Summary dissertation Hans Boot, Amsterdam November 20111

Rebellious folk. The decline and rise of casual labour in the docks

Havenreserve (port reserve), Havenarbeidsreserve (HAR, port labour reserve), Stichting Samenwerkende Havenbedrijven (SHB, cooperative association of port industries), Arbeidspool (labour pool): these are the organisations through which the waterfront industries in the port of Amsterdam endeavoured to meet their needs for additional labour in the period from 1916 to 1998.

The turbulent prologue to these dock labour exchanges began with the state enquiry of 1890 into working conditions, which gave the dockworkers in Amsterdam and Rotterdam an opportunity to describe the "peculiar circumstances" under which they had to earn their living.
At the beginning of 2011 the long-drawn-out epilogue still awaits the last word of the Dutch State, as legal procedures to protest dismissals, started in 1999 by a group of dockworkers from the Arbeidspool, grind to a close.

Front cover book Opstandig volk

Prologue to the Havenreserve

Prior to the establishment of the Havenreserve (port reserve) in 1916, casual labour dominated in the port of Amsterdam. As and when ships arrived, master stevedores and "bestekers" (work allocators) from the shipping companies engaged labourers to load and unload the cargo, laying them off as soon as the work was completed. The demand for labour was affected not only by the weather conditions and the unpredictable arrival of ships, but also by seasonal peaks in harvested goods and the limited possibilities for planning ahead. Waterfront workers were hired at several moments during the day in varying numbers. When employment was scarce, large crowds of workers (including the "wintervogels" [literally: "winter birds"] from the construction and agricultural industries) would start to gather at one of the many hiring sites. Partly because of the physical nature of waterfront work, the dock labourers were considered to be completely interchangeable, resulting in rivalry, favouritism and arbitrariness in the hiring process.
Apart from the permanent workforce, the small minority of dockworkers that the shipping companies exempted from the daily "besteking" (allocation), only the casual labourers who were regularly selected were able to earn a reasonable living through the performance-based pay and long working hours. This applied particularly to the semi-regulars who were casually employed by a single boss, either as individuals or part of a gang (one boss, multiple patrons). Together with the permanent workforce who had a "booklet" (that could be issued or withdrawn), they constituted the somewhat regulated section of waterfront industry, which was in general unregulated, unsafe and unstable.

Casual labour was not the sole option, as some of the small brokers in casual labour pointed out in the state enquiry. They worked with (semi) regular labourers and guaranteed wages (also paid when there was a temporary shortage of work). The conclusions of the enquiry committee went a step further: they recommended transforming the casual labourers into a permanent workforce, and proposed that some kind of dock labour exchange should be established from which the port industries could draw their additional labour.
The committee, like the smaller brokers, was motivated by concerns about the disorder in the docks and the subsequent social unrest. Other forms of regulation were motivated by economic and disciplinary considerations. Dockworkers were considered to be rough and uncivilised labourers, who should be cheap to employ and kept in line through financial incentives. Their working conditions were subordinate to these considerations.

At first, the casual workers did not seek support from the trade unions that had achieved a certain organisational continuity since 1900 (when the port industries formed an association that later became the Scheepvaartvereniging Noord, SVN, maritime association north). They did not really have a trade, and their lives were often as disordered as their work and income. Direct action for higher wages or an extra allowance just before they started work - or (even more effective) once they had already started work - was the most successful strategy. These commonly used tactics and the dockworkers' general self-reliance meant that they gravitated to the independent trade union movement, which developed a relatively strong position in the docks, and therefore to affiliation to the Nationaal Arbeids-Secretariaat (NAS, national labour secretariat) apart from a break from 1904 to 1916.2 From 1906 the modern transport union formed a counterpart to the NAS, but had a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with the dockworkers, who were perceived as obstreperous men with an anarchic lifestyle.3
The unions did not challenge the system of casual labour itself, but fought to influence the allocation of work. The demand for a "closed shop" (only union members could be hired) led to fierce confrontations with the employers just before and during the railway strikes of 1903. The "closed shop" never materialised, and punitive measures such as exclusion and expansion of the permanent workforce and "booklets" system followed. Nothing changed in the status of the casual labourers as workers without rights.

