It is controversial among economists and sociologists, how much weight must be attached to morals in socio-economic processes. The present column tries to answer this question by studying the history of the trade union federation CNV. The position of the protestant trade union movement is studied for the periods of, successively, the social rebellion around 1918, the corporatism in the interbellum, the reconstruction after 1945, and the rise of New Left after 1966. Although morals are quite flexible, and often do do not live up to their pretensions, they yet do exert influence. The CNV distinghuishes favourably with regard to other federations.
A previous column has studied the early years of the confessional trade union movement, notably the Christian National Trade-association (in short CNV). The aim of that analysis is to determine the importance of morals for the trade union movement. For, the confessional trade union movement wants to profile itself precisely on her weltanschauung. The CNV wants to be a community of ideas, because this increases its strength. Political scientists call this manner of organizing communitarianism. Here the confessional federations distinguish themselves from the modern trade union movement. In the beginning the modern federations are liberal, but they soon become mainly socialist, such as since 1906 is embodied by the NVV. The NVV has for a long time stated that it is a neutral federation, but in practice it has always maintained close connections with the socialist party SDAP.
The confessional trade union movement bases its morals on the gospel. The gospel preaches brotherhood among people, because all live in the same society. Characteristic values are empathy and tolerance. Nevertheless, it is not possible to derive a closed moral system from the gospel, because there is much freedom in its interpretation. Accordingly the concrete result can differ. In the previous column about the CNV the morals are summarized, in the way that Ed. van Cleeff interpreted them. Essential values for the protestant christian (in short PC) trade union policy are the human vocation (in a profession and in the household), the sovereignty in the personal circle, and services to mankind. At the end of the nineteenth century, the protestant leader K. Kater still assumes that harmony is served best by forming a general association, which unites the workers and the entrepreneurs.
At the time many christians believe, that the interests are served best by voluntary mutual support, namely charity. Others state, that christianity requires fair relations, so that one has reciprocity. That is to say, everybody must by able to realize his vocation. The enforcement of rights requires propaganda and, if necessary, collective action1. Acquiescence is only the last option, when the social struggle has failed. Apparently the desire to create harmony must not be overestimated. Incidentally, the then society was much more dominated by ranks and classes than nowadays. It is already quite something, that the PC associations Patrimonium and the CNWB are general, and not class-bound. During the eighties of the nineteenth century Kater complains, that the political parliament insufficiently defends the interests of the wage-earners.
But all hold on to each other. Everybody is a different organ of the same body, and they need each other2. In 1891 the protestant party ARP and its leader A. Kuyper accomodate the complaint by organizing a congress about social policies, together with Patrimonium. Reversely, Kater sometimes criticizes the workers, when their wage demands are unrealistic. That provokes the socialist J. Oudegeest to accuse Kater of "hating workers"! Yet the general associations Patrimonium and CNWB stagnate, apparently because the conflicting interests between the workers and entrepreneurs stifle its activities.
In 1909 the CNV is founded. The previous column has sketched the initial years of the CNV. The present column will elaborate on this theme, and discuss all developments between 1918 and 1980. Here the emphasis is still on the importance of morals for the CNV, as well as on the way in which it distinguishes itself from the NVV.
The CNV organizes merely the wage-earners, and therefore is a class organization. Even clergymen are not welcome. Yet the idea of harmony within the CNV becomes clear, when at the end of the First Worldwar everywhere in Europe revolutionary agitation erupts. In 1918 the Dutch social-democrats also claim the state power, although they are a minority in parliament. The CNV and the general protestant associations quickly form a committee of action, which mobilizes the workers against this attempt. The committee wil remain active also in the subsequent years. Indeed, the social situation still remains unstable for many years. Furthermore, from 1916 until 1921 the number of CNV members increases from 21.000 to 76.000. Its power grows. Another hallmark is, that the confessional trade union movement rejects strike with a political motive, contrary to the socialist NVV.
But still, under the influence of the revolutionary spirit of the time, the morals of the CNV waver. Apparently it is difficult to withdraw from the excitement of the socialist colleagues. Now it must be acknowledged, that during the years after the First Worldwar the call for change is strong. For centuries, Europe had not experienced the mass destruction on such a large scale any more. The trust in the existing order is severely shaken, and the population is open for political alternatives. In various European states socialist regimes come to power, although never permanently. The movement for the socialization of the economy is also strong in other states.
Within the confessional pillars the support for economic reforms grows, notably aiming at ordering. This current follows the spirit of the time, rather than resisting it. However, it wants to maintain the private property, and thus dislikes socialization. Then, as an alternative the ordering by means of branch organizations (in short BO) is recommended. Thus the professor J. Veraart begins an initiative for ordering the roman-catholic (in short RK) industries in branch councils3.
