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Transfer: European Review

of Labour and Research
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Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma
Ben Valkenburg
Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research 2004 10: 588
DOI: 10.1177/102425890401000410
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Downloaded from trs.sagepub.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13, 2010

If they agree with current activation policies they will share responsibility for the risks attached to them.sagepub. University of Utrecht TRANSFER 4/04 588 Downloaded from trs. This is especially true for activation. Si les syndicats s’opposent à l’activation. orientée vers le client. ils partageront la responsabilité des risques liée à celles-ci. Une issue possible à ce dilemme est formulée à partir de deux perspectives. Formulating these ideas only makes sense if the unions are also prepared and able to back them up with union power. Cet article essaie de trouver une issue à ce dilemme.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. La seconde est un concept de participation sociale plus large où la participation n’est pas limitée à l’emploi rémunéré sur le marché du travail régulier. in a situation where full employment is not a realistic aim. Il se penche sur ce qui constitue une position adéquate pour les syndicats en ce qui concerne l’activation dans une situation où le plein emploi n’est pas un objectif réaliste. La formulation de ces idées n’a de sens que si les syndicats sont également prêts et aptes à les soutenir grâce au pouvoir des syndicats. ils auront des difficultés à jouer un rôle approprié dans les débats actuellement en cours. client-oriented approach to benefit claimants elaborated in terms of rights and duties that are defendable from a trade union point of view. Cela vaut particulièrement pour l’activation. The final section of the article addresses the question of how unions can back up their position on activation with union power. La dernière partie de l’article soulève la question de savoir de quelle manière les syndicats peuvent soutenir leur position sur l’activation avec le pouvoir des syndicats. par rapport aux demandeurs de prestations sociales élaborée en termes de droits et d’obligations qui sont défendables d’un point de vue syndical. If unions oppose activation it will be hard for them to play a relevant role in the contemporary debate. ❖❖❖ * Lecturer in Labour Sciences. ❖❖❖ Sommaire F Les stratégies actives pour l’emploi soulèvent des questions et des considérations complexes pour les syndicats. This article tries to find a way out of this dilemma. The first is a reciprocal. La première est une approche réciproque. A possible way out of the dilemma is formulated from two perspectives. Social Science Faculty. S’ils sont d’accord avec les politiques d’activation actuelles. It explores the central issue of what constitutes an adequate stance for trade unions with regard to activation. in which participation is not limited to paid employment on the regular labour market. 2010 .Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma Ben Valkenburg* E Summary Active employment strategies raise complex questions and considerations for trade unions. The second is a broader concept of social participation.

Der zweite beruht auf einem breiteren Konzept der sozialen Teinahme. Dieser Artikel versucht.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. wie die Gewerkschaften ihre Position bezüglich der Aktivierung mit Gewerkschaftsmacht untermauern können.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma D Zusammenfassung Für die Gewerkschaften ergeben sich aus aktiven Beschäftigungsstrategien komplexe Fragen und Erwägungen. If they agree with current activation policies they will come to share responsibility for the risks attached to them. For the unemployed these risks are considerable. The unions’ aim is to ensure TRANSFER 4/04 589 Downloaded from trs. Im Mittelpunkt steht die Frage. Wenn sie eine ablehnende Haltung gegenüber Aktivierungsstrategien einnehmen. This is true for the attempts to create new jobs. The EES combines an active labour market policy. are problematical in themselves. the EES is a reason for developing new initiatives. einen Ausweg aus diesem Dilemma zu finden. Der erste basiert auf einem gegenseitigen. as the discussion and experience have made clear by now. diese Ideen zu formulieren. For some Member States the EES supports policies that have been in place already for some time. They are formulating a critical viewpoint concerning activation. Dies gilt ganz besonders für Aktivierungsmaßnahmen. This activation policy distances itself from a passive approach to benefit claimants which focused primarily on income protection. aimed at the creation of new jobs. die aus gewerkschaftlicher Sicht vertretbar sind. If the unions oppose it and continue defending the traditional rights to income protection only.sagepub. Es macht jedoch nur dann Sinn. eine bedeutende Rolle in der heutigen Debatte zu spielen. At the European level. most unions are evading the dilemma. it will be hard for them to play a relevant role in the contemporary political debate. For others. welche Haltung die Gewerkschaften in einer Situation. It is especially true for activation. Active employment strategies raise complex questions and considerations for the trade unions. without distancing themselves from it. Currently. and the social partnerships that are encouraged to do so. Der Autor beschreibt einen möglichen Ausweg aus diesem Dilemma aus zweierlei Perspektiven. gegenüber Aktivierungspolitiken einnehmen sollten. kundenorientierten Ansatz in Bezug auf Anspruchsberechtigte mit Rechten und Pflichten. Wenn sie hingegen die aktuellen Aktivierungspolitiken befürworten. this is an ambition that has been laid down in the European Employment Strategy (EES). in der Vollbeschäftigung kein realistisches Ziel darstellt. wird es schwierig für sie sein. 2010 . Im letzten Teil des Artikels befasst sich der Autor mit der Frage. ❖❖❖ Introduction In the past years almost all EU Member States have introduced active employment strategies. wenn die Gewerkschaften auch darauf vorbereitet und fähig sind. for or against. sie mit Gewerkschaftsmacht zu unterstützen. die über die bezahlte Beschäftigung auf dem normalen Arbeitsmarkt hinausgeht. the right to income protection is reduced and the sanctions for failing to fulfil the obligation are made stricter. Either position. with activation. The obligation to actively seek paid employment is increasingly emphasised. and focus mainly on their own contribution to the creation of new employment. dann tragen sie auch die Verantwortung für die damit verbundenen Risiken.