Concerns about this situation grew among Social Democrats and social reformers during the economic crisis of 1907. Unemployment was increasing, and welfare provisions for the poor were insufficient. What was needed was a registered reserve workforce, a system of rotation and numbering, and a guaranteed minimum wage. This could be achieved by establishing a labour exchange to regulate the hiring of the workers, located centrally in the docks and run by the city council. An initial experiment failed owing to the stagnation in shipping during World War I, but in late 1916 a group of companies picked up the initiative by establishing the private Havenreserve (port reserve). They wanted to use a guaranteed minimum wage to create a pool of reliable workers on which they could call in a period that was characterised by social unrest, also in the dockworkers' neighbourhoods where women played a prominent role. However, there was almost no work available. A welfare regulation remained, financed by the companies and the local and national relief committees, in which a growing group of some thousand dockworkers participated.


In 1919, the Havenarbeidsreserve (port labour reserve), run by the SVN, succeeded the Havenreserve (a similar development took place in Rotterdam). The Director of both, former union executive Janus Wessels, praised the latter for its contribution to order and calm in the final years of the war. He expected the same from the HAR, by eliminating undesirable and unsuitable elements from among the workers for hire. This did not prove to be an easy task, judging by the division that was implemented. The first group of workers, which grew from 1,700 to 1,950 in 1919, were entitled to a guaranteed wage, sick pay and pension. The second group, which decreased from 2,200 to 1,200, were denied these rights, and had to report three times a day for work once the first group had already been allocated. If there was no work, they received unemployment benefit after obtaining a stamp from the labour exchange. As a result of employers' preferences it was not long before the second group was divided further, into blue and yellow card-holders.
The workers in the first group were, therefore, no longer casual labourers, but this decasualisation was short-lived. In 1920, after a strike, the guaranteed wage was decreased as a punitive measure. In 1923, after a number of "irresponsible" actions by - once again - striking workers, the decasualisation was reversed. A new division into groups of card-holders was made, which also included the so-called opportunistic workers - those who occasionally looked for work in the docks. This divisional system of favouritism, work, unemployment, reporting, waiting and stamps continued until 1940/1941. Demands for a guaranteed wage arose regularly, but were never met. Management of the HAR was coloured by prevailing opinions on re-education and behaviour modification in attempts to re-socialise the casual labourers towards a regular and more stable existence. In this context, the card system operated as a "carrot-and-stick" instrument of promotion/demotion.
While government subsidies and the unemployment funds of the unions absorbed the business risks of the peaks and dips in the availability of work, the HAR functioned as a reservoir of labour. In 1930 it consisted of 2,800 workers (1,600 in 1939), about half of all Amsterdam's dockworkers. The port industries drew on this reservoir in accordance with the fluctuations in the economy.

SHB (1)

Starting in 1941, the SVN began to plan for a new provision of labour for the port, from which the Stichting Samenwerkende Havenbedrijven (cooperative association of port industries) emerged in May 1945. The piece-wages that continually triggered unrest and the dependence on undisciplined opportunistic workers had to come to an end. A permanent contract with a minimum wage that could be augmented through additional work was designed to solve these problems. The SHB distributed the work on the basis that all the affiliated companies were obliged to use it and they were all committed to a minimum level of usage. When there was idle time - paid under contract, but no work - government support would have to offer relief, thus contributing to the financing of the risk.
With some later adjustments - usage regulation, peak accommodation, government subsidy -the basis had been laid for an institution that would be the focus for employment and social struggle in the port of Amsterdam for the next 50 years. Up to the 1960s it generally employed around 3,000 workers. The SHBers developed an extensive knowledge of the waterfront industries and built up networks of social contacts in the strategically important (both economically and politically) docks. They were often crucial links in the launch of direct actions and strikes.