Considering the spirit of the time, it is perhaps understandable, that the PC associations of wage-earners state in their manifesto against the revolution, that a new time has begun, which requires radical social reforms4. Here, the PC associations clearly defend a more radical standpoint than their congenial entrepreneurs and politicians. This certainly holds for the CNV. Although it still rejects the class struggle, now it does interpret the economy as a class phenomenon. This is a moral revolution. After 1918 the relations between the CNV and the general associations Patrimonium and CNWB become less cordial. This is in part a conflict of competence, because all are active in trade organizations. But the general associations also believe, that the CNV does not invest sufficiently in the confession of faith. It is a hallmark of the PC pillar, that the pain is relieved by mutual deliberations in the Commission of Cooperation. She organizes among others courses.
During the years immediately following the First Worldwar politics starts with the establishment of the social security. The trade union movement obtains a say, for instance in the High Council of Labour. In the attempt to appease the wage-earners the enterprises make significant concessions, such as the introduction of the 45-hourly working week. It turns out that these kinds of economic reforms is partly premature. All these advances probably create overstrained expectations within the early trade union movement. For, at the end of the twenties the CNV becomes disappointed in the christian pillar. For instance, it demands the churches to make propaganda in favour of the CNV, and they refuse5.
In 1929 a global economic crisis erupts, first in the United States of America. This crisis also reaches Europe, albeit with some delay. In the Netherlands the PC politics propagates a policy of austerity and reduced spending. Then the CNV begins to protest. It argues that there is over-production, so that moderation is not needed. Apparently the ideas of the economist J.M. Keynes gain in popularity. Nevertheless, this is undeniably a moral conflict within the PC pillar6. An illustration is the relation between the CNV and J.R. Slotemaker de Bruine, once a leader of the general CNWB. During the thirties, Slotemaker de Bruine contributes as a minister to the economic austerity. He loses the reverence, that the CNV still conferred to their minister S. Talma. The CNV is even suspicious about the ARP politician C. Smeenk, also the chairman of Patrimonium7.
The CNV also repeats its complaint, that the PC parties ARP and CHU do not sufficiently defend the interests of the wage-earners. The CNV distances itself from PC politics, and calls itself politically neutral. It is surprising, that yet leading CNV officials (Smeenk, Schouten, Kruithof) do try to enter the parliamentary section of the ARP8. In 1917 the materialism of the CNV provokes the PC ideologist A. Kuyper to state, that the CNV does little to "emphasize the christian character of the federation". In 1918 the CNV publishes its own social program, wherein it asks for radical reforms. This all is a fascinating development. It is obvious that any morals will change gradually. But when morals change within a short period, such as is the case for the CNV between 1915 and 1930, then apparently they are not very durable. Perhaps trade unions are not very suited for pluralism.
On the other hand, the CNV soon builds up a good relation with the RK trade union movement, since 1925 embodied in the RKWV. Incidentally, this is logical. The relation with the NVV remains complicated. For the moment, that relation is still poor, but that is mainly caused by the radical policy of its chairman R. Stenhuis. For instance, in 1924 the socialist textile workers strike. Their confessional colleagues remain willing to work, and then become the victim of gross socialist intimidation9. Stenhuis himself regularly offends the CNV and its leaders10. When in 1928 the moderate E. Kupers becomes the chairman of the NVV, the relations with the confessional federations gradually improve. Thus the dividing line between the various moral positions fades, or they mainly shift to the divide between the wage-earners and entrepreneurs!
The continuing conflicts within the PC pillar thwart the ideal of harmony. There are attempts to solve this problem. Already at the start of the twentieth centtury, various PC clergymen advocate a corporatist organization of the economy11. This is presented as a form of solidarity between the wage-earners and the entrepreneurs, and a cooperation of labour and capital. In 1920 the then CNV chairman Diemer states, that "the final goal must be the public branch organization (in short PBO)12. However this idea has not yet matured, because its form remains controversial. It is clear that the system must form in a natural manner, because the workers are not very interested in the BO, and the entrepreneurs even furiously oppose it!13 This makes the enthusiasm of the CNV top rather curious.
