As trade unions consider merger, the Dutch want their unions to take a much tougher stance

A large majority has voted in favour of the merger - A plan to create a new Dutch union with about 1 million members was put on hold in October, when the plan just failed to get a two-thirds majority at the convention of FNV Bondgenoten, one of the unions involved in the merger plans. A new vote will take place on 26 November.

Representatives of employers’ organisations expressed disappointment at the initial rejection of the merger. They had been hoping the merger would result in a stable trade union that will play a constructive role in the elaborate social dialogue institutions of the Dutch «polder model».

In fact, that’s exactly what Dutch unions have been doing over the past decades, as evidenced by their low strike rates. But with growing inequality and an erosion of the welfare state going on, doubts arise whether social dialogue is enough. Some groups of workers, like cleaners and health care workers, have successfully resorted to more assertive campaign methods to fight for decent pay and better working conditions.

Since 2007, researchers of the University of Tilburg have been asking a panel of about 6,000 respondents what they expect of unions. More specifically, they have asked respondents whether they agree that «Trade unions should take a much tougher political stance, if they wish to promote the workers’ interests». In the latest edition of the study, 44% (strongly) agree and only 13% (strongly) disagree.

If anything, support for tougher unions seems to have grown over the past years. Surprisingly, even among the self-employed and among people who voted for neoliberal parties like VVD and D66 in 2012, more respondents agree than disagree that unions should take a much tougher stance. High-income respondents are among the few groups that are not so keen on tougher unions.

Last weekend, chairman Ton Heerts explained the position of the FNV to the Telegraaf newspaper: «I think we’ve proven over the past year that it’s quite possible to combine substance, dialogue and action. With the current wave of right-wing policies, the emphasis will be more on actions. That’s fine.»

An earlier version of this analysis was published here

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Second jobs - job erosion or appetite for consumption

Last year, a spokesperson of the German federal government suggested the explosive growth of Zweitjobs (second jobs) could have various explanations. Yes, people may be forced to take on second jobs out of financial necessity and because of the flexible labour market; but it could also have something to do with an increased «appetite for consumption» (Konsumlust). The suggestion immediately resulted in 2,000 sarcastic tweets.

The Netherlands has also seen a substantial growth in the number of people with second jobs, as new data from Statistics Netherlands illustrate. The chart shows the total number of employees (blue); employees with non-permanent jobs such as temp jobs and zero-hours contracts (red) and employees with a second job (green, all index 2002 = 100).

The green and red lines show a quite similar pattern. One might try arguing that the crisis caused a dip in the appetite for consumption, but more likely there’s a broader pattern of job erosion going on, temporarily slowed down when employers shedded their «flexible skin» (Dutch jargon for the precarious workers employers use) during the crisis.

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Scooters often faster than cars

Minister Schultz wants to allow Amsterdam to ban scooters from cycle paths and make them use the road, wearing a helmet. This should make cycle paths safer for cyclists and reduce their exposure to air pollution. However, car and scooter lobbyists argue that the speed difference between scooters and cars is too large for scooters to ride safely on the road, with motorists driving 50 kmph.

So do motorists really make 50 kmph in Amsterdam? «Cycling professor» Marco te Brömmelstroet has tweeted a map showing rush hour speeds far below 50 kmph.

As part of its open data initiative, Amsterdam has released some 5 million speed measurements at the «Hoofdnet Auto» (the network of major roads for cars) during the month of January 2014. The histogram above shows that even at these main roads, the majority of measurements recorded a speed below 50 kmph, with a median speed of 31 kmph. Average speeds during afternoon rush hour were about 5 kmph lower than at night.

A 2011 study by cyclists’ organisation Fietsersbond found found an average speed for scooters on Amsterdam’s cycle paths of 36.9 kmph. The map shows roads where motorists drive on average at least 36.9 kmph (thin red line) or 50 kmph (thick red line). Note that the method by which the Fietsersbond measured scooter speed may be different from the method used to measure car speed.

There have been jokes that scooter riders don’t want to use the road because this would force them to reduce their speed. The data of the Amsterdam government show there’s actually some truth to this.

Scripts for processing the data can be found here.

Executive pay

Last weekend, Senate member Roger van Boxtel criticised trade union FNV’s new central wage demand of 900 euro (which would narrow the gap between low and high incomes), arguing that it’s «really too much». Van Boxtel himself, in his capacity as ceo of the Menzis health insurance company, got a 5,000 euro raise last year, resulting in a remuneration of 389,000 euros.

Over the past year and a half, high-paid executives of (semi) public organisations have been somewhat sheltered from public scrutiny. Because of the introduction of a new norm, the government has suspended its annual publication on excessive pay at (semi) public institutions.

Google Trends data show that there was a peak in searches for «top incomes» in January 2013, when the latest report (on 2011 incomes) was published. Interest in the topic remained, but hasn’t reached the January 2013 level since.

In the meantime, some efforts have been made to analyse data from the annual reports of the institutions themselves. Abvakabo FNV has published its annual Actiz 50, documenting excessive pay at health care institutions. And newspaper de Volkskrant has published an analysis of 119 (semi) public institutions.

The Volkskrant data contain about 40 board members receiving remunerations in excess of the current norm for newly hired executives (230,000 euros). And their list is far from complete: many of the highest-paying institutions in 2011 aren’t even included. Among them Roger van Boxtel’s employer, Menzis.

In short, we won’t have the complete picture until the government publishes a new report, perhaps in a few months.

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Connections between businesses and politics: banks and Shell dominate

Website Follow the Money has analysed the «revolving door» between politics and businesses in the Netherlands, adding that the examples discussed are far from exhaustive. I’ve expanded the list of connections between businesses and politics by checking the resumes of close to 700 politicians – government members and members of parliament – who have been active in Dutch politics after 2001.

The list is headed by the Rabobank: 32 politicians have (had) a position there. This score can perhaps partly be explained by the fact that Rabobank is a cooperative of local banks, each with their own advisory board; so many people have positions there. Number two is Royal Dutch Shell, the largest Dutch company (of course, it’s partly British).

From the list, it can be concluded that financial institutions play a central role in the connections between businesses and politics. The phenomenon is not politically neutral: almost three-quarters of the politicians who have (had) positions with the three largest banks are (or have been) affiliated to the conservative parties CDA and VVD.

One of them is former finance minister Gerrit Zalm (VVD). After his political career, he first moved to DSB Bank and then became chairman of the board of ABN Amro (for controversies, see the FTM article as well as this analysis by de Correspondent). Another example is Joop Wijn (CDA) who started at ABN Amro and subsequently served as minister and state secretary at the finance and economic affairs departments. After that, he had a management position at Rabobank and currently he’s on the executive board of ABN Amro.

Financial institutions aside, an interesting case is airline KLM, now part of Air France-KLM, which appears to have played a bit of an emancipatory role. Over the past years, as many as four former KLM stewardesses have obtained a position in national politics: Fransje Roscam Abbing-Bos (VVD, Senate); Gonny van Oudenallen (various parties, Lower House); Ing Yoe Tan (PvdA, Senate) and Kathleen Ferrier (CDA, Lower House).

Method

I’ve created a list of Dutch companies using information from Wikipedia and Elsevier / Bureau van Dijk. I’ve checked these companies against resumes from the (very useful) website Parlement.com. Here’s the Python script I used to download the resumes and to analyse them. The results had to be cleaned up manually. For example, former MP Wijnand Duyvendak, who’s been in charge of the Friends of the Earth Schiphol campaign, should not be counted as having had a position with Schiphol. To be on the safe side, I also didn’t count positions on the pension board or the board of a foundation of a company.

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