in a situation where full employment for all who are able and willing to work can hardly be called a realistic aim. and activation policy as an important part of it. The question that I would like to explore is that of an adequate stance for trade unions regarding activation. I will briefly outline the EES. but there are few true believers. I will discuss the present position of the trade unions and its inherent problems. The final section will be devoted to this question of power. in which the relationship between rights and duties is defendable from a trade union point of view. by reducing overheads and administrative taxation of companies. low-paid labour. This article is an attempt to find a way out of the above dilemma. in which participation is not reduced to paid employment on the regular labour market. I will then seek a possible way out of the present dilemma. Subsequently. Formulating a critical point of view on activation policy is not only difficult but also worthwhile. Modernisation and flexibility of work organisation are to contribute to the adaptability of companies and their workers. In addition. client-oriented approach to benefit claimants. Employment and activation policy in Europe In the EES. the EES aims to promote entrepreneurship. Employability is meant to prevent unemployment instead of combating it. 2010 . It goes without saying that the representation of interests does not just depend on ideas about activation. development of cooperation with social partners focused on promotion of training and lifelong learning. for instance. The first is a reciprocal. an activating approach to benefit claimants. The doctrine according to which sufficient jobs can be created for all benefit claimants to be activated is often professed. The second is a broader concept of social participation. Formulating these ideas is sensible only when the unions are also prepared and able to back them up with union power. An adequate position on the part of the trade unions would be a first and necessary condition to achieve adequate representation of the interests of the unemployed. Though I respect the good intentions behind this position. First. in my opinion it is not very adequate. and the facilitation of the transition from school to work. the promotion of self-employment. from two perspectives.Ben Valkenburg that the activated benefit claimant can in fact find proper employment on the regular labour market. as well as the need to find solutions. so that the negative consequences of activation can be avoided. Important elements of this are incentives TRANSFER 4/04 590 Downloaded from trs. Important elements are a preventive approach aimed at limiting the growth of long-term unemployment. creation of employment in the (local) social economy and the reduction of taxation on relatively low-qualified.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. I will finish with the proposition that formulating a union position and backing it up with union power may well have unexpected positive consequences for the unions themselves.sagepub. improving employability is seen as the most important instrument for reducing unemployment.

attitudes and motivations of the individual. A modern economy does not only demand flexible adaptability of companies but also of employees. the competitive position of the European economy needs to be reinforced by flexibilisation and deregulation of the labour market. for instance by clinging to forms of regulation focused on protection. in principle. and the disabled. the aim is to promote equal opportunities for men and women. and forms of regulation to support them. but as a result of actions of the individual unemployed person (blaming the victim). referring to protection against the risk of developments in society and criteria for eligibility for protection on the basis of characteristics that apply to large groups. Anyone resisting it. those citizens will not do so without coercion. The discourse that underlies the EES can be summarised in three core points. First. facilitating reintegration on the labour market. permanently screening its benefit claimants for the extent to which they are exercising their individual responsibility. This transformation implies a fundamental alteration of the social contract. aimed at reintegration into the labour market. Denmark and Sweden have had activating employment strategies for a long time. Modern employees must learn to live with permanent change (in their current jobs. They should be permanently improving their own employability. In other countries. by promoting a better balance between work and family life. the EES is an important incentive for developing new policies. but also by changing employers) and should be actively involved in their own adaptation to the changing circumstances and demands they make on them. The right to protection is determined by behaviour. is open to the suspicion of turning their back on the future (ibid. Citizenship is no longer the right of the individual. Under the EES and the underlying discourse. 2010 . Secondly. The basic assumption is that. choices. and reintegration of the disabled. and these are now supported and reinforced by the EES. 28). Unemployment is no longer regarded as a consequence of social developments (blaming the system). In this way the welfare state turns into a distrusting welfare state. Social security should rather aim to (re-)integrate them into the labour market as rapidly as possible (Van Berkel 2000: 87). The main responsibility for dealing with unemployment lies with the individual (Crespo and Serrano Pascual 2004: 13). TRANSFER 4/04 591 Downloaded from trs. Finally.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. reality is differentiated. The discourse on the knowledge-based society (Crespo and Pascual 2004: 14) presents this development as seemingly inevitable. Emphasis shifts from collective responsibility of the welfare state to the individual responsibility of the citizen. but has to be earned by visible efforts. that is to say paid employment in the regular labour market. Thirdly. incentives for in-company training and investment in human resources. social integration and participation are equated with economic participation. stand in the way of modernisation. for instance Spain. Countries like the Netherlands.sagepub. social security should not primarily be aimed at protecting people against loss of income resulting from loss of paid employment. Citizenship is no longer described primarily in social terms.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma to achieve a new balance between flexibility and security. but in individual terms. Old securities.

