champagne anarchist | armchair activist

In 1960, 29 Dutch MPs had a trade union background. Today, nine

After the Second World War, almost one in five members of the Dutch Lower House had a trade union background (in 1956, the Lower House expanded from 100 to 150 members). Then change set in. In 1960 there were 29 MPs with a trade union background; today nine.1 The largest decline was between 1960 and 1980.

The position of workers hasn’t gotten any better since 1980 - partly as a result of government policies.2 More workers have precarious jobs, the social safety net has been reduced and workers receive an ever smaller share of the proceeds of their labour. In many sectors, deregulation and privatisations have produced cut-throat competition, at the expense of workers. Austerity has deteriorated the quality of public services and destroyed jobs.

The key task of unions is to help workers organise so they’re not powerless vis-a-vis their employers. But in many ways, politicians set the rules that govern the labour market. Therefore, Dutch unions should probably engage more actively in politics - for example by mobilising their members to vote in elections. Further, it’s important to train union members for leading positions within the union and in politics.


The analysis is based on the resumes of post-WWII members of the Lower House published on I counted occurances of the following union federation names: 'FNV', 'CNV', 'NKV', 'NVV', 'EVC', 'RKWV', 'KAB'.

Some notes:

  • I didn’t count mentions of unions affiliated to these federations - that would hardly be feasible given given how many there are and the changes that have occured over time;
  • I manually excluded a number of cases where names of union federations occured in resumes. Reasons include: the reference was to an organisation with a name that is identical to one of the union federations’ names; someone merely sat on a joint committee of a political party and a trade union; etcetera;
  • I did not include the small unions / union federations that represent high-educated professionals, but including them would have had a negligeable effect on the outcome.

I recorded the start and end date for each period any of these persons was a member of the Lower House. Then I defined periods using all those dates as partitions (I ended up with over a thousand periods). For each period, I checked how many people with a union background were members of the Lower House during that period.

  1. In some European countries, the relation between politics and the union movement is dominated by the social-democrat party. In the Netherlands, there are also many christian-democrat MPs with a union background. Their number shows a similar development as the number of social-democrat MPs with a union background. The current MPs with a union background are Harm Brouwer (PvdA, FNV), Sjoera Dikkers (PvdA, CNV), Fatma Koser Kaya (D66, FNV), John Kerstens (PvdA, FNV) Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks, CNV), Pieter Omzigt (CDA, CNV), Michel Rog (CDA, CNV), Paul Ulenbelt (SP, FNV / NVV) and Linda Voortman (GroenLinks, FNV).

  2. That’s not to say that the background of MPs directly influenced government policy - the relationship may well be more complex.


Beautiful relief maps from Stamen

At Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data, I read that Stamen Terrain maps are now available globally, not just for the United States. Stamen uses Open Street Map and their tiles can be used with Leaflet.

One thing about relief maps is that they rub it in how embarrassingly flat the Netherlands are. For example, here’s the Oude Holleweg near Nijmegen (the nearby Van Randwijckweg was in this year’s Giro). It’s just a 70 meter height difference, but with gradients around 14% it’s one of the most challenging climbs in the Netherlands. Apparently, cyclists are not allowed to ride it downhill because that’s considered dangerous (update: I checked, it’s true, descending is not allowed). But if you look at the map, it doesn’t seem all that impressive.

Be that as it may, the Stamen Terrain maps «sure are pretty to look at», as Yau put it. Even when there’s hardly any elevation to show.

Has Google Maps found a way to have its cake and eat it

PL Takbuurt

Not interesting: P.L. Takbuurt

Google Maps are for transportation; Apple Maps are more of an advertising channel, I tweeted a while ago. That was based on a fascinating analysis by Justin O’Beirne, who found, among other things, that Google Maps show far more rail and underground stations, while Apple Maps show far more restaurants and shops.

However, things may have changed in a way. The CityMetric blog of the New Statesman reports that Google has been adding orangey areas to its maps. As Google explains, they represent areas of interest:

Whether you’re looking for a hotel in a hot spot or just trying to determine which way to go after exiting the subway in a new place, areas of interest will help you find what you’re looking for with just a couple swipes and a zoom.

