Like other social institutions, unions have become institutionalized and as a consequence, they have gotten out of touch with their own members. Partly as a result of this, they were unable to mobilise their members against the government plan to raise the retirement age. That is one of the conclusions of a speech held yesterday by Dutch Prime Minister J.P. Balkenende – although he puts it a bit more carefully.
Balkenende: “The question as to the legitimacy becomes more and more pressing. A clear example is how the trade union movement has grappled – and is still grappling – with the cabinet’s retirement age proposal. What struck me most, is how – even after mass demonstrations had been announced – the Malieveld remained empty and even the Plein in front of Parliament didn’t fill up with FNV members.”
“Of course, I’d like to think that union members understand perfectly that raising the retirement age is inevitable. But doesn’t this also tell us something about the relation between the union leaders and their own members? And about the traditional role of the trade union movement as emancipation movement and advocate? As you can hear, I’m raising these points in the form of questions, for I want to be careful when it regards drawing conclusions here. But I do consider it a tell-tale sign that the mobilizing role of the trade union movement isn’t as strong as it used to be.”
According to Balkenende, traditional social institutions face similar problems. Meanwhile, he observes that people organise in new ways. He points mainly to apolitical examples: sports clubs, local historical associations, conservationist organisations and various charities.
Balkenende argues for a ‘modest’ government that makes room for this kind of civic initiatives and that does not interfere with the choices citizens make. In concrete terms, he means by this: less money to child care – instead let neighbours, volunteers and grandpa’s do the babysitting.
Photo: World Economic Forum