Navigation: This page 'codetermination.html' ---> Ideas ---> Main Page. HELP. Contact.

Interview: Co-determination in the Enterprise


I found the notes I mentioned earlier. I don't think that they should be published out of context. D. already saw that co-determination and co-ownership ought to go hand in hand. But he still did not see how it ought to be organized. I am sure that in his articles written for anti revolutionary political science he brought all this further. I had that translated some twenty years ago, but it still rests in the bowels of the D. Center. You generation will have its hands full to get it all in print!

Have fun with it.


April 18, 1999

See also the interview with Herman Dooyeweerd on the nature of the Corporation.

(The contents of this page may be seen as an example of a tier-3 proposal, in which we see how Dooyeweerd applied his thinking to a specific issue in a specific cultural context. It may be modified, and in the related interview we find critical comments by Albert Gedraitis.)

The Interview

Notes for a speech given by Dr. Herman Dooyeweerd for the Netherlands Christian Labor Association in 1929, translated by M. Verbrugge from the hand written notes found in the archive. There is no official transcript of the speech available.

"The problem of co-determination in its specific form has only recently become prominent, especially since the first world war. Throughout Europe grandiose experiments have been initiated, e.g. in Soviet Russia. But the proposal has also entered our country. What position must we as Christians choose?

In the labor movement tragic tensions have arisen and co-determination has been suggested as a cure, with its increasing awareness of considerations about responsibility, and solidarity. We have to understand this sentiment. But this does not relieve us of the duty to test every newly advocated means of cure against our principles. Social solidarity or considerations of utility will not suffice here. The basis of co-determination is related to the spirit of the modern times.

Viewed from a principled point of view there is no basis for separating radical from tentative proposals. We must state the matter clearly, by pursuing every one of them to its ultimate conclusions. Co-determination is either acceptable or to be resolutely rejected.

If, from a cautious standpoint, labor is to co-determine with management all matters directly concerning labor conditions, then, it is said, reviewing of the financial statements must not only block decisions in a negative fashion, but also positively support new measures which serve the interest of the firm. This is far from plausible.

However, in this case nothing stands in the way of  co-determination in matters such as: setting of prices, stopping all operations etc. That means complete parity. What must be our position here?

This problem is difficult and complex. It seems that with co-determination, labor conditions and management merge here, and this has seduced many, even in our circles, to accept complete parity of management and labor. But the question of a criterion only arises when we give a principled account of our own task and position. We may not avoid this question of criterion, but this can only be done after we establish what is the relationship between labor and capital. And that leads directly to how we view life and our world.

We may not allow this correlation to be denied. Our opponents, those adhering socialism, socialization and modern democracy, also correlate these. We cannot fight against this revolutionary current with a politics of utility. This is a struggle of the spirits. And we must reply with a firm: No, we cannot.

We adhere to our law-idea and sphere sovereignty, which both humanists and revolutionaries reject. They talk about continuity and erase all boundaries. Marxists proclaim this continuity, which leads to economic fatalism. The merciless flood of economic fatalism that knows no boundaries creates desolate uniformity, in which personal life withers and pines away. On the other hand Calvinism offers sphere sovereignty: justice, ethics and economy: a three-some  of vital areas, each with its own sovereign laws. In these no man is sovereign: not an employer, not government, not church leader, but the Lord God.

Once you have this confessed in your innermost being, you will accept that the area of justice constitutes a sovereign law sphere. This is the bastion of our political freedoms. Alternately, in the unity of law sphere the law idea must connect up with the structure of the economy. This is our principle. But how to apply it in practice?

Life is a unity and economic and commercial development do not stop. New forms of organizations, trusts, cartels, collective labor contracts, trade organizations, raise new legal questions. But they remain legal questions.

The current legal question is raised by the economic situation of today. Here we distinguish:

1) private exploitation of the means of production.

2) independent position of the entrepreneur.

3) workers without a share in working capital and risk in the enterprise.

In itself none of these three factors can be called unjust. It has developed under the Lord's guidance and resorts under the economic law sphere.

This is joined by the structure of the law:

1) private ownership of the means of production.

2) management joined with the position of the entrepreneur.

3) authority relation between entrepreneur and employees.

This is not founded in human arbitrariness but in divine ordinances.

Now what happens under co-determination in management?

The economic position of the employee does not change. He does not carry the risk of the firm. Nor does he contribute working capital.

