Dutch Union reinvents itself

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The Netherlands largest trades’ union federation, the FNV, is in crisis and has decided to disband and create an entirely new organisation that will better serve the workers of the 21st century.

Dutch unions have been representing workers in the Netherlands for more than a century; they negotiate with employers over pay and working conditions and union leaders regularly meet with the government. This is what's known as the polder model and it has been praised and copied by many other countries. The polder model has created a calm and stable labour market and has helped to make the Netherlands into a wealthy country. Will this be endangered by the decision to disband the country's largest union?

Pensionable age
The FNV is an umbrella organisation; it currently comprises 19 independent unions and represents widely differing labour pools, ranging from so will servants and construction workers to teachers, police officers, hairdressers and media professionals. The individual unions have long disagreed over any number of issues but the straw that broke the camel's back was the controversial pension agreement concluded earlier this spring.

The Netherlands has a rapidly ageing population and the amount paid out in pensions exceeds what is being put in. Unions, employers and the cabinet finally hammered out an agreement and the pensionable age will gradually rise from 65 to 67.

The agreement was extremely divisive in society as a whole and it split the FNV. This past weekend, it became clear that the split could not be repaired and the FNV decided to disband and create an entirely new organisation aimed at giving individual members a greater say

From the bottom up
The New Federation, as it will be called for the time being, should be up and running by the summer. The guiding principle for the New Federation will be “Building from the bottom up”. In contrast to the current organisation, the New Federation will revolve around professional groups and sectors. Members will be free to join the union they feel best represents their interests. And they will be free to decide how to shape their work and conditions.

The executive council of the New Federation will be formed by the chairs of its individual unions. Currently, the FNV has its own separate executive council. It is not yet clear if the New Federation will have an independent chair.

The New Federation will have an open character allowing unions that currently are not a member of the FNV to join the new organisation. Youth organisations and associations for the elderly and the unemployed will also be allowed to join.

The news has been welcomed by both Labour and the Socialist Party. Most of the larger unions are made up of and run by a large majority of Socialist Party members.

Employers’ organisation VNO-CNW Chair Bernard Wientjes says the overhaul of trade union federation FNV should be completed as soon as possible. He said it is crucial to be able to negotiate with the union that has the backing of its members, especially in economically challenging times.

Employers in many other countries would be delighted to see the most powerful union collapse in disarray and disunity but the Dutch cherish their polder model; it's been very successful in the past and there is no reason why it should not be very successful in future.