battle is against ‘them’.
This is not without significance politically, Raoul du Pré analyzed in de Volkskrant. He sees a “populist revolt against the administrative Netherlands, fired without hesitation from parliament”. NRC columnist Tom-Jan Meeus previously showed that behind the farmers are large agricultural companies and wealthy entrepreneurs. He believes that it is now a question of who is in charge in the Netherlands. “Succumbing to a livestock sector that, after decades of blockage, causes a threefold problem – climate, nature, water – would not be just a political defeat. Then this generation of politicians will distance themselves from politics: distance from the idea that politicians run the country.”
So the farmers’ protest has everything it takes to get out of hand. And not just on the street.
This is similar to what happened initially in the French Yellow Vest protests as right wing elements tried to co-opt the movement for their own interests. The French protests were portrayed as anti-climate because they were opposed to a rise in diesel fuel prices, but in reality they were a reaction to the decline of worker rights and economic security.
As the protests spread this week, German farmers helped Dutch farmers shut down roads and the border. In Poland, people marched in Warsaw complaining that they are bearing the brunt of an inflation they did not create. Italian farmers are copying the Dutch.
These protests may continue to spread this year as inflation is expected to worsen and that, on top of the climate crisis, military conflicts and sanctions, is expected to lower food production causing shortages this fall. This is a critical time for social movements to raise these issues and fight for solutions that create economic security and justice for everyone. If the left fails to mobilize, then people in desperation may turn to the right, to the detriment of the planet and everyone.
At the end of 2020, I wrote that this decade is a time when a number of crises are coming to a head. These crises will force changes. What those changes look like depends on how effective our social movements are in influencing the path we take.
Ajamu Baraka explains how we do that using a Peoples-Centered Human Rights Framework. I wrote about that and provided links to resources here. Only through mutual struggle will we have the strength to counter right-wing reactionary forces. Many countries, particularly those in Latin America, are demonstrating that this is possible.
We have a responsibility as residents of the largest empire in the world, the United States, to organize and take action. The rapid spread of the protests in the European Union is a wake up call that the time to do so is now.