But, entirely outside of his economic position he gains:

1) a share in the management of the firm

2) a share in authority.

In this capacity he is to share in decisions regarding

1) property which  is not his own.

2) risk which he does not carry.

3) authority which is not his.

This tears the bond between economic and juridical structure. It ruptures the organic unity between sovereign law spheres and attacks our principles. When authority is detached from economic position, from corporate management and from economic risk, human insight and legislation replaces the connections ordained by God. In this manner the economic, juridical and ethical ordinances are violated.

What arguments are brought forward against all this?

1) "Labor and capital together form the enterprise." This is a natural unity. Hence there also must be joint authority and management. This is impossible. The same would apply to family, school and church.

2) "Labor also carries risk." But that does not only apply to labor. Other groups, outside of the firm, also carry serious risks. When liquidated, employees, creditors and third parties equally suffer. Who is liable for business losses? If employees share in  business decisions, they must also share in business losses. But this they cannot do. This argument of risk zeroes in on liquidation of the firm. Such co-determination makes the entrepreneur the slave of labor.

3) Argument of authority. The corporate leadership has no authority over laborers (as individuals) but manages according to its contract with labor. It is said that if one does not acknowledge the authority of the employer, one is left with the revolutionary situation of the Bolsheviks. This fault hails from one's view of the labor contract.

4) Argument of ownership. It is said that property is not touched. But that is not the issue. There must be a legal basis. "Provided it is based on the law, the most far reaching expropriation does not violate the divine institution of ownership."  Yet, a boy who takes a quarter from his mother's purse is called a thief!

5) Freedom of contract. This is supposed to violate our principles. This is inconsistent thinking: When an employer appeals to this principle everyone cries: "foul." But the truth is that freedom of contract cannot tell us anything about our principles. The adherents of Manchester appeal to this. Let us not use this argument again now that the shoe is on the other foot!

6) Development of commerce. I recognize this, provided that, to the extent it applies to the area of justice, it occurs in a lawful fashion. We may think along the lines of obtaining shares, of cooperation. When employees obtain the position of entrepreneur, it is a matter of justice that they also have co-determination in management. One must not use the counter argument that this is impossible without violating the law-sphere! It is done by trade organizations in Belgium (Liege, Brussels, Charleroi), America, France (Cooperatives of bank employees in Paris, the Christian railway employees organization), Germany (a fairly large share in enterprises in the North), in Spain a fund is started for laborers in the tobacco firms in Madrid), England, etc. The French law of 1917. The report committee of the Netherlands’ Trade Union concerned with starting a cooperative textile factory.

There is nothing wrong with all this, provided one takes the level of development of the employees into account. 

7) The difficulty: the criterion of labor and management turns against whoever introduces it. Either complete parity, or a limit to competence. But in the latter case the question of the criterion returns in an insoluble form. W. van den Bergh admits that separation of management and labor conditions is theoretically correct!


Our standpoint concerning co-determination is as follows:

Brothers and sister, how should you yourselves decide on your position? As far as I am concerned, in the forum of our principles let the word of God be the judge between myself and my confession. You cannot withdraw from this.

The action of the Christian trade movement contra my opinion rests for 95% on misunderstanding.

I have attacked neither Patrimonium, nor C.N.V. (the Christian National Trade Union). I bear a great affection towards the leadership of our Christian labor movement. I remember them in my prayers. Unbridgeable chasms of misunderstanding exist in spiritual climate and scope. There is confusion in trade organization on the matter of co-determination in private enterprises. This debate is open to a real danger on the question of authority and freedom of contract. On these points there ought not to be any conflict of opinion.

Let us not believe that we can differ on a few points, but for the rest form a common front against the spirit of our modern times. Every deviation carries its consequences. Relativism and utilitarianism are the greatest enemies of our anti-revolutionary principles, and whoever attempts to play practice against principle, knows neither practice nor principle.

Our principles are not abstract theories. They are our muscle, our nerves and blood. They draw their nourishing juices from actual practice and  stand squarely in the center of our lives. They are our strength and our calling. Surrounded by the roaring surf of life, we stand on the rock of the ordinances of the Lord our God, and faithfully believe we can face all the assaults by the columns of the revolution. For our commander is our Lord who said:

"I am the alpha and the Omega. And I have conquered the world!"

Interview transcript is Copyright (c) The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, 1999.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: Last updated: 10 June 2002 more Intro, and link to other interview. 7 January 2013 .nav, rid unet, better formatting.