“Why yes, I do have the foggiest”

On migration, freedom and wokeism: is the right all that's left?

May 02, 2024

Throughout most of the twentieth century, season bound cross-border immigration by people looking for work was considered normal in Europe. People, usually men, would migrate, largely unhindered, into countries like the Netherlands who needed a greater working population for a few months. When the work was done, they would migrate back, certain that they could return the next season when they were needed again. In market economy theory, migration in this form is considered healthy, since it allows for a flexible labour market where companies can easily expand their workforce temporarily when needed.

In the seventies, socialist Dutch prime minister Joop den Uyl vocally regarded this phenomenon as an unequal form of workplace competition, since migrant workers would usually be paid lower wages than native Dutch workers. This was largely a populist stance, since native workers mostly had protected permanent positions and would normally apply for different, higher skilled, jobs. These native workers would also more indirectly benefit from their temporary colleagues because it allowed their employers to service the market in a flexible way without requiring that flexibility from their permanent workforce. Den Uyls policies to close borders for these workers also didn't have the intended effect. Knowing that once they migrated back, they wouldn't be able to return, most immigrant workers opted to remain in the Netherlands.

That is was the left, who originally took that position, does not surprise me. Socialist politicians are traditionally concerned with the fate of the worker. What does surprise me, is that it is the right, traditionally more indirectly concerned with the fate of workers, through the growth of companies and the unhindered functioning of the market economy, have taken over this position. This was nicely illustrated when Dutch chip machine maker and national pride ASML, heavily dependent on high skilled migrant workers, publicly considered moving to France after the radical right won the Dutch elections, last November.

Right-wing parties in the Netherlands tend to use the word freedom a lot. Current prime minister Mark Rutte's party Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People's party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD) is an example, as is incumbent prime minister Geert Wilder's party Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, PVV). While the PVV's vision of freedom has never been sufficiently explained, the VVD's idea of freedom refers to concepts from market liberties. This is why liberal in the Dutch political context refers to the right, not the left.

Ignoring this narrow definition of freedom, right-wing politicians usually maintain that freedom, individualism and personal self-determination are in good hands with them. In this regard, to find wokeness to be a left wing thing is at least as odd as finding measures to protect workers against immigrants at the right. Wokeness, which Wikipedia defines as a broader awareness of social inequalities such as racial injustice, sexism, and denial of LGBT rights, can be regarded as the ultimate expression of personal freedom.

The left is traditionally considered more collectively oriented. Think for example of labour unions, which exist to counter the power of capitalism by standing up against it collectively. One-person strikes are normally not successful. While traditional socialist parties, however, appear to have trouble retaining voters, the progressive left has reoriented itself to views such as wokeness, internationalism and nature and climate preservation, which are of less interest to people trying to make monthly ends meet. Still, this shift was to be expected. When at the beginning of the seventies, the Keynesian economy had successfully elevated the masses to middle-class citizenry, the left needed a new direction. Post-materialism formed the presumed outcome, and in such an economy this would not have been surprising.

The economic crises at the start of the eighties and the subsequent reorienting of the right towards neoliberal ideas, however, appeared to have put an abrupt stop to this. The crisis left countless young workers unemployed, and right-wing politicians catered to their chagrin. The ultimate fall of Eastern European communism had post-materialism replaced with a reinvigorated consumerism, and the left couldn't help but shift right. What was left of the left, was left with wokeness and nature preservation, which never delivered them the votes of the masses. Meanwhile, the current coalition forming process, at the precise moment that I'm writing this, seems to be talking about maximum speeds on motorways. To drive fast is to be free, I suppose.

Dutch people say they are living in a right-wing country. Based on what I observe here, they're really not. They want their government to look out for them and protect them against dangers. When media parrot politicians telling voters migrants or wokeness are dangerous, that's what they believe and what they want them to protect them from. When the four parties, currently negotiating about what to base their government on, finally start ruling, they will have to find a way to protect Dutch citizens from what really never was a danger to begin with.

Categories: politics

Tags: wokism, freedom, the-netherlands, migrants

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