The SHB struggled with personnel problems right from the start and through to the 1970s - turnover was high, with persistent shortages of workers, later alternating with surpluses. The work was physically heavy and unsafe, the pay and working hours irregular. Management took a number of countermeasures during the 1940s to 1960s: they called in the Dienst Uitvoerende Werken (employment-creation agency), after that they turned to commuting workers and Spaniards, and introduced permanent shifts, a bonus after a year's employment and perks such as holiday homes. As levels of unemployment decreased, the effects of these measures were limited and temporary. The payment of full wages in idle time, agreed in the CAO (collective labour agreement) of 1962, had a similar limited impact. This completion of the decasualisation took place in the middle of widespread protests against centralised wage policies.
External developments that led to decreasing demands for SHBers had much greater repercussions. The shortages attracted gangmasters to the permanent companies and/or the employers decided to expand their permanent workforce. At the same time the labour intensity was decreasing because of technological developments (machinery, ship size, containers) and the share of physical labour was falling owing to the shift from piece cargo to mass cargo. On the one hand, this led to a decline in the number of SHBers (the total fell to around 1,000 by 1972), but, on the other hand, there were often surpluses, particularly after 1972/1973 when cargo traffic stagnated in the economic recession.
In short, the SHB did not succeed in finding a policy that could both absorb peaks in demand and minimise idle time. The SVN feared for its survival and decided on (1) employment outside the port and (2) special measures for extreme peaks (cocoa deliveries in the winter, fast unloading of car transports). Not much came of the first. The second had far-reaching consequences, as "outsiders" absorbed the peaks, that means workers not employed by the SHB. This temporary work was subject to different working conditions (the first crack in the decasualisation, and an opening for recasualisation).

At the same time the Minister for Social Affairs wanted to end the port subsidy - shortages of workers made government support superfluous, and surpluses led to high costs for idle time. This didn't happen. After years (1971-1977) of talking back and forth, the considerations of 1945 remained valid: the subsidy was justified by the general economic significance of the ports and its pacifying effect. Idle time continued to be viewed as an unavoidable characteristic of dock work, but was also classified as temporary unemployment. This made it possible for the (tripartite) Algemeen Werkloosheidsfond (general unemployment fund) to guarantee the financing - a favourable decision for the port industries.4 They remained liable for part of the idle time, but under the new regulation all workers, including those in the ports, contributed to the costs.

SHB (2)

Despite the personnel issues, the SHB experienced its best years during the first two decades of its existence, at a time when the port of Amsterdam repeatedly registered transhipment records. It began to go wrong during the 1970s, at the same time as the strikes of 1970 and 1979 put all port industries under pressure. The centre of gravity lay in Rotterdam, but the approaching restructuring of the port sector affected all, and would shape the 1980s.
It was typical of the social relationships in the docks that the two strikes were "wildcat" - not organised by the recognised unions. Traditionally, the character of waterfront work - physical, hazardous, little standardisation, not much specialisation in function, the importance of practical knowledge, lack of hierarchy, with changeable conditions and cargo traffic - encouraged independent operation within mutual interdependence. The experience with direct action that resulted from this did not fit well with the formal consultations and hierarchy that characterised the work of the modern unions. It was not for nothing that the sections of the transport unions affiliated to the NAS and Eenheidsvakcentrale (EVC, unity trade union federation) before and immediately after World War II, respectively, were able to organise relatively large numbers of workers in the docks, and exert influence.5 The more a union manifested itself as a consultation organisation and discussion-partner of the employers, the more the dockworkers would avoid it. At the time of the tripartite-coordinated restructuring - towards fewer and more flexible personnel - this led, in both ports, to friction between the membership and executive of the Vervoersbond FNV (modern transport union).

