4.2.7: 1830 - 1910 - Working conditions

The foundation in 1866 of the Algemene Nederlandse Typografen Bond (General Dutch Typographers' Union) (ANTB), the first nation-wide trade union in the Netherlands, marked the transition from a period of tightly regulated, hierarchical, accepted co-operation between craftsman and master and the period in which, due to demands for higher wages and improved working conditions, craftsman and master more and more became one another's opponents. If the local typographers' unions, which were founded from 1830, could be characterised mainly as associations to provide mutual support (for example in the event of sickness), solidarity and conviviality (especially when celebrating Plough Monday, the printers' national holiday), the ANTB became a trade union in the modern sense of the word. To become a member of the ANTB employees had to be at least twenty years old, have been in the trade for five years and earn at least six guilders (about € 2.70) a week.

For a long time the wages of a typographer were approximately 20 stivers (about € 0.45) a day, but especially after 1850, complaints increased about low wages that lagged behind rising prices. In addition, increasing mechanisation in the form of platen presses caused the employers to hire many mainly young, and therefore inexpensive, workers, at the expense of the adult employees. A platen press required a feeder and a boy, a stepped platen two boys. The number of boys employed in the graphic industry rose between 1859 and 1880 from 865 to 1800, which made it hard for experienced workers to find jobs. In this way the wage expenditure could be reduced drastically. The low wages were also a result of the declining book prices, which were recovered from the printing houses. Wage increases, under the threat of strikes (which were prohibited by law until 1872), became the stake of negotiations. As knowledge and skill, for lack of professional training, were not high, many employers refused to increase wages. At first, employers in Utrecht, Nijmegen and Arnhem, under penalty of discharge, forbade membership of the ANTB and when most members refused to comply with this ultimatum, the first strike of typographers was a fact (September 1867).

In the course of the century, the graphic trade union succeeded in achieving a wage increase, which was realised thanks to the introduction of new machines that caused a substantial reduction in wage expenditure.

The number of hours worked decreased in the course of this period. In 1871, the personnel in the printing shop of A.W. Sijthoff had to start work at 06.00 am from 1 April to 15 October, and an hour later during the rest of the year. Work went on until 7 o'clock in the evening, with a break between 13.00 and 14.30 hours. Violations of the rules were usually punished with a fine. Employees therefore worked 78 to 84 hours a week in those days, depending on the season. The working week was reduced to 60 hours by the end of the century.

The increasing compartmentalization saw to it that in addition to the ANTB, confessional typographers' unions were founded, at first on a local level only. The Protestants united themselves in 1902 in the Christelijke Typografenbond (Christian Typographers' Union), the Catholics in 1900 in the Nederlandsche Rooms Katholieke Typografen Bond (Dutch Roman Catholic Typographers' Union) (since 1912: Nederlandse Katholieke Grafische Bond i.e. Dutch Catholic Graphic Union). The printers in 1909 founded the Nederlandse Bond van Boekdrukkerijen (Dutch Union of Book Printers). Completely independent from the printers, type-setters and binders, did the lithographers unite in the NLFB (1906).

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

Working conditions