Activation as a dilemma for trade unions As far as I can see. and in sharper sanctions by means of reduction or cessation of benefits. TRANSFER 4/04 592 Downloaded from trs. In short. and a situation where the carrot is scarcely available. the incentive of the carrot in the form of growing employment and an intake of unemployed on the labour market is hardly discernible. It is the policy-maker who decides what is good for the unemployed. Many of them seem to be caught in a revolving door: after participating in one reintegration activity. activation in reality means the vigorous application of the stick. In the meantime. is not an easy one to answer. in making benefits less attractive through a restriction of duration and amounts. (re)-entry onto the regular labour market. and forms of subsidised work in the social economy. Activation stands for a process of recommodification. common tendency.sagepub. 2010 . In addition. To prevent misunderstandings. with a strong top-down orientation and a high degree of paternalism. which means in fact that they are avoiding the discussion. however.Ben Valkenburg In spite of all the differences there is. a general. Activation policy is translated into a restriction of entitlement to benefits. the unions are sidestepping the issue at present. but the last stop. that is to say. to accept work. in stricter requirements concerning the duty to look for work. The ultimate aim of activation. this is mainly found in atypical jobs in the lowest segment of the regular labour market. When such realisation fails. for instance through higher demands in relation to prior work experience. The results achieved in the creation of regular employment are usually very modest. training and work experience. that is the fault of the unemployed and they will also have to suffer the consequences.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. to participate in education. Insofar as there is growth in employment. For many of them. is only realised to a very limited extent. comparable. subsidised work is not a transient phase. (re)-entry mainly concerns the lowest segment of the labour market where a job is often combined with long-term dependence on benefits and an income on or below the poverty line (see Valkenburg and Coenen 2000). Benefit claimants are increasingly faced with officials whose primary duty it is to activate them as quickly as possible. The question as to what position the unions can or should take under these circumstances. The general picture is that the (re)-entry mainly concerns short-term unemployed who would probably have also re-entered without activation. activity. where activation is concerned. they go on to the next. to point out what their duties are and to see to it that they fulfil them. Most benefit claimants ‘at best’ enter forms of education and training and/or work experience projects. I will indicate first what I do not mean by this proposition. and how the unemployed can realise that ‘good’. in forms of subsidised labour and/or jobs in the (local) social economy.

they focus attention on creating that condition in the short and the longer term. in which the stated TRANSFER 4/04 593 Downloaded from trs. Subsequently. the members who are also benefit claimants (and sometimes also non-members) are offered support when they are faced with activation: they are informed of their rights and duties. the offer. preferably on the regular labour market. An offer is substantial when it leads to a full and regular job. Almost all Member States and their trade unions are certainly involved in the issue. the unions take a critical position: activation is not a bad thing in principle. are not being met. The answer to the question whether they will succeed in effectively organising this resistance. In the meantime. employment. the Netherlands can serve as an example of active involvement. it would certainly be too simple to blame the lack of effectiveness on the absence of strong opinions or the absence of the will to back them up. and criticism has been voiced as to the practical consequences of activation policies. sectoral and company levels. On several occasions the unions have resisted government policies on social security. substantial activation offer. but it can lead to substantial. On several occasions the experience of benefit claimants has been mapped out. is open. is a well-known example of a long tradition of active union involvement. In a number of cases. The trade unions are circumventing the issue. In the present situation their national role has been reduced to an advisory one. albeit in widely varying ways and from widely varying traditions. And that brings me to what I do mean by the above proposition. because they qualify the legitimacy of activation with conditions which. the Dutch unions follow the discourse underlying the EES. After initial resistance to the creation of subsidised jobs. For years the Dutch trade unions have participated in the tripartite administrative structure for labour market policies. and it is not the only one. At the moment of writing this article a large demonstration has been organised and strikes will follow in the coming months.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. etc. In this respect too. In a general sense. cannot mean the destruction of the financial guarantees of the welfare state. at the moment.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma I do not mean that the unions are uninterested in active employment strategies in the broader sense of the word. and it is certainly not the only example. If they do not succeed. education. Activation of benefit claimants. negative consequences and can only be legitimised when it is combined with a realistic. etc. in their view. Over the years several national social agreements have been negotiated on wage development. Neither does the above proposition mean to suggest that the unions are avoiding involvement in activation policies in the narrower sense of the word: the situation of the unemployed (and other benefit claimants) and the fact that they are faced with a stricter. in time they came to play a role in the (cooperative) regulation of such jobs through collective agreements. In this respect they take a firm stance: current government policy is discarded as anti-social and aimed at the destruction of the welfare state. With reference to this last point. they have tried to contribute to collective agreements with regard to development and possibilities for regular employment of the workers concerned. they have been involved in various ways in initiatives and policy measures. with its so called ‘polder model’. 2010 . activation-driven regime of social security. flexibilisation. An answer to the question what they think of activation under current circumstances. At local. The Dutch situation. supported in cases of conflict.sagepub.