The restructuring was a response to changed transport and transhipment techniques, and in particular to containerisation. The number of functions and one-man positions increased, as did the possibilities for management control. The strong orientation of the SHB to the handling of piece cargo meant that the changes were fewer and slower there, and the conditions that nurtured the traditional independence and combativeness of the dockworkers remained intact for some time. But the problems were no less serious. Idle time was regularly above 20 percent, absence through illness was above 15 percent, and extra peaks played havoc with the workforce.
Various proposals circulated towards the end of the 1970s/early 1980s, in the run-up to the agreements that prescribed the restructuring. Most of these were aimed at neutralising the extra peaks: for example, an on-call "floating reserve", cooperation between the Rotterdam and Amsterdam SHBs, a national SHB, and the formation of partial pools. But for the time being the only measure was permission from the Minister for Social Affairs in 1983 for a temporary regulation that financed idle time completely through the Algemeen Werkloosheidsfonds (AWF, general unemployment fund) for a maximum of five months during the cocoa peak.
A contribution to the AWF was also included in the agreements, which were settled under the leadership of prominent members of the Partij van de Arbeid (labour party) and supervised by central government. It involved a restructuring regulation, in which the fund would finance idle time for 70 percent. The unions succeeded in getting a commitment to no involuntary redundancies into the agreements through acquiescing to continuation of early retirement schemes and reduced working hours. In addition, the SHB was given the special task of taking on workers and officials who were temporarily unemployed or affected by a company bankruptcy. This commitment made the defence of the permanent workforce more difficult, while the contributions of the AWF placed the risks with the SHB and stimulated keeping the size of this workforce low.

The Amsterdam agreement came into effect at a time - 1987 - when there were regular shortages of labour during the cocoa peak, sometimes rising to two hundred people per day. But the agreement did not permit hiring personnel. After secondment of Rotterdam SHBers, the so-called peak regulation did allow use of the loading and unloading gang "Het Kappie" (the cover) from Zaanstad. If there was no work, the "kappies" received unemployment benefit. This "recognised third party" provided 20 to 35 people daily, while in the period 1986-1992 the number of SHBers decreased from 539 to 459. The need at the SHB was so high that for several months in 1990 and 1991 a number of "kappies" were considered eligible for a full guaranteed wage.
The growing demand on the Algemeen Werkloosheidsfonds was testing the port subsidy regulation. Ending it would, according to the SVN, lead to a "new style" SHB: more in line with market norms, smaller, broader and cheaper. Increasing flexibility would be central, through allowing greater fluctuation in the level of usage (numbers), expanding the availability (hours), and making use of temporary employment agencies (third parties).


In the early 1990s the problems piled up. The labour-reducing "bulking" of cocoa shipments (less in sacks, more as bulk cargo) continued, as did the shift from transit of goods to storage and distribution (to the western docks, often not covered by the docks' CAO, collective labour agreement). The Container Terminal Amsterdam (CTA) reduced the guaranteed usage and the Overslagbedrijf Amsterdam (OBA, Amsterdam transhipment company) closed down completely. Following pressure from workers' actions, the employees of the bankrupt coal transhipment company De Rietlanden ('reed beds') found shelter with the SHB as on-call workers for extra peaks. A group of youths followed, for whom there was no work after they had finished the Havenvakschool (trade school for dockworkers). Idle time exceeded 30 percent.
In the summer of 1993, the Minister for Social Affairs stepped in. In line with the neo-liberal thinking of the government of the time, he decided that coping with the peaks and dips in the demand for labour was the responsibility of the sector itself. The port subsidy regulation disappeared. In 1995 the Minister agreed a financial transition regulation with the unions that totalled 24.1 million guilders for the Amsterdam SHB (64 million guilders in total for the port sector), which was valid until 2000. The money was intended for the reorganisation to a commercial successor, retraining, and temporary idle time.

