The Christian National Labor Movement in The Netherlands (C.N.V.)

In the early years of the Christian social movement in The Netherlands the fundamental principles for social life were studied and formulated.

In the next 25 years these principles accompanied and guided the rise of a labor movement which was aware of and believed in these principles. Marxistic socialism came rushing along, organized workers into labor unions and political parties, inspiring them to throw off their chains and to look forward towards the dawn of a new day in which everyone would live in happiness and material abundance. What worker in those days would not have been tempted by the promises of a better and happier future? Except [or the existence of a small gathering of Christian men and the backing up of these men by a group of socially-minded leaders, many more Christian workers would have been seized and swallowed up by the mighty revolutionary current of those days. However, the small Christian labor group could not abide with the fine words spoken in a Congress—it had to act, it had to prove that the principles set forth were workable and could change industrial relations in the widest sense, besides, the actual need for improving labor conditions was apparent. In other words, practical trade union activity was most urgent.



The Rise of the Christian Labor Movement

This practical action was undertaken in national labor unions according to the kind of industry in which the members worked or according to the craft to which they belonged. In the Christian labor movement in The Netherlands the necessity of more unity in the organization has always been strongly felt. The individual chapters of “Patrimonium” and of the Christian National Workers Association (C.N.W.B.) which, as stated before, were not labor unions, started with local groups of workers in different crafts, such as diamond cutters, tailors, painters, cigar workers. blacksmiths, carpenters, landscapers, weavers, etc.

In the years following the Social Congress of 1891 various local chapters were united into national organizations. In 1909 the Christian National Trade Unions (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond) came into being as a federation of these national unions.

This centralization influenced the local unions favorably. The daily action for improved labor conditions, the setting up of wage scales, collective bargaining, organizing, technical training and Christian social education of the workers, propaganda drives, etc. became the work of these particular national unions.

The C.N.V. had the general overall leadership. Social action in general, the promotion of social legislation, the public defense of the cause in writing and in public meetings belonged to its assignment. It led the way in the various types of questions of economic and social life. It was the authority in difficult situations. It was the advisory body for the afflicted unions in days of social unrest. It promoted the education and instruction of young leaders for the unions.

For more than 20 years the leadership of K. Kruithof, a cigar worker by trade, as president was recognized by all those who worked in and for the Christian labor movement. H e was a man of unshakable conviction and rugged character, difficult sometimes [or others to bear, but most faithful to his friends, who could always depend on him. For many years he was the personification of the cause. A man without fear! Never moved, he defended the cause in meetings, small and large, where socialists and anarchists of different kinds publicly attacked and threatened him.

The young labor movement stood in need of such a man, and God provided just such a man, to him be the glory!

More men could be named here who exercised considerable influence. However. we are not minded to give the praise to men. Only God may be honored for the remarkable development of a Christian labor movement in The Netherlands, a movement which does not have an equal in the entire world.

The history of the C.N.V. is described in two volumes (aItogether 700 pages) entitled Under Own Banner (Onder Eigen Banier) and With Flyilng Colors (M et Ontplooide Banieren) written by H. Amelink, secretary of the C.N.V. from April 1, 1916 until World War II. From him we quote (translation mine, F.P.F.):

The Christian National Labor movement (c. N. V.) was now established, although it would not start its work until July 1, 1909. A fact of much importance! Such was also the opinion of the men who had to give leadership to the young Christian labor movement. However, these leaders, nearly all young men, looked into the future with confidence. They were not troubled by what one might call an inferiority complex. They started to work with enthusiasm, full of confidence and in the conviction of certain success. Although they did not use many words to give testimony of their personal faith, they did not fear, they were strong in the faith that this work began not in their own strength but in the power of God, would be blessed by the Lord of heaven and earth. They were strong in the belief that also in the social field God must he served and social injustices must be opposed as being contrary to the will and law of God.

How It Grew!

The C.N.V. established on July 1, 1909, a half year after counted 9 affiliated national unions and 8 local unions with a total membership of 6,587.

Five years later the membership had almost doubled. Another 5 years later it counted a membership ten times that of 1909. The rapid growth in the second five years of its existence was due most of all to increased confidence in the C.N.V., which it had gained throughout the country. Secondarily, its growth came by virtue of the mistakes of the opposing socialist labor movement.

After World War I the socialist political parties of the world as well as the socialist labor movements which were closely related to them asserted the right to seize power in the various countries of Europe. In Russia the socialist party under the leadership of Lenin murdered the Czar. In Germany the kaiser had to flee and was replaced by a president. The Austria-Hungary emperor was also compelled to go into exile.

In a democratic country like Holland the “revolution” had a somewhat different aspect. A few days after the armistice in November of 1918 a public meeting was held by the socialists in which the speaker proclaimed that the “revolution” could not be slopped at the borders of The Netherlands. In parliament the leader of the socialist party declared: “The working class of The Netherlands now seizes the political power. The political power, he said, would be placed in the hands of a “Superior Council of Workers and Soldiers.”

