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 Parlement.com. I counted occurances of the following union federation names: 'FNV', 'CNV', 'NKV', 'NVV', 'EVC', 'RKWV', 'KAB'.
- 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.
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 Omtzigt (CDA, CNV), Michel Rog (CDA, CNV), Paul Ulenbelt (SP, FNV / NVV) and Linda Voortman (GroenLinks, FNV).↩
That’s not to say that the background of MPs directly influenced government policy - the relationship may well be more complex.↩