In short: if governments’ activation policies TRANSFER 4/04 594 Downloaded from trs. trade unions run the risk of being made responsible for the negative effects of activation. in order to achieve a better quality of work. the latter should be developed in social partnerships. non-precarious work-contracts. acting as the driver for a revitalised social economy’ (Serrano-Pascual 2001: 31). dependent on the degree of employability of employees/benefit claimants. Unemployment. It means that the unions would confirm a policy which in the present situation would have far-reaching negative consequences. contrary to what we are led to believe. but on economic developments which are hardly affected by employability policies. then. macroeconomic policies aimed at wage restriction and flexibility of the labour market. They could add to this the argument that employment is not. is lacking for the time being. hardly adequate.sagepub. What. No activation when there are no jobs. the negative consequences of activation will become ever more serious. In the event of insufficient growth of employment. Stability in work. must not be blamed on individuals. Not because there is a lack of arguments. but. are part of the collective bargaining agenda to promote better integration of young people in the labour market. it can hardly be viewed as a success story (Valkenburg and Coenen 2000). and active labour market policy are combined. certainly if we look at it from the perspective of the unemployed themselves. if social partners do not successfully contribute to social partnerships. certainly in the short term. An unqualified ‘no’ seems. In other words. according to this line of argument. Even if employability policy. a clear stance that there should be no activation when there are no jobs could ‘minimise’ the risks of current policies for the trade unions themselves. albeit for very different reasons. Moreover. the results in terms of employment are modest (Esping-Andersen 2000). of defining new rights and obligations. The former is primarily a government responsibility. ‘The concept of partnership could have an important role to play in finding solutions to the employment crisis and the crisis of the welfare state. or is only partly. but I also think in the long term.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. activation will contribute to a larger reserve of labour. however.Ben Valkenburg conditions have not been met (nor will be met in the future). From the perspective of the unemployed the unions could again point out the negative consequences of activation in a situation of insufficient available jobs. What is said of activation for young people is true in a more general sense: ‘The social partners have the joint responsibility of re-regulating the functioning of the labour market. The claim being made on the unions in the framework of the EES is quite substantial. which in turn is a threat to the negotiating position of the unions and the working conditions of current employees. and the right to social protection and to life-long learning inside companies. The claim is that activation (focused on supply) should be combined with an active labour market policy (demand). The Netherlands are regularly held up as an example of such a coherent approach (Serrano-Pascual 2001: 7). As a consequence their answer is. scarcely less problematical.’ (Andre 2001: xvi). An unqualified ‘yes’ has been sufficiently discussed above. is an adequate answer? If anything is clear. it is that an unqualified yes or no to activation would both be problematical. 2010 . From the trade unions’ point of view.

the fault of the social partners including the unions. most people in work do realise that full employment is an illusion.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma have negative consequences. flexibility and permanent adaptation to changing economic circumstances is not regarded as a problem. Yet. and rightly so. that is ‘your’ fault. as to its consequences for people in work. people are faced with deregulation and increasing flexibility in a labour market that is already precarious. The return to a passive. in spite of all the arguments to the contrary. continue to replace human labour by new technology. TRANSFER 4/04 595 Downloaded from trs. Regarding this last aspect. is a threat rather than a blessing. more relevant to the search for an alternative view of activation. there are additional matters of importance which should in my view carry more weight in the search for an adequate union stance with regard to activation. a rejection of activation would mean the structural social exclusion of this group of people. based on two points. the support among people in work is widespread. Old certainties and forms of protection of workers are being eroded. support in society. 2010 . and the rise of a post-Fordist workfare regime. It implies that benefit claimants. Such a point of view is hardly justifiable from the perspective of the benefit claimants. a rejection would imply a return to earlier. and cut back as much as possible by firing workers. however. in my opinion. The impossibility of such a rejection is based on other arguments. primarily protective. that is to say. Macroeconomic developments and their own daily experience strongly confirm this. a deeply rooted work ethos in Western societies. This support is. Secondly. it would be much better not to activate the unemployed. policy is however also problematical from the point of view of those in work. but as a solution. These points play an important role not only in the formulation of the European labour market policy but also for its support in society. Companies move to low-cost countries. or is supposed to contribute to the growth of employment. In the EES. and presume that full employment. more job-seekers than jobs. in a situation of ongoing lack of employment. are offered financial security but are left to their own devices for all the rest. In my view. If we are realistic. That would get little support. is an illusion. I think. living with insecurity. activation is and can be central to the EES. there are quite a few politicians but fewer workers who think that activation of the unemployed is a good thing because it contributes to an active labour reserve. is reinforced by the European strategy which makes employability a central concern for workers. Lind and Moller (2004) have suggested a three-fold explanation: the function of an active labour reserve for the free market economy. in spite of all the reservations. This is not. From the point of view of their direct interest. This erosion. In the Netherlands that would affect over a million people depending on benefits.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. A general rejection based on the above arguments is hardly conceivable. Background to the dilemma Without alternative views on activation. First. primarily because of financial problems of the welfare state (a discussion far beyond the confines of this article). One way of approaching this theme is through the question of why. also in the long term.sagepub. passive policies focusing primarily on income protection. For most working people an active labour reserve.

The reassessment of rights and duties from an individual perspective In this section I will elaborate on a reciprocal. whereas this is not true for large groups of benefit claimants (Baumann 2001. activation in present policies is an active reaction in a passive adaptation strategy to the knowledge-based society. should not only accommodate basic feelings among benefit claimants. again with due regard for the structural nature of unemployment.Ben Valkenburg The basic feeling most working people have in this situation is determined by considerations of justice: people cannot be left to fend for themselves. I will summarise the above into three requirements which such a position must meet: ● it must do justice to emancipatory objectives. In this section I will briefly presTRANSFER 4/04 596 Downloaded from trs. Moreover. with due regard for the structural nature of the lack of employment. but equally those current among many working people. there is no justification for the fact that a working person is permanently harassed and subject to insecurity. for example employability. ● it should contain elements that are also attractive to other actors involved in social policy. making it easy for member states to simply continue their existing policies’ (Crespo and Serrano Pascual 2004: 17). flexibility.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. activation. Such a position will have to be realistic. That is to say. ● it should contribute to the solidarity between workers and the unemployed. These considerations are to my mind of central importance for the union position regarding activation. client-oriented approach. and so contribute to social inclusion.sagepub. Before suggesting a number of elements for an alternative union position on activation. The rejection of activation policies is not an option in this situation. ‘A further problem is the vagueness and weakness of the concepts underpinning the strategy. or at least more realistic than the present position where the achievement of full employment is presented as the solution to all problems. More recently it has also been further developed for other areas of social policy. In addition. That is a strong argument for formulating an alternative position. To a certain extent this vagueness is a problem. there is also a basic feeling that precisely in this situation of structural unemployment. The latter can also be made into an active strategy. all of which are ambiguous terms which can be interpreted in various ways. it should offer prospects for reinforcing social participation of benefit claimants. At the same time it will have to accommodate the basic feelings of many working people. The possibilities for the development of such a position are available. This means that the position taken. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002). more especially politicians and employers. and which make realistic compromises as part of a social partnership possible. 2010 . and partnership. This approach has primarily been developed in Dutch labour market policy. At the same time it also creates room for discussion and alternative positions. The EES is not as airtight as would appear at first sight. with alternative ideas on social participation and the meaning of paid work at its core.

