The Chambers of Labour. Experiments in representation and regulation in the Netherlands in the long nineteenth century
Veen, Adriejan van
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In the Netherlands, the history of democracy is often presented as similar to that of parliament and parties. An alternative history is possible, however, which focuses on the expansion of representative and regulatory forms outside the established parliamentary form. In 1897, a little known state organ was founded in the Netherlands with representative, deliberative and advisory functions: the Chambers of Labour ('Kamers van Arbeid'). Chambers of Labour were local bodies meant to reconcile workers and employers, and collect data and provide advice to the government on labour affairs. Elections for the Chambers of Labour were held on an individual basis, which notably also included women and poor workers. The orthodox Protestant politician Abraham Kuyper is often credited with inventing the idea of Chambers of Labour as an 'organic' solution to the class struggle, but ideas for labour councils, boards of reconciliation or chambers of interest representation in the Netherlands are much older, going back to at least the early 1870s. Furthermore, more than a dozen private labour councils ('particuliere arbeidsraden') were founded in the years preceding 1897. Historical research into the latter institutions is non-existent. In this thesis, therefore, the international and domestic debates on Chambers of Labour, the workings of private labour councils, and the Chambers from their institution in 1897 to their abolishment in 1922 are analyzed from the angle of 'alternatives to parliamentary democracy'. My research question is: 'How were the Chambers of Labour conceptualized and institutionalized?' The answer to this question will shed light on the development of alternative or adjacent forms of political representation and regulation in the Netherlands.