Many see the emergence of the collective agreements (in short CAO) as a step towards a further organization of branches. Smeenk favours the profit sharing of the wage-earners14. Some believe that the PBO is a means to temper the competition between the entrepreneurs. They believe that competition is morally objectionable! In 1937 a new attempt is made to fraternize, namely the foundation of the Convention of christian social organizations15. It includes wage-earners, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers and farmers. The Convention attempts to cooperate, but it turns out that the mutual differences are too large. Again the PC pillar is confronted with human imperfections. The CNV makes radical demands. It does not just want a say in the social policies, but also in the economic policies (investments, price fixation and the like)!
A man like Smeenk, who is part of the left wing in the ARP group, believes that enterprises can be managed just by good book-keeping. As long as the financial and economic information is available, the federations and the entrepreneurs will together take the objectively best decision. The wage level must not be the result of a struggle for power. Smeenk rather underestimates with this presentation of the facts the importance of the entrepreneurial freedom and initiative16. In christian terms, the entrepreneur also has the right to follow his vocation. Apparently the left wing of the PC pillar yet has the inclination to stifle the entrepreneurs. It must be added here, that during the thirties a number of external factors also point in the direction of the BO. Here, notably the economic depression must be mentioned again, which rages since 1929. In all European states it kills the free trade17.
In 1940 the Netherlands becomes occupied by the fascist army of Germany. The new regime formally proclaims corporatism also in the Netherlands, but actually an informal system of compromizing emerges. An important effect of the occupation is, that the various pillars now have a common enemy, and thus become close allies. Already in 1943 the leaders of the underground CNV, NVV and RKWV together form the Council of Federations. The leaders of the trade union movement also begin consultations with the entrepreneurs. Thus already during the occupation the blueprint is made for a corporatist system, including the PBO. The establishment of the Stichting van de Arbeid (Foundation of Labour) in 1944 is a milestone, which marks this development.
In 1945 the new roman-catholic government coalition immediately begins to design the PBO, with the warm support of the federations. However, the social support for the PBO remains weak. Merely in a few branches, such as the agriculture, the PBO becomes a success. In fact the most important body of the new order is the Sociaal Economische Raad (Council, in short SER). It plays an important role in the controlled wage- and price-policies, which are also a pillar of the new order. During the first post-war decade the ARP and CHU often form the political opposition. So their contribution to the PBO remains limited. For instance, the new ARP leader Jelle Zijlstra believes that the PBO will fail18.
The postwar order of the economy implies that the trade union movement is integrated in the administrative system. The federations have become powerful institutions. Already during the early thirties the number of CNV members has risen to approximately 110.000. After the Second Worldwar the Netherlands is rapidly industrialized, and already in 1950 the CNV has approximately 160.000 members. In fact the classes of workers and entrepreneurs oppose each other in the SER. So the class idea has been maintained. The conflict of material interests is institutionalized. The then CNV chairman M. Ruppert rightly complains that thus the fraternization into a single community becomes impossible.
However, his standpoint is rather ambiguous. For, Ruppert also states that the trade unions must be led by people from the working class. The higher educated are unfit: "They also do not understand, what motivates the [trade union] movement and what happens within it". Here the problem is, that many trade union officials have merely completed the primary school. Therefore they have difficulty in understanding the social developments19. Ruppert (who is the face of the CNV, and thus its mouthpiece) even states that the prosperity of the trade union movement is due to its character as a class organization. For, a class can only emancipate socially as a collective20. His view is difficult to reconcile with the PC morals of the personal relation with God.
When indeed the class is the hallmark of the trade union movement, then the organization according to the Weltanschauung would be superfluous. Then a single federation would be preferable. It is true that during the postwar years there is a tendency to unite. The NVV has moderated its tone, and tries to get closer with the confessional federations. But in spite of the political roman-red coalition, this attempt is doomed to fail at the outset due to the unwillingness within the RK pillar. It is striking, that now the protestant wage-earners, who since Kater appreciate a unified trade union movement, prefer their own pillar. Some still believe, that the CNV can contribute to the spreading of the protestant morals21.
Nevertheless, during the years of reconstruction the ethical differences between the federations have decreased. This is notably caused by the moderation of the rhetorics of class struggle by the NVV. At the time the social-democracy propagates the break-through socialism, which wants to incorporate the christian image of man. Since the profiling by means of principles is abandoned, the CNV must justify its existence by providing services. Consider holiday resorts, magazines, insurances, courses, and even the production of films. And the recently established works councils (in short OR) are supported with knowledge and experience. The aim is to reconcile the OR with the model of centralization of the trade unions. In a previous column about the mission of the trade union movement it has already been shown, that during the prosperity phase of the welfare state the trade unions enter a mild existential crisis.