as often happens. and the labour market. client-oriented approach. client-oriented approach is based on the assumption that the unemployed have a fundamental right to receive active support and that this support should contribute to their participation in society. If this support is delivered in an adequate way. and that there must be reciprocity between their individual perspective and the social perspective. enabling people to take charge of their own lives. affective. This approach departs from the assumption that people always take charge of their life. and communication skills) and personal factors (certain talents and restrictions). wishes. secondary aims can be connected: integration in the labour market. relatives. but whether he or she succeeds in being more in charge than before. An approach that wants to contribute to the way people can take charge of their own lives. In this approach unemployed people have rights and obligations. participation in education. motivations and possibilities. must do justice to this principal of reciprocity between the individual and social perspective.sagepub. motives. the criterion is not whether the individual is able to take fully charge of his or her own (life) trajectory. client-oriented approach the central aim of social policy is to enable people to be in charge of their own lives in an adequate way. including the people delivering social policy. with his or her social conditions. Competence must be understood in the widest of meanings. etc. and realistic prospects. it lies in (the coherence of) several aspects: ● wishes. In the Dutch experience there is strong evidence that the primary aim is the most important success factor for realising these secondary aims. client-oriented approach the unemployed is first and foremost seen as a person with strength. whose characteristics cohere in a certain manner in the context of his or her background. The starting point is that if people are approached in an adequate way by social policy (a right). The social perspective is represented by society in general. The unemployed is not regarded as a sum of loose characteristics. the system of social security that he or she is dealing with. In a reciprocal.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma ent the main elements of this approach (for a more elaborated version see Van Berkel and Horneman Moller 2002. The individual perspective is represented by the unemployed as an individual person. and. the social context of the unemployed person (friends. A reciprocal. In enhancing the competences of the unemployed person. ‘In an adequate way’ means that the way people take charge of their own life should contribute to their integration and emancipation. etc. but as an individual person in a concrete social context. In a reciprocal.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. but to what degree they take charge of their life and how adequate they are in handling things. they may be expected (an obligation) to give consideration to the consequences of their actions for the actors with whom they are confronted. 2010 . the unemployed themselves may be held responsible for their participation and for the contribution they deliver to society. to the skills that someone has. the strengthening of local social networks. Valkenburg and Coenen 2000). but also emotional. TRANSFER 4/04 597 Downloaded from trs. Competence must not be restricted. possibilities and competences. He or she also wants to do this. So the question is not whether they do.). more specifically. ● skills (functional and social skills. To the primary aim of a reciprocal.

social background and (natural and professional) networks. supply-driven approach that currently dominates many existing policy practices. I will elaborate on this further in the next section. and to consider them effectively and emotionally. the most important steps have already been taken before the individuals for whom the policy is designed enter the picture. client-oriented approach. competence must be understood in terms of the discursive and practical knowledge people have about themselves and their social conditions. the problem has already been defined.sagepub. In this respect. as a precondition for that. context and competences of the unemployed person. It means that the professional ‘gives back’ the things he sees and hears from the unemployed person. as a basis for a trade union position on TRANSFER 4/04 598 Downloaded from trs.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. This does not mean that the professional takes these processes for granted. client-oriented approach breaks with the traditional. In most cases. for which instruments are developed. Realising the primary aim presupposes that the unemployed person must be enabled to take charge in the process of activation and that. in which the role of the objects of the policy with regard to the development. 2010 . Many of these practices are still characterised by a top-down approach. and his or her strength and competences. In terms of rights and responsibilities: it is the duty of the professional to set up the trajectory in line with the starting position. Usually. without this directly having consequences for their financial situation. This does not mean that the unemployed person has no obligations and responsibilities. including on the propositions made by the professional. the causes have been determined and the possible solutions have been described. this process takes into account the starting situation of the unemployed person. These aspects and their mutual interrelation are the resources that an individual can fall back on. as set out above. enactment and administration of the particular policy is very limited. in such a way that the unemployed person himself can do something with it in his own situation. His or her decisions must be of a substantial quality and imply more than just a formal ‘yes’. and which can be further developed. the process of his or her daily life. Only when this connection is established can the unemployed person be asked and expected to carry responsibility for the choices and decisions made. personal sphere and personality. Furthermore. A reciprocal.Ben Valkenburg ● ● ● learning styles: possibilities and ways of learning. this approach is based on a fundamental element: clients must have the fundamental right to make decisions. Only then are the individual clients whom the policy concerns involved in the process. The above approach implies that the basis for the interaction between unemployed and professional is the everyday life processes of the unemployed. He or she has to understand what the professional is doing and must agree with the steps which are taken. The unemployed person must be given the opportunity to think and reflect upon the upcoming decisions. In my view there are good arguments for taking the most important elements of a reciprocal.