One of the leading liberal newspapers declared that the times had changed and that it would be ad visible to accept these conditions without bloodshed. In many circles capitulation to socialism was obvious.

In such days the existence of a Christian labor movement made itself obvious. Its leaders knew the national spirit better than did the socialist leaders and their call to resist the revolutionary action found a ready ear among Dutch workers. This action of the Christian workers (Protestant as well as Catholic) placed a halt before the fulfillment of revolutionary intentions.

A manifesto issued at that time by the C.N.V. of which a million copies were printed, ended as follows:

Every Christian worker must realize his responsibility in these serious times. Every revolutionary movement has to be opposed vigorously. With our word, and if necessary, in actual deed. Besides, we must work according to our principles, positively for the restoration of our social relations in order to make them correspond with the demands of divine justice.

Although the political revolution did halt at the borders of the country, the next few years were filled with revolutionary action. In 1920 a nation-wide political strike, ordered by the socialist labor movement, was strongly opposed by the Christian labor movement and became a total failure.

Another Attack

About 20 years later the principal strength of the Christian labor movement was again tested, be it in a completely different situation.

During the German occupation of World War II not only the military but also the civil powers were in the hands of the Germans. Gradually national life was strangled by them. They laid claim to the right to direct everything, not only in behalf of their war effort, but also as the stan of a new Europe under national-socialist domination.

With regard to the labor movements, it was their aim to unite them in it common labor front under the domination of a national-socialistic leader so as to become a willing instrument in their hands. The socialist labor movement was placed under such leadership two months after the German invasion. The Christian labor movement, however, maintained its independence. Only a year afterwards, however, in July 25, 1941, they were also compelled to submit to the leadership of the same national-socialist party as was placed at the head of the socialist labor movement. The president and the general secretary had been removed a few weeks before, and had been sent to a concentration camp. Apparently they expected that they would have no difficulty with the other invaders and with the rank and file of the Christian labor movement just as they had had no difficulty with the socialist labor movement a year before, How mistaken they were!

During that year measures were taken by the occupying power to mold the population into a national socialistic instrument—political and social leaders had been put into prison or concentration camps—meetings of more than 20 men were forbidden—newspapers contained only what they approved of—radio receivers were confiscated, etc.

The population missed the leadership of their own men, and were confronted more and more with Germans and their national-socialistic satellites.

That moment was chosen by the occupying authorities to deal the blow which had so carefully been prepared: all the national board members of the C.N.V. and all the presidents of the affiliated national organizations were summoned to attend a meeting. In this meeting they were told that the C.N.V. and its affiliated national unions were from that moment placed under the leadership of a national socialist, that the offices had been occupied and that the board members had to obey the orders of the “leader.” Every act contrary to this decision and every stop-page of work would be considered as sabatoge against the German army and punished accordingly.

In this historic moment all those present declared that they could not accept this new leadership and that they would terminate their work. The Germans had apparently not expected this answer. They could not do more at that moment than threaten severe measures against them, to which, however, not one yielded.

On the same day a letter, prepared before, was sent to all the local chapters of the C.N.V. and its affiliated local unions, in which the board members stated that the blow, anticipated earlier and for which the members had earlier been warned, had now been dealt, that consequently a Christian labor movement was no longer in existence and that every member knew what was expected from him.

The result of this letter was marvelous!

Thousands and thousands of letters were received at the offices of the national unions from resigning members. Others simply refused payment or their dues. Within two months 80% of the 120,000 members had to be written off. The attempt of the Germans had failed!

This action of the Christian labor movement was the first organized resistance in The Netherlands against the German policy of bringing the people under national socialistic dominion. It put heart into a people which had been shaken to and fro for more than a year. The Christian Schools, the churches, the employers’ organizations increased their resistance against the endeavors of the Nazi invaders. They could confiscate the buildings and seize the government, but they could not subordinate the minds and souls of the people.

The C.N.V. Discontinued

From July, 1941 until May, 1945, there was no Christian labor movement in The Netherlands. The work of more than 50 years was voluntarily abandoned. Everything was in the hands of the enemy: offices, library, capitals—except the influence on the members. The former full lime officers travelled through the country, holding secret conferences and small meetings with members,kept alive the spirit of resistance and prepared the former members for the restoration of the movement. The socialist labor movement had not found the spiritual and moral strength to resist the pressure exercised upon them for a new “national-socialistic order.” Some of their leaders even choose to side in with the enemy, but to be honest, others regained their balance soon and also prepared for the renewed rise of a socialist labor movement.

We have related these two passages out of the history of the Christian labor movement so as to show that Christian principles, if adopted as guiding (or a labor movement, may exercise a might) influence in the life of a nation. It is not necessarily the number that is decisive, but much more the strength of the principles adopted and applied in faith that influence the world’s course. We believe that the Lord uses men to fulfill his council, just as he uses prayer as a deciding factor in his government.

