Sunday, August 9, 2015


Solidarity March with the Strike of the Metal Trade Unions, Oss Netherlands 1977
(foto: petrus nelissen)

In April this year, a course on the trade union movement ended with an introduction by Paul de Beer, professor of industrial relations at the University of Amsterdam. He searched for an answer to the question whether the trade union movement still has a future. De Beer advised the trade unions above all to make choices. "Do everything will be fatal at the long run. Do we choose for a trade union with a broad social orientation, or for targeted interests? Past experience shows, according to De Beer, that significant results can be achieved with small steps. Kees van Kortenhof reports in the digital newsletter "The memory of the labor movement", a publication of the "Foundation Friends of the History of Trade Unions".

Solidarity March with Strike of Metal Trade Unions, Oss Netherland 1977
(foto: petrus nelissen)

De Beer looked back on the successes of the labor movement over the last hundred and ten years in the Netherlands. The real wage per labor year has risen sharply while the working hours have decreased. Now an employee earns per hour ten times as much as 100 years ago. If we take the ratio between capital and labor studies of that period, we must conclude, however, that "the French economist Thomas Piketty with his book Capital is right and that the capitalists are on the winning hand.” Job security is higher than in the 19th century but also in the last century there have been crises like also these days, which have led to high unemployment.

De Beer also painted the challenges for the trade union movement of today. Trade union membership is decreasing. In 1980, still one of the three employees were members of a union, currently only 1 out of 6. The share of older people in the movement is large and the degree of organization among 25 year olds and younger is low about 7%. This weakens the legitimacy of actions and statements of the trade union movement. He blamed for this the defensive attitude of the trade unions. Comparing the trade union situation today with that from the sixties and seventies in the passed century: "the political-economic agenda is no longer determined by the trade unions but rather by politics and employers ".
The trade union movement must cease to do everything. That is eventually fatal. It should also be clear which groups will be the target of the trade union movement. Are that only members or all wage earners, or all workers/employees including the self-employed or perhaps also all (indirect) wage earners including beneficiaries and pensioners?

Solidarity March with Strike of the Metal Trade Unions, Oss Netherlands 1977
(foto: petrus nelissen)

Does the trade union reach 2040?
A concluding forum dealt with two questions: does one need to know about the history of the trade union movement? and will the trade union movement still exist in the year 2040? Paul de Beer warned for looking too much backwards because "knowledge of history can also lead to conservatism and adherence to old models." Piet Hazenbosch (management consultant of the Christian trade union confederation CNV and researcher of the history of the CNV), however, believed that when one wants to understand what is going on, you need to know where you come from. According Hazenbosch this time differs fundamentally from the time when the labor movement was born and he warns that the trade union movement is now not adequately related to contemporary social development. He pleads for a return to the 'ideological sources "where we answer the question: Why are we here?". On this matter the Christian trade unionist Hazenbosch and the left-socialist Van der Velden agreed with each other. Van der Velden also laments the loss of ideological depth and vision of the trade union movement on society: " Maybe CNV may have lost less its ideological feathers.” However, as a specialist in the field of Dutch labor relations, he is indifferent to whether the trade union movement in 2040 still will exist: "The trade union is an instrument for achieving certain goals. That's the main point. "

ETUC Protest March, Brussels Belgium 2013
(foto:petrus nelissen)

Union Sundown
Leontine Bijleveld, independent researcher and consultant on women's rights and labor relations and historian, considers knowledge of history essential but in a broad way and as an inspiration for the present. She agrees with her colleagues of the CNV that the trade union movement in 2014 is different from that of the past, but there will always be social movements that make the world a little bit better. Harry Peer, expert on participation and works councils, points to the responsibility of trade unions when it comes to history "because the fundamental training courses are all gone. There is little attention to the reasons of existence of trade unions and what motivates trade unionists. "He fears the American way, where employers with all means keep the unions out. "We talk a lot about the Rhineland model but now the US model is coming to us." Lodewijk de Waal, former chairman of the trade union confederation FNV and now chairman of VHV, closed the meeting wondering about his own optimism. He has grown up with Bob Dylan's song "Times They are Changing." But the same Dylan in the eighties sings about the Union Sundown. Who reads the text of that song can not but conclude that there is still enough work to do for the trade union movement.

Kees van Kortenhof
April 2015

Solidarity March with strike of the Metal Trade Unions, Oss Netherlands 1977

An overview of the trade union movement in the Netherlands 2014.

Again fewer union members, but for a long time more young members
The number of members decreases again in 2014, but more young people have become member of the trade union. The number of female trade union members increases after an occasional dip last year. The number of older members falls.
End of March 2014 the unions had more than 1.7 million members, 30 thousand less than the year before. In all confederations, as well as in non-affiliated trade unions, membership declines. The confederation FN is the largest confederation with more than 1.1 million members.

Growth of young trade union members
The number of young people (under 25) who are members of a trade union, has almost halved compared to the last century. In 1999 the number of young members amounted to 117 thousand, in 2013 that figure was 61 thousand. The decline in the number of young people seems to have ended. Already in recent years the number of younger members decreased barely, in 2014 for the first time there was an increase of six thousand young members . From all trade union members now 3.8 per cent is less than 25 years old. One out of six trade union members is 65 years or older
The number of trade union members in the age between 25 to 65 years declined. The group of members between 45-65 years old still remains the largest group with 906 thousand members. However, this is 19 thousand less than last year. A part canceled their membership, another part remained member, but now belongs to the group of retired trade union members (65 years and older). The number of members that after retirement remained a member of the trade union increased in 2014. The proportion of over-65s stood at 17 percent, which means that out of six trade union members is 65 years or older. Pensioners can often continue to use the services of a trade union for a lower contribution rate.

More women join the trade union
After a decline in 2013, in 2014 slightly more women became a member of a trade union. Their number amounted to 630 thousand.

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changing, 1964

The lyrics of Bob Dylan's song "Union Sundown"

Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore
My flashlight’s from Taiwan
My tablecloth’s from Malaysia
My belt buckle’s from the Amazon
You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day

Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
Til greed got in the way

Well, this silk dress is from Hong Kong
And the pearls are from Japan
Well, the dog collar’s from India
And the flower pot’s from Pakistan
All the furniture, it says “Made in Brazil”
Where a woman, she slaved for sure
Bringin’ home thirty cents a day to a family of twelve
You know, that’s a lot of money to her

Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
Til greed got in the way

Well, you know, lots of people complainin’ that there is no work
I say, “Why you say that for
When nothin’ you got is U.S.–made?”
They don’t make nothin’ here no more
You know, capitalism is above the law
It say, “It don’t count ’less it sells”
When it costs too much to build it at home
You just build it cheaper someplace else

Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
Til greed got in the way

Well, the job that you used to have
They gave it to somebody down in El Salvador
The unions are big business, friend
And they’re goin’ out like a dinosaur
They used to grow food in Kansas
Now they want to grow it on the moon and eat it raw
I can see the day coming when even your home garden
Is gonna be against the law

Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
Til greed got in the way

Democracy don’t rule the world
You’d better get that in your head
This world is ruled by violence
But I guess that’s better left unsaid
From Broadway to the Milky Way
That’s a lot of territory indeed
And a man’s gonna do what he has to do
When he’s got a hungry mouth to feed

Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
Til greed got in the way