We determine areas of interest with an algorithmic process that allows us to highlight the areas with the highest concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. In high-density areas like NYC, we use a human touch to make sure we’re showing the most active areas.

Assuming they haven’t sacrificed any stations, this suggests they have found a way to have their cake and eat it: remain useful for transportation purposes while adding marketing opportunities.

However, CityMetric writer John Elledge is not impressed by Google’s algorithm to identify areas of interest. He argues that «an algorithm that thinks Trafalgar Square is less an area of interest than the restaurants across the road is not fit for purpose».

As for Amsterdam, Google’s algorithm seems to be relatively good at identifying lively neighbourhoods, although they may have missed a few. On the other hand, the Museumplein, where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk are, isn’t marked as interesting, but then I’m sure tourists don’t need Google Maps to tell them to go there. Some of the most spectacular examples of Amsterdam School architecture (around P.L. Takstraat, Zaanhof) are similarly overlooked. By contrast, rather dull shopping centres such as Oostpoort are marked as interesting.

All in all, the correct designation for Google’s orangey areas would perhaps be commercial areas rather than areas of interest.


Users versus programmers: lon,lat or lat,lon

Somebody at Mapbox wrote a blog post in which he makes the case that longitude should go first: almost all data formats (including Google’s KML) and all open source software (except Leaflet) use this order. Also, it’s the logical order if you include altitude (XYZ), he argues.

Of course, it can’t be that simple, as this debate on Stack Overflow illustrates. It seems that programmers prefer lon,lat while people who use maps - seafarers, Google Maps users - expect lat,lon. As one commenter puts it:

Good rule of thumb: if you know what a tuple is and are programming, you should be using lon,lat. I would even say this applies if your end user (say a pilot or a ship captain) will prefer to view the output in lat,lon. You can switch the order in your UI if necessary, but the overwhelming majority of your data (shapefiles, geojson, etc.) will be in the normal Cartesian order.

Another good rule of thumb: always check.


Is it still ok to ridicule pie charts

Workers without job security as a percentage of all working people in the Netherlands. The pink slice shows the percentage in 2003; the red slice how much this has increased since. Data Statistics Netherlands, chart Relaunch animation.

In a series of articles that caused a bit of a commotion among chart geeks, Robert Kosara summarised the findings of a number of studies on pie charts. In one of the articles, he observes:

Pie charts are generally looked down on in visualization, and many people pride themselves on saying mean things about them and the people who use them.

I guess I’m one of those people who look down on pie charts. Sure, I’m not as outspoken as the respected Edward Tufte, who famously wrote that «the only worse design than a pie chart is several of them». I’m not always against pie charts and I’ve even experimented with animated pie charts to illustrate change in a proportion. But I’m not above making lame jokes about pie charts either. My rule of thumb would be: don’t use pie charts - unless you can come up with a good reason why you should use one in a particular situation.

Kosara describes a number of studies in which he measured how accurately people interpret pie charts and other charts showing a proportion, e.g. 27%. According to his findings, exploded pie charts are doing worse than regular pie charts (phew!) and square pie charts are doing better. Interestingly, a stacked bar chart appears to be doing worse than a regular pie chart (note that a stacked bar chart depicting a single proportion amounts to something that looks like a progress bar).

It’ll be interesting to see how this holds up in future studies. But for now, the finding that (stacked) bar charts are doing worse than pie charts may come as a bit of a shock, for there appears to be a sort of consensus that bar charts are generally better than pie charts. Question is, better at what?

Workers without job security as a percentage of all working people in the Netherlands. Data Statistics Netherlands, chart

A bar chart is quite good at showing that the level of workers without job security in the Netherlands was higher in 2015 than in 2014. But which chart type is better at showing how much the share has increased between 2003 and 2015? Until recently I would have said «the bar chart» without hesitation, but now I’m not so sure anymore.

That said - I think it’s still ok to ridicule 3D exploded pie charts.

Robert Kosara summarises his findings here and here. The recent studies were done in collaboration with Drew Skau; an older study in collaboration with Caroline Ziemkiewicz. The Tufte quote is from his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The charts above show workers with permanent jobs and a fixed number of hours per week, as a percentage of all working people in the Netherlands (not just employees), source CBS.