Of course there are exceptions. ● they are entitled to take charge of their own lives as well as their own activation trajectory. who are open to correction. When the reciprocal.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma activation. client-oriented approach as set out above is summarised as an approach to activation. It is anything but hypothetical that the professional talks with an individual client in a situation where the objectives to be realised are fixed beforehand. but also to efficacy. Accommodating the requirements of the individual. the reciprocal. no real evidence can be found to support it. client-oriented approach offers a good basis for countering. combined (also in the Netherlands). client-oriented approach not only stands for a decent way of treating unemployed people. it turns out that as individuals they hardly conform to the general image propagated by current activation policies. When the image is individualised. it means the following: ● clients are entitled to active support. Such a more individual approach can. a trajectory has been determined. First of all. putting direction as much as possible in the hands of the unemployed person. etc. and means little in connection with their motivation. ● they have the duty to enter into a discussion on an activation trajectory. In so doing. In both cases. ● when. even when a holistic view of the individual client is acknowledged. the aim is to tailor activation trajectories as much as possible to the needs of individual clients. on practical grounds. When people are in fact approached in this way. however. where the professional has far greater power at his or her disposal TRANSFER 4/04 599 Downloaded from trs. and for formulating alternatives. A reciprocal. client-oriented approach as set out above can be equal or similar to more individualised approaches towards benefit claimants. they turn out to be important success factors for social policies. already in place in a number of European countries. be combined. they have a duty to live up to the agreement. Most unemployed people. and reciprocal adequacy are not just morally justifiable principles. ● they have the duty in that discussion and in their own trajectory to take into account the reciprocity between their own individual perspective and the social and societal perspective. there is individual case management. and in Denmark there are individual contracts. on the basis of the principle of reciprocal adequacy. with the top-down approach that is characteristic of dominant activation policies. But that is not true by definition. however. 2010 . it is important to stress that these arguments do not only refer to justice. it also stands for better results in the realisation of social policy objectives.sagepub. Certainly in Dutch practice. all sorts of ideological arguments underlying current activation policy. exclusively self-interested and unwilling citizens. These policies project an image of a category of calculating.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. In the United Kingdom. under the ‘New Deal’. whose so-called calculating behaviour primarily reflects the way they are usually approached by social policy. I would add that a reciprocal. and is in fact. a few remarks should be added. turn out to be ‘ordinary’ people trying to make the best of life. ● they are entitled to an accommodating approach to their personal daily lives. based on their personality and daily life. In order to avoid misunderstandings.

and that activation trajectories are developed on the basis of the principle of reciprocity. client-oriented approach. on the contrary. Secondly. top-down approach to activation. Paid work is supposed to offer people social contacts. the above formulation of rights and duties does not solve all possible problems of activation. then. unjustly so. The result will be a contract that is individual. in a number of European countries. are not regarded as forms of full social participation. holistic approach to their clients seriously. I will confine myself to a short summary of the main arguments. at voluntary work. The reassessment of rights and duties from a societal perspective As indicated at the beginning of this article. In this situation it is hardly realistic to expect the free operation of the economy TRANSFER 4/04 600 Downloaded from trs. however. Finally. opportunities for development. in my opinion. That takes me to the following section. It is also the royal road to other forms of social participation. The trade unions are apparently in agreement with this central meaning of paid work. and the objectives as defined from above which are translated into target scores (Darmon 2004: 394). The arguments in support of this central meaning of paid work are diverse. but as a possible step towards the final goal.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. preferably on the regular labour market. the EES equates social participation with paid work. All these forms of participation. structure and self-respect. at work in the local social economy and.sagepub. it has been dealt with elsewhere. for instance in Transfer (2001). is not just based on a holistic view of the unemployed person. in which an individual approach is combined with traditional activation policy. The ongoing deployment of new technology is leading to a situation of growing productivity. certainly in a situation of ageing populations. economic independence. The professionals involved in this situation are soon caught between taking the individual. All I am saying is that the above principles lead to better questions and problems than those raised by the dominant. with ever decreasing deployment of human labour. One of those questions is how to clarify the principle that the client has the duty to take account of the ‘social and societal perspective’. It is at least as important that management is as much as possible left in the hands of the unemployed person. you will not eat. Experience with British practice shows that such a situation. Activating employment strategies are also aimed at forms of subsidised work. we can refer to the work ethos that is deeply rooted in our society. The principles set out above lead to numerous new questions and problems. but has nothing whatsoever to do with reciprocity or management by the client. 2010 . is anything but theoretical. Raising labour participation is regarded as a condition for the financial basis of the welfare state. and where the client’s options are in fact limited to agreeing to any proposal made by the professional. paid work in the regular labour market. proclaiming that if you do not work.Ben Valkenburg than the client. This point does not need extensive discussion here. A reciprocal.

