May 1: FNV Bringing the

Labor Day Celebration Back to Amsterdam

By EVA ORAVCOVA | May 8, 2019

On May 1, the world celebrated International Workers’ Day, known in some countries as Labor Day. Despite the fact that the day is not a national holiday in the Netherlands, the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) held a demonstration in Amsterdam. The aim was to celebrate the achieved progress in the labor market as well as to shed light on what still needs to be improved.

Members of the Federation of the Trade Unions marched through Rokin, holding a sign with their main message: “Together for a more social Netherlands.” Eva Oravcova / The Amsterdammer

The FNV Demonstration

On May 1, FNV organized a demonstration in the honour of the International Workers’ Day. The union reports that over 4,000 people gathered in the heart of Amsterdam, prepared to celebrate as well as express their opinions about the Dutch labor market. Silvia Pilger from FNV explained: “People want to show solidarity and come and demonstrate with us.” The chairman of the FNV Han Busker added: “Together, we can make the Netherlands more social.”

The demonstration celebrated the workers of the Netherlands. As the official invitation stated: “This day is dedicated to the real heroes of the Netherlands. People who come out of their beds every day to keep our country running.” The event also commemorated the progress already achieved through the efforts of the trade unions, including establishment of eight-hour working days, free weekends, holidays and guaranteed safe and healthy work conditions.

Over 4,000 people gathered at Museumplein, where the official program started at 14:00. A sign language translator was present and the speeches were broadcasted live for all those unable to be attend the event. Eva Oravcova / The Amsterdammer

But in addition to celebrating workers’ efforts, the day was also meant to show the problems that working people continue to face. According to the attendees, Dutch labor policies need to be responsive to shifts in the labor market. As Jarno van Straaten, a member of FNV, pointed out: “We strive for more equality in income distribution, because the gap between the rich and the poor is growing while the economy is blooming.” In general, FNV aims to encourage “fair wages, more permanent contracts and a decent pension.”

Over the past four years, FNV has established the tradition of holding demonstrations on International Workers’ Day. The first three demonstrations took place in Amsterdam, last year was in Hague, and this year the event returned to Amsterdam. Crowds started gathering at Museumplein at 12:30, where they had an opportunity to share their stories on stage and listen to a live concert. The official event began at 2 p.m. with speakers from FNV offering an insight into the organization’s agenda. At 3 p.m., the crowd started marching towards the Dam Square.

Interest Groups

While FNV organized the demonstration, separate interest groups also had their own messages to deliver. The marching crowd was organized into blocks, depending on marchers’ affiliations. Some specified interest groups that were present operate within the framework of FNV, while others are independent.

One of the blocks in the crowd constituted of initiatives and organizations focused on combating climate change. In the context of Labor Day, these organizations aim to address the changes in the Dutch economy and job market that arise from global environmental policy. Some jobs are changing, while others are even disappearing. As the spokesman for Earth Strike put it: “We want climate justice for all workers from all industries, so that they get help and support they need.” The goal is to create “a sustainable future with good and green jobs!”

Some attendees decided to express their views more creatively. This attendee dressed up as a chicken and held a sign that reads: “We become bare-plucked poultry.” Eva Oravcova / The Amsterdammer

Netwerk Vrouwen is a network of female members of FNV, focused on promoting the rights of female workers in the Netherlands. The network reports that the proportion of women in FNV remains considerably low, approximately 37%, which does not reflect the Dutch labor market. Hence when asked what they were marching for, one representative simply answered: “We need more women: more women to represent us, more women to work with us.” Some of their main causes include career development, the removal of the glass ceiling, improvements in child care and opportunities for higher-level jobs.

A variety of organizations came out to celebrate May 1 from the perspective of international solidarity. For example, representatives of the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI) and organizations supporting female labor rights in India were present. Supporters of all these initiatives made their concerns heard as they marched together for the rights of Dutch as well as international workers.

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