The failure of the PBO is a bitter pill to swallow for the CNV, which for over half a century has seen this as its final reason of existence. The number of members has yet increased a bit, and then stabilizes around 230.000 (1965). At the time many workers merely join the CNV out of habit. They do not know any more how the CNV differs morally from the other federations22. In 1963 the CNV still tries to formulate a social program, together with the Convent. But the PC organizations do not succeed in agreeing on a common course. The Convent has become just a centre for consciousness. Incidentally, the CNV maintains its contact with the Churches. Since 1950 there is the foundation Kerk en industrie, which sends out clergy-men to the industries. During the late sixties the commission Kerk en vakbeweging is formed, which deliberates with all federations23.
In 1965 the RK NKV (the successor of the RKWV) disjoins from the diocesan associations. Now it would be logical to strive for a merger of the NKV and CNV. Unfortunately this does not happen, because in 1966 the radical New Left movement spreads from the United States of America to Europe. During the subsequent decades, it plunges the society into a state of moral perturbation, also in the Netherlands.
In this paragraph no attempt is made to give a general description of the social consequences, that resulted from the rise of the New Left. The interested reader can read this in a previous column. Its hallmark is the questioning of the existing authority, and a call for democratization of the social institutions. This has disastrous consequences for those with weak morals. For instance, the NKV radicalizes rapidly, and ideologically drifts apart from the CNV. The apostacy is also boosted. In 1970 the CNV analyzes its own morals, and concludes that the gospel must be promoted24. The gospel requires a mutual responsibility. After 1971 the CNV also subjects its policies to democratic consultations of its members.
For years, the CNV, NKV and NVV have coordinated their policies in the Overleg-orgaan (consultative body), the successor of the Raad van Vakcentralen (council of federations). However, the NVV also radicalizes due to the rise of New Left. It even begins to dismiss any responsibility for the existing order. This can be perused in the mentioned column. Yet in 1967 and 1971 the three federations still succeed in formulating a collective program of action. In 1969 J. Lanser becomes the new CNV chairman, and he tries to present a clear profile of the CNV. The ideas of Lanser are important, because the social unrest culminates precisely in this period. Then the CNV must make decisions, that determine the distant future of the federation.
The rethorics of Lanser are sometimes a bit strange, which is perhaps due to the spirit of the time. For instance, he states that "the economic profit is not the goal, but a means to maintain a community, that wants to serve the society"25. And Lanser often rejects the desire for workers' self-management. Since the PBO has failed, Lanser tries to find the solution in the shared management of the enterprise. Here the stakeholders must together take responsibility for all decisions. In that sense Lanser connects with the ideas of Ruppert. He apparently alludes to representatives of the union in the board of supervisory directors26. In this manner the labour relations can become more humane.
In other words, the wage-earners together form the enterprise, and therefore are its true owners27. The trade union movement must stimulate this development, and that requires a critical attitude towards society (another modish expression of the time). In the end the economic order must get another structure. For instance, it is fair that the wage-earners share in the increasing wealth of the enterprise. The enterprise can realize this by formulating a social statute. The social goals must not be secondary. According to Lanser, the image of man (the morals) exert influence here28. In 1974 Lanser ends a lecture by citing Jesus: "See. I make all things new". According to him, this is the mission of the CNV29. Just lik in 1918, the CNV gets carried away by the social unrest, now initiated by New Left.
During the seventies the three federations deliberate about the establishment of a confederation, the Federatie van Nederlandse Vakverenigingen (in short FNV), which must intensify the cooperation. In this deliberation the CNV wants to maintain its own morals, and it only accepts a loose alliance. In this manner, in the end it can not come to an agreement with the radicalized NKV and NVV. In 1975 the formulation of a shared action program fails, and in 1976 the CNV gives up the participation in the FNV. The NKV continues the merger on its own30. This also ends bodies such as the commission Kerk en vakbeweging. And the CNV changes into an interconfessional federation. Incidentally, in the same period the associations of PC and RK entrepreneurs do merge, in the NCW.
The present column wants to analyze the meaning of morals within the CNV. The CNV translates the christian paradigm into the values of justice and brotherhood. In practice it turns out that these value result in rather one-sides demands, which must ensure the capability of the wage-earners to pursue their vocation. Besides, the spirit of the time strongly affects the formulation of these values. Thus the profile of the CNV is not really a reliable beacon. Nevertheless, despite this conclusion it turns out that the CNV differs favourably from the socialist NVV. The CNV is more aware of the interests of the other stakeholders, and that leads to a better judgement of the real situation. Thus the CNV members are not unnecessarily saddled up with high costs and senseless labour conflicts. But perhaps this is more a matter of common sense than of morals31.