Unions should reach out to the followers of the controversial anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders to find out what motivates them, former chairman of the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation FNV Lodewijk de Waal said at the FNV’s Diversity Day, last Friday in Amsterdam. The event was attended by 200 ethnic minority trade union activists as well as representatives of immigrants’ organisations and other allies.
At the FNV’s 2005 congress, strengthening ethnic minority participation in the FNV has been adopted as one of the key priorities for the coming years. Various initiatives have been taken since, current chairwoman Agnes Jongerius said. The FNV has organised fifty information meetings in collaboration with immigrants’ organisations; it successfully lobbied for lifting unnecessary restrictions for elderly immigrants who receive social assistance; it substantially increased the diversity of FNV-appointed representatives on the boards of Chambers of Commerce (while lowering their average age by ten years); and it launched a successful organising campaign among cleaners - many of them with ethnic minority backgrounds.
While optimistic about where the FNV is heading, Jongerius said there is also reason for concern. A survey among FNV members revealed that over one in three employees say they have several co-workers who have a problem with ethnic minorities. The FNV has launched a series of workplace debates to discuss such issues. She urged affiliated unions to implement this programme on a larger scale and to make it clear that the trade union movement can never accept groups in society being pitted against each other.
Turnout at the FNV Diversity Day was higher than expected. In workshops, participants discussed issues including the role of works councils, local trade union initiatives, labour market participation, workplace dialogue and elderly immigrants’ old age pensions.
Mustapha Laboui, leader of the FNV ethnic minorities programme, said collaboration with immigrants’ organisations is crucial. “You have to invest in durable coalitions. You cannot just call on them whenever you need them for a specific purpose”.
Photo: Caroline Rietbergen