The birth of what became known as the Arbeidspool Amsterdam Noordzeekanaalgebied (labour pool Amsterdam North Sea Canal region) was not an easy one. Not least because the biggest user, CTA - 40 to 50 percent of the total - restarted after bankruptcy, with support of the local Amsterdam government, and passed 50 "superfluous" workers to the SHB. After negotiations between management and the works council of the SHB became deadlocked, the contours of the Arbeidspool began to take shape in consultation with the new director: a temporary employment agency, no involuntary redundancies, guaranteed wages, built on three principles: (1) flexible tariffs, (2) cooperation with specialised third parties, and (3) employment outside the port.
The latter was soon abandoned: the breaking points were the wage levels, perceived lack of flexibility, and guaranteed wages. The second (use of third parties) was meant as an additional measure during peaks, but developed into a partial replacement of the Arbeidspool. This pressure on the workforce came at the same time as a change of policy at the permanent companies, who began letting their usage of the pool be led less by peaks and more by shortage of personnel. Consequently, the peaks were increasingly met by the temporary employment agencies and gangmasters. The new tariffs were about 25 percent lower compared to their predecessors, partly owing to the discounts. The decrease in income that resulted was not fully recognised, as the "Melkert money", named after the minister responsible, appeared in the annual reports as "extraordinary income", disguising it. In addition the usage proved impossible to check.

An awkward financial situation arose when Ceres Paragon, the successor to CTA, lost two major customers. Bankruptcy loomed once again. Takeovers by national temporary employment agencies failed, and after two years of the Arbeidspool the size of the workforce had declined from 440 to 315. Direct actions followed, mostly without official involvement of the Vervoersbond FNV (modern transport union), and sometimes together with colleagues from the Rotterdam SHB who were experiencing similar problems. These were impassioned actions, with the enthusiastic participation of a women's group, and reinforced by indignation about the record transhipments in 1996 and 1997 and the promises made by the Amsterdam city council of thousands of jobs in the western docks. They included road-blocks and 24-hour strikes, the occupation of city hall, of part of the Dutch Houses of Parliament, and of the Noordersluis (northern lock) in IJmuiden. After some turbulent meetings and difficult negotiations, the trustee who had been appointed after the bankruptcy of 1997 managed to bring the unions and employers together. Following mediation by the city council and support from the Bureau Arbeidsvoorziening (government agency for employment), a phased "sociaal plan" was agreed: the so-called "hoofdlijnenakkoord" (agreement on main principles).6

The first six-month phase would consist of two days' work per week plus tests and training under the auspices of the Stichting Personeelsvoorziening Amsterdam Noordzeekanaalgebied (association for supply of personnel for the Amsterdam North Sea Canal region): Span 1. During the second, year-long, phase, a training pool - Span 2 - and an operational pool - Spano - would function alongside one another. Span 2 could deliver people to Spano for one day a week. During these 18 months, everyone would keep their unemployment benefits, and this would be topped up to 100 percent of the basic wage in the first months. During the period of Span (1 and 2), the executive of the Vervoersbond FNV, together with representatives of the Bureau Arbeidsvoorziening, would take the role of employer, and in Spano the union executive would take this role alone.
Union members criticised not only this remarkable intervention by the union, but also the decreasing income and the expectation that the training and employment mediation being planned would prevent involuntary redundancies. The training pool quickly became known as the "WW pool".7 In the end, after a referendum fraught with difficulties, a small majority supported the agreement, and the Span 1 phase started in December 1997. Six months later came the division into "first choice" (Spano) and "second choice" (Span 2). From July 1999, Spano continued alone with a workforce of 110.
However, Spano did not last long. Decreasing usage led to financial problems, partly because of the withdrawal of the Melkert money and the low tariffs. The docks' CAO (collective labour agreement) continued to apply, so "no work" meant full wages. The idle time costs, for which Spano was completely responsible, appeared insuperable. In 2003 Spano was taken over by the temporary employment agency group Stichting Werkgelegenheid Amsterdam (SWA, association for employment opportunities Amsterdam) that employed approximately 50 workers, largely in the waterfront industries. The CAO remained valid to the extent that the day shift became the work schedule norm and idle time was paid. The evenings, nights and weekends had no idle time: work at those times was voluntary with the usual extra allowances. If the recognised temporary employment agencies could not meet the demand, the port industries turned to the "free market". In this way, the recasualisation started to gain more room.