The day of the liberation of The Netherlands May 7, 1945, was also the day of the restoration of the Christian labor movement. In the dark five years which had just passed many had died, both among the leaders and the members, in the resistance movement and in the concentration camps. Nevertheless within a half year the membership had again reached the 100,000 mark.

A Tale of Faith and Fight

The following figures are not mere statistics, but their ups and downs tell a tale of growing influence in the nation.

First start: (January 1910) 6,587 members. Confidence gained: (January 1915) 12,508 members After having fought revolutionary action: (January 1921) 76,480 members in the economic depression (January 1926) 48,974 members Renewed confidence: (January 1932) 103,126 members. Increased influence: (January 1940) 120,344 members. During Germany occupation (1941–1945 ) discontinued. After the liberation reorganized (January 1946) 94,400 members. Larger than ever before: (January 1954) 191,120 members.

The history of the C.N.V. is a tale of faith and fight, of rise and ruin and restoration. Never in its history has it lacked men who were indispensable for its growth and well being.

After the liberation in 1945 it took over the part played in the preceding decades by “Patrimonium” and the Christian National Workers Association, which could not restore their former position. Christian social study and training, both for the leaders and for the rank and file, technical training, vocational guidance, provision for the spending of free time for the young members below 21 years of age, the promotion of social health and medic;d care in behalf of the members, guidance in respect of the wage policy, the promotion of building workers’ homes, moral care for the unemployed, etc., all this activity and more is reported of the C.N.V. for the years 1952–53 in a book of 700 pages. Besides, the 26 affiliated national organizations have their own offices, conduct their own trade union activity, and issue separate reports every other year.

The Road to a New Social Order

The most important part of the work of the C.N.V. has not been mentioned. It is the work for the establishment of a social order which is more in accordance with the will of God than the present order based as that is upon selfishness and power instead of justice. The years following World War II brought about a new development in this respect as the Industrial Organization Act was promulgated after years of study on the part of all those interested: government, employers and employees. We may have occasion to enlarge on this act later. Now we wish only to state that the ideas expressed in the Christian Social Congress of 1891, discussed before in these columns, had been advocated not the least by the leading men of the C.N.V. and that this action and borne fruit. In 1950 the Industrial Organization Law was enacted—not however, in order to impose that organization on industry, but to act as a stimulus, to support the ripening process in the minds of the people.

A Roman Catholic author in presenting his doctoral thesis in 1952 discussed the influence Protestant Christians have had on the promotion of the idea and the accomplishment of this act. He draws a line starting from a parliamentary speech made in 1874 by Dr. Abraham Kuyper, who pleaded for the organizing of industry, until the year of adoption by Parliament or the Industrial Organization Act (Oct. ‘50). It is in the second half of the period covered by this line (1874–1950) that the C.N.V. is the recognized standard bearer and the strong promoter of this idea. Even now that the law is in operation, it is again the C.N.V. which in its Social-Political Program of 1952 summarizes its wishes and desires in respect of the law and its execution in order to accomplish the work started many decades earlier, in order to prevent the state from gaining too much power in such an organization of industry and in order to establish a true determination on the part of the workers to meet and to strengthen the responsibility which is incumbent for every man created in the image of God.2

In the accomplishment of its assignments the C.N.V. deliberately carves its way through the many problems with which it is confronted. Often the board feels it is in need of advice from scholars. Study committees are therefore set up on which university professors of ethics, of law, of social or other sciences are invited to serve as members. They are mostly chosen from among the teachers of the “school for training of officials.” This is a Saturday school in which the following subjects are taught: labor, law, social insurance, social science, social ethics, social history, history, economics.

Besides, there is a regular contact with the Christian Employers Association, the Christian Farmers Association and the Christian Shopkeepers and Retail Traders Association. The subjects of mutual interest are discussed in monthly meetings.

The latter contact is particularly important in view of the decisions to be taken in the Social and Economic Council. A cooperative attitude in these bodies on the part of the Christian employers and Christian labor often serves the cause well.

The instruction of the rank and file is further promoted by the setting up of local clubs for study of special subjects for which special syllabi are prepared. Such subjects are systematically discussed in the local chapters.

Because of the fact that the new law imposes more responsibility on the workers, a correspondence course is set up for which the members may subscribe at a low cost. More than 5,000 members are regularly enrolled.

This review of the assignments performed by the C.N.V., its affiliated organizations, and its rank and file is far from complete. However, it gives an idea of the influence it exercises in social and economic matters for the good of the country and of the people.

Started by simple workers who had no idea of the results of their work, and who did not even ask what the results might be but who acted in faith, this movement has been blessed abundantly.

After World War II it has taken the lead in the solution of those problems with which the Christian social movement (including the organizations of employers and farmers) were confronted.

Our next installments will deal with these problems.

* Our author was the General Secretary here referred to. Eds.

1) Dr. P.A.J.M. Steenkamp: De Gedachte der Bedrijfsorganisatie in Protestants Christelijke Kring.

2) This program is obtainable in the English language at a small charge, from the Head office of the C.L.A.C., 87 West Fifth Street, Hamilton, Ontario.