This study analyses the development of the founding, growth and downfall of the Nationaal Arbeids-Secretariaat (NAS), the National Labour Secretariat, the first national confederation of trade union federations in the Netherlands, between 1893 and 1940. The study focuses on the development of the organization, collective action and the ideas and influence of individuals. Furthermore, this study focuses on the interaction between the NAS and foreign trade unions and political movements. This interaction allowed the transnational conveyance of organisation principles, ideological standpoints and the execution of collective action tactics.
The NAS was a heterogeneous organization with a double identity. It was an instrumental organization which represented the immediate interests of the workers. At the same time it was part of an expressive orientated protest movement. The internal dynamic derived from this double identity caused tension, because the representation of interests required different demands from the NAS, than protesting against social inequality. In syndicalism, direct action for material improvement was considered as practice for the General Strike, which was to overthrow capitalism. Through protests and strikes workers schooled themselves in their future role when unions, as associations, were to take on a regulating task in the production and distribution.
The NAS struggled with the interference of various socialist and anarchist movements. The extensive autonomy of the federations thwarted a unisonous strategy. Internal discussions concerned strategy, organizational culture, support during strikes, and cooperation with political parties and international positioning did not cease. As a result the NAS experienced multiple changes, which manifested itself in different phases.
In 1940 the Nazi's liquidated the NAS. After the Second World War NAS's intellectual legacy left its marks within the Unity Trade Union (Eenheidsvakcentrale, EVC) and the Independent Federation of Industrial Unions (Onafhankelijk Verbond van Bedrijfsorganisaties, OVB).