Epilogue, legal actions

The lawsuits started by a group of 26 dockworkers are central to the epilogue, after 1998. They protested against the dismissals announced by Span/Spano in February 1999, which affected 90 people in total. (SWA is not covered in the conclusion of this study; Span and Spano are considered in the context of the legal actions.)
In March 1999 the 26 workers retained a lawyer. They believed their dismissal to be in conflict with the "hoofdlijnenakkoord" (agreement on main principles) and union policy that there would be no involuntary redundancies. In addition, they rejected the financial settlement. The matter in dispute was a passage in the agreement in which it was stated that after Span 2 "all employees will either move on to a function inside or outside the port" or "transfer to Spano". This should, according to the 26, be interpreted literally: there was no question of anyone being sacked. The decision on who was transferred from Span 1 to Spano had, however, proved to be preparation for dismissal, and not any kind of selection or choice. And if there was any question of selection, this took place on the basis of subjective factors and not, for example, on seniority. Because further information was not available, it was decided to hear a series of witnesses (board members and the executive, and later on the work allocaters and business managers).

This exposed the chaotic way in which the business was run. Minutes were not taken at board meetings. The opinions of the board members differed on the role of the tests in the transition from Span 1 to Spano; and equally on the meaning and application of the criteria that had been drawn up. Those who were officially unfit for work were automatically not taken into consideration. There were no data on the training and assistance with finding employment; in any case, the results were poor. Twenty people who fell under Span 2 worked regularly for Spano, where, in addition, a lot of overtime was required. So there was plenty of work available. In the application to dismiss the dockworkers no mention was made of this, as the temporary manager had to concede. And, contrary to the report of the board, no consultation had taken place with the works council and the unions. It was unclear how and why workers had been selected for Span 2 and therefore, ultimately, for dismissal.

The dual role of the board members was, to say the least, confusing. The union executive had agreed the "hoofdlijnenakkoord" that they were now supposed to both monitor and implement. The representatives of the Arbeidsvoorziening (government agency for employment) were involved not only in the tests and the assistance with finding employment, but also in issuing the permissions for dismissal.
The relationship between Span and Spano was also unclear. Was Spano an independent, completely new pool, or a remnant of the former Arbeidspool? Was Span a temporary refuge, or a funeral home?

To prepare for the court case and the various procedures that followed, the group of 26 (with the support of a number of women) worked closely together with their lawyer in regular and well-attended meetings. In addition they organised actions at the courts, at a congress of FNV Bondgenoten (general allied union) and at the local union office.8 They organised meetings to give information to their colleagues in the docks and to others, convinced members of the Amsterdam city council to raise questions about the role of the city executive, and generated a lot of attention in the regional and national media.
Shortly before the court case in November 2000, the city council and Spano were found to be closely involved in the project "Instroompool" (intake pool), which was training 80 to 120 of Amsterdam's unemployed for work at Ceres. Once again, the 26 discovered that there was, in fact, work available, for which they were, in addition, already trained and available. After bringing a number of legal actions to close down this project, the 26 were given the opportunity in late 2001 to apply for work at Spano and Ceres. Only one of them was offered the chance of a job, on condition that he ended his participation in the lawsuit. He refused. Another worked for a while at Ceres - but not for long, as both Spano and Ceres ended up in serious financial difficulties.