and in economic. as set out in the previous section. and foregrounding of. Nor can it be maintained that all forms of unpaid work do not. This discussion becomes more urgent as far as activation is concerned. independence and economic self-sufficiency. A broader definition of social participation will mean that individuals will be able to fulfil this right in various concrete ways. Full employment is an illusion in the short term. a position in which social participation can take various forms. economic growth as a basis for growing employment. a paid job does not always entail development. Unqualified striving for. This situation makes it of paramount importance that the trade unions should combine their position on activation.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. TRANSFER 4/04 601 Downloaded from trs. but on the insufficient efforts or cooperation of the unemployed in finding employment. with a position concerning social participation that does justice to reality. but also in the long term. and entails stronger dependence and enduring poverty as well as benefit dependency. ● contributes to the individual’s management of his or her own life. is increasingly creating life-threatening ecological risks. The minister of finances proposed that it should be made possible to require people on social benefits to do cleaning work in schools and other public areas. The only protests of any significance were made by the cleaning companies: they queried whether the minister knew that cleaning was professional work that could not be done by just anybody. Furthermore. At the risk of misusing the metaphor: in the current policy the availability of jobs is the carrot that legitimises the use of the stick. His proposals hardly raised an eyebrow. that of forced labour in compensation for benefits. In that situation it is legitimate that this entitlement entails the duty to: ● make individual choices in such a way that social participation will mean a contribution to society as a whole. Certainly in the lowest segment of the labour market. could hold a broomstick.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma to generate sufficient paid jobs for all people who are willing and able to work. it is hard to maintain that all paid work makes a meaningful contribution to society. That is to say. Not only do many benefit claimants get to feel the stick. so he argued. Everybody. at the level of the individual. And finally. whereas the carrot remains far beyond their reach. That such a changing climate in society is anything but theoretical. however. in paid or unpaid work. cultural and/or social participation. can be demonstrated by a recent Dutch example. there is every risk of a social climate in which the lack of paid work is not blamed on economic developments. as a compensation for such payments. If there is no real resistance to the legitimisation of this situation. There was hardly any protest against the principle involved in his proposals. ● can be realised by the individual concerned in a realistic way. The point of departure is that people are entitled to social participation which: ● accommodates the person and the daily life of the individual. other than in the present situation where it is restricted to paid work. 2010 . This has sweeping consequences. This in fact means that the stick is legitimised by an illusion.sagepub. a paid job more probably stands in the way of development.

multiform. or failing that. so as to allow us to treat adequately the majority who have other ideas. One may question whether we should even want to do so. not just individual ones. in which the debate on social policy is restricted to a debate about combating unemployment. must be allowed a categorical ‘no’ to certain forms of social participation. individualised society the problem cannot be solved in a general sense or on a general level. there is the desirability. last but not least. there will be far-reaching consequences. however. is a frightening prospect. In practice most people are in search of possibilities for doing something meaningful with their lives.sagepub. An adequate union position on activation presumes. When you cannot do what you should. it could lead to the development of arguments. condition of a meaningful contribution is that the individual concerned should also regard it as meaningful. that the debate is put on a broader footing. 2010 . There are ideological. the (by definition) undecided nature of this discourse implies that the citizen who is to be activated must. In short. arguments to assume that this point of view will put a bonus on laziness and anti-social individualism. this position does not solve all problems. For who is to determine what that means and what the consequences are? In a complex. though not always sufficient. in which the presumed image of a minority is a determining factor for the negative treatment of the majority. as indicated in the previous section. Secondly. that is. in the final instance. however. A minimum. so we should not give them that opportunity.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. and meaningful also implies social aspects. Current policy is based on this negative view of humanity: when people have the opportunity they prefer to do nothing. always have a deciding say. An important problem. and stipulates sanctions. First. but few empirical. unions are currently joining in the dominant political discourse. the creation of room for experimentation. ‘At best’. immediately be added that a number of European governments have in the meantime increasingly taken on this frightening form for many of their benefit claimants whose contribution is to be made in the form of paid work. the necessity. of course. This option is much to be preferred to the present one. of a social discourse. That might well lead to a situation where the will of the individual is the final word. In this case that means two things. A bonus on laziness for the (small) minority who in fact prefer to do nothing at all represents a small price to pay. there are few people who really fit this image. Such a discourse does not aim to arrive at clearly defined. to a better social climate than the present one in which this complicated discussion is circumvented by equating a meaningful contribution to society with paid work. At stake in activation is the realisation of social participation. on the question of meaningful contributions to society. in my opinion. To leave the answer to the question ‘what is a contribution to society’ entirely up to the individuals concerned is not an attractive option either. of course. on the contrary. In practice. generally valid criteria. It should. A citizen. based on a broad view of social participation. then do what you can. underlies the clause ‘make a contribution to society’. without far-reaching consequences for his financial situation. on the basis of a reciprocal approach (see the previous section) and with a position regarding TRANSFER 4/04 602 Downloaded from trs. the search for new perspectives and. Any government which determines on behalf of all of us what will and what will not be regarded as a contribution.Ben Valkenburg Here too.

Union membership by now only partly mirrors the groups targeted by the investment. in this respect. Organising union power. Organising union power It goes without saying that the influence of the unions on activation policy is not restricted to a theoretical position on activation. People who depend on social benefits. 2010 . Large groups of working people. who are highly relevant. That support is not self evident. It not only presumes an adequate vision of the issues. Support will have to be gained by engaging in a discussion with benefit claimants and working people. Breaking through this common point of view not only requires an explicit union position. ‘employment’ stands for ‘various ways of contributing to society’.sagepub. The point of departure is that the thinking of members (those in work and benefit claimants) and non-members (large groups of benefit claimants who do not benefit from employee insurance) is fed to a high degree by traditional ideas. The unions will have to back up their position with union power: without an adequate carrot. breaking through the equation of social participation with economic participation. and cannot be achieved by the simple publication of the views propagated. be an easy matter. In an adequate union point of view. the standpoint from which the unions approach them and the conditions they create to do so. client-oriented approach. entails major problems. That requires a substantial investment. They also belong to the group that is hardest to reach in a more general sense. the group most negatively affected by activation policy. Of course. Nor will breaking the link between labour participation and the economic viability of the welfare state. In the present situation ‘employment’ stands for ‘paid work’. but also an explicit and extensive discussion on the subject. This everyday view is reinforced by the political discourse in which this conception is used as an argument to discredit a reciprocal. we will not accept the stick. but also sufficient support for that vision. however. will not be simple. Even if the unions are prepared to make this investment. The traditional work ethos is deeply rooted.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. Among other things. are rarely found among union members. client-oriented approach is usually equated with an approach in which the will of the benefit claimant determines what takes place. Approaching these people TRANSFER 4/04 603 Downloaded from trs. that is. and ‘fitting’ stands for a ‘good match between the individual and his or her contribution to society’. the reduction of obligations to society to finding and accepting paid work. that also means the reformulation of the notion of ‘fitting employment’. reinforced by the dominant political discourse. Many of the benefit claimants that are organised have formerly had paid employment and are now covered by unemployment or disablement benefits. In everyday thinking a reciprocal. complicated problems will remain. are scarcely represented among union members. socially and politically speaking. Also.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma participation that allows for the possibility and desirability of other forms of work beside paid employment. much stressed in political discourse. the concept of ‘fitting’ has hardly any meaning. play an important role.

