Moroccan trade union protests and the Arab Spring

In an analysis in the Washington Post, political scientist Matt Buehler argues that the Arab Spring was not just a spontaneous eruption of youth protests: «labour unrest [...] foreshadowed the popular mobilization of youth activists of the Arab blogosphere». In turn, these youth mobilisations created new opportunities for unions.

He illustrates this with an analysis of events in Morocco. Even before the Arab Spring reached the country and culminated in large protests in February 2011, the country had seen trade union protests sparked by the inequality exacerbated by neoliberal reforms. The combination of union and youth protests forced the regime to make concessions, resulting, among other things, in substantial wage and pension increases.

Results from a simple search on Google Trends seem largely consistent with Buehler’s finding that trade union protests preceded the 20 February mobilisation. Searches for trade union names started to rise in 2008 and 2009, that is before the rise in searches for AMDH, a human rights organisation that played a key role in the 20 February protests. Similarly, searches for grève (strike) peaked in 2008 and 2009, whereas searches for manifestation (march / demonstration) and sit in (the latter not shown in the graph) didn’t really start to rise until the end of 2010. It’s also interesting to note that interest in union-related search terms surged again following the February protests.

Exporting Google Trends data

Google Trends has a «download as csv» option which seems handy enough, but it has some issues. For one thing, if you try to export data on multiple search terms, it often seems to omit data for one of the search terms, even if all search terms were correctly shown on screen. I have absolutely no clue what this is about.

A solution might be to download data for each search term separately. A drawback is that data would then be normalised on a per search term basis (i.e., for each term the highest value would be set at 100). This means that it would no longer be possible to compare volume across search terms, but it would still be possible to compare patterns.

However, you then run into the problem that Google will export the data on a per month basis if volume is low and on a per week basis if volume is higher. I don’t understand why Google doesn’t offer the possibility to download all data on a per month basis so you can more easily compare. A hack is suggested here, but I couldn’t get it to work.

Nederlanders willen dat vakbonden zich veel harder opstellen

Update: Een zeer ruime meerderheid heeft voor de fusieplannen gestemd - Vorige maand werden plannen voor de vorming van een nieuwe vakbond met ongeveer een miljoen leden in de koelkast gezet. De fusieplannen haalden net geen tweederde meerderheid op het congres van FNV Bondgenoten. Op 26 november wordt er opnieuw gestemd.

Vertegenwoordigers van werkgeversorganisaties reageerden teleurgesteld op de voorlopige afwijzing van de fusieplannen. Ze hadden gehoopt dat de fusie zou resulteren in een stabiele vakbond die een constructieve rol zal spelen in de polderinstituties.

Dat is precies wat de vakbeweging de afgelopen jaren heeft gedaan. Zo wordt er in Nederland bijvoorbeeld weinig gestaakt in vergelijking met andere landen. Maar de groeiende ongelijkheid en de afbrokkeling van de verzorgingsstaat roepen de vraag op of polderen wel genoeg is. Sommige groepen werknemers, zoals schoonmakers en zorgverleners, hebben met succes assertievere methodes ingezet in hun strijd voor fatsoenlijk loon en betere arbeidsomstandigheden.

Sinds 2007 vragen onderzoekers van de Universiteit van Tilburg regelmatig aan een panel van ongeveer 6.000 respondenten wat zij verwachten van de vakbonden. Meer specifiek vragen ze aan de respondenten of ze het eens zijn met de stelling «De vakbonden moeten een veel hardere politiek voeren willen zij de belangen van de werknemers kunnen behartigen». In de meest recente editie van het onderzoek was 44% het hier (helemaal) mee eens en slechts 13% (helemaal) oneens.

De steun voor een hardere opstelling van vakbonden is de afgelopen jaren eerder toe- dan afgenomen. Opvallend is dat ook onder zzp’ers en onder mensen die in 2012 op VVD of D66 hebben gestemd, meer respondenten het eens dan oneens zijn met de stelling dat vakbonden zich veel harder op moeten stellen. Respondenten in de hoogste inkomensgroep vormen één van de weinige groepen die hier minder enthousiast over zijn.

Afgelopen weekend lichtte voorzitter Ton Heerts in de Telegraaf de koers van de FNV toe: «volgens mij hebben wij het afgelopen jaar bewezen dat inhoud, overleg en actie voeren prima samengaan. Met de rechtse wind die in Nederland waait worden die accenten eerder naar acties verlegd. Dat is prima.»

Een eerdere versie van het artikel is hier te vinden.

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

Map: How the fastfood workers’ fight just went global

In November 2012, fastfood workers in New York went on strike for decent wages. Since, the fight has spread rapidly in the US and on 15 May, it went global. There were actions in cities like Dublin, Mumbai, São Paulo, Bandung, Kagoshima and many others. Security workers at Amsterdam Airport, who had just had their own action for real jobs, also showed their support.

The map above shows cities mentioned in tweets with the hashtag #FastFoodGlobal.


The map above doesn’t even do justice to the scope of the action. For one thing, many other hashtags were used besides #FastFoodGlobal (e.g., #fastfoodstrike, #fightfor15, #raisethewage, #lowpayisnotok, and, quite often actually, #ronaldmacdonald). Further, it only captures references in the Latin alphabet, and only the transcription used by Wikipedia.

I used the Twitter API to collect some 50,000 tweets with the hashtag #FastFoodGlobal. I checked the text of these tweets agains a list of cities with a population of 100,000 and over. Of course, it’s impossible to identify cities with 100% accuracy. I removed cities like Van (Turkish city but also a word in Spanish and Dutch) and Hamburg (cf. hamburger) as well as cities mentioned less than 25 times. The map is based on a tutorial by D3 Tips and Tricks.

The spread of the fast food strikes in the USA

[Updated 6 December 2013] - On 29 November last year, 200 workers in fast food restaurants in New York went on strike to demand decent wages. What seemed exceptional at the time, has only grown since, culminating in a national day of fast food strikes in over 100 cities last week.

Their demands are justified, the NYT noted: “we’re talking about big, profitable companies, which are big and profitable in part because they rely on underpaid labour”. You can support these workers by telling fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King that low pay is not ok.

Embed code for the map (may not display in older versions of internet explorer):

<iframe src="" frameborder=0 width=510 height=380 scrolling='no'></iframe>


Data on strikes was collected from various sources and may be incomplete. I used d3.js to draw the map and setTimeout to time the transitions. For some reason I couldn’t get this to work with a for-loop without the latest transition terminating the previous ones or all transitions using the last value of i, so I hard coded each step of the iteration.