An unfavourable judgement for the 26 came in May 2001. The judge accepted the explanation of the board and the legal arguments of Span/Spano. At the time that the "hoofdlijnenakkoord" was drawn up - both before and after - it was known that dismissals would be unavoidable. This was then also the intention of the agreement. It was true that the selection for Spano had been slipshod, but it had been sufficiently appropriate.
The verdict at appeal in December 2003 was equally negative. The judge repeated that much could be criticised about the selection process, but it was in accordance with the agreement. The same applied to the dismissals. Both decisions, therefore, fell outside of legal regulation. Two other lawsuits that the 26 had pursued in the meantime were also unsuccessful. Both were directed at the relationship Span/Spano, in order to establish (amongst other things) which association was responsible for compensation or other financial settlements. The judge concluded one of the verdicts with a non-judicial consideration that was, perhaps, defining for the whole legal process. The agreement, and Span and Spano, had succeeded in eliminating the social unrest that had been so characteristic of the history of the docks. He saw this as an achievement that should not underestimated, and compared to which the various doubts and failings were of minor importance.

A final question that, owing to lack of data, had been repeatedly postponed, acquired a somewhat surreal character in the meantime, following the bankruptcy of Spano. There were many problems with the final accounts, premiums paid, dismissal data, number of holidays, and benefits when not fit for work. If the trustee recognised the claims, the 26 would be able to go to the Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekering (government agency for workers benefits). But the trustee was unwilling and the judge kept postponing a decision. Progress finally came in October 2007 when the judge gave his verdict. The payments that were made around a year later varied from 200 to 1,800 euro per person, plus legally required increases and interest. In early 2009 the 26 submitted a request to the Dutch State for a "schadebesluit" (decision on damages) for the length of the judicial process, amongst other things. Despite a number of reminders, at the end of 2010 there had still been no response.

All this time, from 1999 onwards, those responsible for policy within FNV Bondgenoten appeared to feel little or no connection with the 26 - not even to their own members who formed the majority in the group. This is remarkable, particularly considering the (co)employer role of members of the union executive - a role they had adopted, they stated, out of necessity, as the employers refused to carry the responsibility for the dock labour exchange, and it appeared to offer a favourable "sociaal plan". This cannot exactly be called justification for their "distant" attitude. And absolutely not for their sometimes humiliating and intimidating persecution of the 26, which did not discernibly differ from the behaviour of employers in general.
In the more than hundred-year-old tradition of tripartite and parity-based structures in Dutch labour relations, a union taking the role of employer was unusual. Yet it was consistent with the classical struggle of the trade union movement for a greater say on the way in which a company is run: for access to the centres of power without having complete control over them. Coalition rather than opposition. The modern transport unions in the port sector conformed to this picture, although the dockworkers, because of the nature and organisation of their labour, brought with them a strong sense of independence, and pressed their combativeness on the union leadership.
It is illustrative that, in a referendum held in 1992, the members rejected a proposal for parity-based leadership of a national SHB - a plan that had been conceived in 1985, at a time when the radical restructuring of non-bulk cargo was being led along parity-based routes of consultation and agreements. But it was also a time when the resistance to this was strong, particularly in the works councils of the SHB in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. In the final phase of the Arbeidspool and the transition to Span, this led to a series of actions outside the auspices of the union and correspondingly grim relationships with the union executive. Against this background, the participation in the board, together with the series of mediators and government intervention, had a pacifying influence on antagonistic relationships in a vital part of the Dutch economy.

Combined with the return of (modernised versions of) casual labour and the contentious role of employer taken by union representatives, the dismantling of the classic dock labour exchange blew a substantial hole in the employment opportunities and combativeness of the Amsterdam dockworkers.

1 Information and delivery: redactie@solidariteit.nl (terug)
2 NAS - Revolutionary trade union federation, with a syndicalist origin, 1893-1940. (terug)
3 Modern - Social democratic trade union movement, established in 1906. (terug)
4 Tripartite - The board included representatives of employers, employees and government. (terug)
5 EVC - Trade union federation, dominated by the Dutch Communist Party form 1948 onwards, 1944-1964. (terug)
6 Sociaal plan - Regulates the consequences of a reorganisation for employees, particularly with regard to their legal position and employment. (terug)
7 WW - Abbreviation for unemployment benefit. (terug)
8 FNV Bondgenoten - Successor to Vervoersbond FNV, following a merger. (terug)