but it proved to be very effective. This is a worrying situation. of course. The right to strike was achieved after strikes had been held for many years in a situation where they were still prohibited. Regional union structures have been cut back over the years or are strongly focused on formal. That is not legal. There is. Dutch farmers have used their tractors to blockade important motorway junctions. a big gap between what they are saying and what is actually achieved on a practical level. at least not in the Netherlands. A realistic. This would not be just a ‘burden’. The comparison with strikes can also be made positively. close to the daily lives of benefit claimants. It also would mean that they should break new ground for discussions.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. 2010 . The positive effects of an alternative position The discussion above would imply considerable investment by the trade unions. They regard the trade union primarily as one of those institutions. Finally. In many cases these are people who keep their distance from social institutions. In other words: forceful forms of action by benefit claimants presume the willingness to break the law. and tend to regard all the rest as words that you can neither eat nor sell. however. Of course we should be careful to speak of ‘the people in the street’ who do not believe much of what the politicians say. It is not clear whether they themselves believe everything they say. the general feelings on activation and active employment strategies are mixed and double. however. these are people who do not feel they are in need of complicated discussions concerning a reciprocal. If trade unions seize their chance to deal with this situation in a realistic. In the past decades. internal union activities. creative discussion on activation might help to break through this dominant image. their daily lives are taken up by more urgent and more practical matters. In discussions. creative way. the effect might be a strengthening of their position and image. to factors concerning the target group itself. The question with regard to benefit claimants is. but do not see alternatives. they soon tend to foreground these practical matters. Employees can (and may) strike. Hundreds of benefit claimants. could do the same thing. There have been examples.Ben Valkenburg presumes localised union structures. ‘tools must be downed’.sagepub. however. albeit without tractors. That condition is not met. client-oriented approach and a broader definition of work. The problems are also connected. I think the everyday experience of people is that they see a lot of problems (among them unemployment). It might also have surprising positive effects. TRANSFER 4/04 604 Downloaded from trs. Over the past few decades they have failed to make an impression on politicians. In addition. in our experience. The current image is that they are old-fashioned and traditional. In my experience. see traditional solutions that prove to be inadequate time and again. Large demonstrations are currently regarded merely as a means of venting frustrations. Politicians are propagating clear visions and strong statements. Such action is certainly feasible. supported by the trade unions. Nevertheless. Benefit claimants lack such possibilities. on several occasions. In their experience. To make an impression. because they expect little from them. which tools. there is a question of what forms of action are feasible where benefit claimants are concerned.

Cambridge: Polity Press. Utrecht: Van Arkel. theorie en methodiek van een individuele. and E.) (2004). I.com by Nicolas Diana on September 13. and I. G.. B. 13-59. Tijdschrift voor Arbeid en Participatie. Serrano Pascual (ed. Serrano Pascual. (2001) The individualized society. 163-195. Esping-Andersen. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Serrano Pascual (ed.sagepub. Transfer. and I. Lind. M. Crespo. in A. Van Berkel.) (2004). Valkenburg. in A. Valkenburg. R. Coenen-Hanegraaf. in A. Darmon. A. Bristol: Policy Press. Van Berkel. Serrano Pascual (2004) ‘The EU’s concept of activation for young people: towards a new social contract?’. (2001) ‘The role of social and civil partnership networks in combating youth unemployment bridging the gap between the European and the local level’. 7 (1). Z. in A. Beck. R. 373-412. Utrecht: Van Arkel. in A. A. Transfer (2001) Special issue on ‘Inclusion through participation’. 612-630.Activation and trade unions: confronting the dilemma References Andre. Hornemann Moller (eds.) (2004) ‘The Danish experience of labour market policy and activation of the unemployed’. (2001) ‘The role of social and civil partnership in combating youth unemployment’. H. Coenen (2000) ‘Working poor in the Netherlands’. Serrano Pascual. M. E. Bauman. (2004) ‘Activation strategies or the labour market imperative’.) (2001) Enhancing youth employability through social and civil partnership.) (2001). 13-45. Serrano Pascual (ed. and M. Brussels: ETUI. Serrano Pascual (ed. Horneman-Moller (2002) Active social policies in the EU. M. Coenen (2000) Begeleid Werken. and H. A. 6 (4). J.. and A. U. No 2/3. Brussels: ETUI. Regini (2000) Why deregulate labour markets?. vraaggerichte benadering. Beck-Gernsheim (2002) Individualization. Serrano Pascual. (ed. 2010 . London: Sage.) (2004) Are activation policies converging in Europe?. (2000) ‘Activering in Nederland’. Ploeg and H. 21.) (2001). B. TRANSFER 4/04 605 Downloaded from trs. (ed.) (2004). Serrano Pascual (ed.