Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Syb Talma: A Dutch Christian Socialist

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Syb Talma: A Dutch Christian Socialist

Article excerpt

The London Harbor Strike

In September 1889, Syb Talma visited London. On August 14, the harbor workers there had stopped working because their employers had refused to consider their demand to raise their hourly wage from five to six pennies. The strike was a test of strength that ended after five weeks on September 22 with a victory for the workers and their unions. In the Netherlands, the harbor strike was being watched with mixed emotions. Some feared that there would soon be serious food shortages in London because the ships were unable to unload their cargo. At the same time, there was respect for the strikers who held "various orderly mass meetings" without any looting of stores. The largest was held in Hyde Park. "After a march with music and banners," 150,000 people gathered there. (1) Just as Henry Dunant traveled as a tourist to Solferino in 1859 to watch the battle between the French and the Austrians, so, too, Talma traveled to London. He returned deeply impressed. He had listened to the elderly Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Manning, who functioned as an arbitrator, and he had seen a march procession of 50,000 "strong men," all of them dock workers. (2) They were not alone. Joining them were the well-dressed captains of lighter vessels, not laborers but ordinary citizens. They displayed their solidarity with the strikers by carrying a banner with the slogan: "Out on principle." Talma was convinced that their solidarity had decisive significance for the ultimate victory of the strikers. (3) For the rest of his life, Talma remembered those men who had not smashed any windows, had neither fought with the police nor cursed, but had demonstrated calmly and respectfully. They convinced him of the importance of a labor movement that defended the interests of the workers without preaching revolution. Only by uniting and self-consciously defending their rights, according to him, could they avoid becoming second-class citizens.

The Netherlands in 1900

In 1900, the Netherlands had about five million inhabitants. About half of them belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk). (4) Onethird was Roman Catholic, and ten percent, the Reformed (Gereformeerden), (5) belonged to the strict Protestant church known as the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland [GKN)]. (6) The Dutch Reformed Church, where there was little doctrinal discipline, included different streams, varying from strict orthodoxy to liberalism. Many liberals who advocated public education under state control were members of this church. Others who advocated for Christian education usually voted for one of the three existing Christian Democratic Parties. Such parties could count on the vote of members of the Reformed churches and Roman Catholics who joined in opposition to public education. (7)

Since the revolution of 1848, the Netherlands has been a parliamentary democracy with a census franchise that benefits the liberal citizenry. In addition, a district model of government has been in place. If in the first round none of the candidates received an absolute majority of votes, a second round would be held where the two candidates with the highest vote count would run against each other.

In the Netherlands, there are no iron mines and only a few coal mines. For that reason, industrialization occurred later in the Netherlands than in surrounding countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Great Britain. However, after 1870, the economy modernized very quickly. Rotterdam became an important transit harbor for the German industrial area, and, by means of steamship enterprises, the connection with the Dutch East Indies was maintained by way of the Suez Canal. The textile industry began to blossom, and in 1891 Philips began producing light bulbs.

For a long time, the modernization of the economy had no visible effect on social relationships. …

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