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Making a Rural Movement: The Farmers’ Union's Answer to a Changing Rural World in Flanders, from the 1960s to the 1970s

  • CHANTAL BISSCHOP (a1)

Abstract

Recently, there has been growing interest in the emergence of rural movements in response to rapid changes in the post war countryside. However, little attention has been paid to the reaction of the old social movements to this transformation in rural society. In this paper, I concentrate on the reaction of the Boerenbond (Farmers’ Union) to the altering Flemish countryside in the 1960s and 1970s. The transformation of the Boerenbond in 1971 into a specialised agricultural organisation and a broader rural movement countered the rapid shrinking of the farm population and the strong specialising of modern farmers. Furthermore, by attracting non-farmers, the Boerenbond maintained its support in the countryside. A farmers’ union opening up to non-farming members in a society with emerging new social movements seems progressive at first glance. But the overall prevalence of agriculture in all stages of discussions and implementation is striking. Nevertheless, the emergence of a rural movement with new socio-cultural goals within an old, corporatist and Catholic farmers’ union suggests that this is a unique case in north-western Europe.

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2. Woods, M., ‘Deconstructing Rural Protest: The Emergence of a New Social Movement’, Journal of Rural Studies, 19 (2003), 311–12.

3. Burchardt, J., ‘Agricultural History, Rural History, or Countryside History?Historical Journal, 50 (2007), 466.

4. Bruckmüller, Ernst, Langthaler, Ernst and Redl, Josef, Agrargeschichte schreiben: Traditionen und Innovationen im internationalen Vergleich (Innsbruck, 2004), pp. 78; Thoen, Erik and Van Molle, Leen, Rural History in the North Sea Area: An Overview of Recent Research, Middle Ages – Twentieth Century (Turnhout, 2006), pp. 2027; Troßbach, Werner and Zimmermann, Clemens, Agrargeschichte: Positionen und Perspektiven (Stuttgart, 1998), p. 2.

5. Mai, ‘Die Agrarische Transition’, 471, 508–11.

6. Hooghe, M. and Billiet, J., ‘Historische en sociologische benaderingen van nieuwe sociale bewegingen’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 34 (2004), 319–29.

7. Crossley, Nick, Making Sense of Social Movements (Buckingham, 2002); Davis, Gerald, McAdam, Doug, Scott, Richard, Zald, Mayer, Social Movements and Organization Theory (Cambridge, 2005); Edelman, M., ‘Social Movements: Changing Paradigms and Forms of Politics’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30 (2001), 285317; Klandermans, Bert and Staggenborg, Suzanne, Methods of Social Movement Research (Minneapolis, 2002); McAdam, Doug, McCarthy, John and Zald, Mayer, Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements. Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings (Cambridge, 1999).

8. Halhead, V., ‘Rural Movements in Europe: Scandinavia and the Accession States’, Social Policy and Administration, 40 (2006), 596611; Mormont, M., ‘The Emergence of Rural Struggles and their Ideological Effects’, International Journal of Regional and Urban Research, 7 (1983), 559–75.

9. Woods, ‘Deconstructing Rural Protest’, 309–25; Woods, M., ‘Social Movements and Rural Politics’, Journal of Rural Studies, 24 (2008), 129–37.

10. Heinze, R. G. and Voelzkow, H., ‘Organizational problems for the German Farmers’ Association and Alternative Policy Options’, Sociologia Ruralis, 33 (1993), 2541.

11. Gundelach, P., ‘Visions in Agriculture’, Sociologia Ruralis, 45 (2005), 245.

12. CEVIPOF, Les Organisations Syndicales et Professionnelles Agricoles en Europe (Paris, 1989); Hervieu, Bertrand and Lagrave, Rose-Marie, Les Syndicats Agricoles en Europe (Paris, 1992); Just, Flemming and Gueslin, André, Co-operatives and Farmers’ Unions in Western Europe: Collaboration and Tensions (Esbjerg, 1990).

13. Mormont, M., ‘Belgique. A la recherche des spécificités rurales’, in Jollivet, Marcel, ed, Vers un Rural Postindustriel. Rural et Environnement dans Huit Pays Européens (Paris, 1997), pp. 1944.

14. Hooghe, M., ‘Een bewegend doelwit. De sociologische en historische studie van (nieuwe) sociale bewegingen in Vlaanderen’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 34 (2004), 331–57. However, there is some discussion concerning the label of ‘new social movements’ for these phenomena on which I will not expand here. See, for example, Van Molle, L., ‘De nieuwe vrouwenbeweging in Vlaanderen, een andere lezing’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 34 (2004), 359–97; Vets, K. and Vanderputten, D., ‘De Bond Beter Leefmilieu als nieuwe sociale beweging’, Brood en Rozen, 3 (2009), 3953.

15. Following Michael Woods, I consider the Boerenbond here as a possible example of an old social movement, mainly in contrast to emerging new social or rural movements generally defined as new grassroots organisations with a loose organisational structure. Nevertheless, this leaves scope for discussion as, for example, Mormont and Van Doninck explicitly defined the origin of the Boerenbond as being not comparable to a social movement. Mormont, M. and Van Doninck, B., ‘Belgique. L'hégémonie du Boerenbond’, in Hervieu, and Lagrave, , eds, Les Syndicats Agricoles en Europe, pp. 2732; Woods, ‘Deconstructing Rural Protest’, 310–11.

16. Gueslin, A. and Hervieu, B., ‘Un syndicalisme agricole européen est-il possible?’, in Hervieu, and Lagrave, , eds, Les Syndicats Agricoles en Europe, pp. 303–15.

17. Van Molle, Leen, Chacun pour Tous. Le Boerenbond belge (Leuven, 1990), pp. 34–7.

18. Just and Gueslin, Co-operatives and Farmers’ Unions, pp. 16–23.

19. Boerenbond Charter 1890.

20. Bisschop, C. and Van Molle, L., ‘De landbouwersorganisaties’, in Van den Eeckhout, Patricia and Vanthemsche, Guy, eds, Bronnen voor de Studie van het Hedendaagse België, 19e-21e eeuw (Brussel, 2009), pp. 907–8.

21. Just and Gueslin, Co-operatives and Farmers’ Unions.

22. Cleary, M., ‘Royaume-Uni: Sous la houlette de la N.F.U.’, in CEVIPOF, ed., Les organisations syndicales et professionnelles agricoles en Europe (Paris, 1989), pp. 113–21; Cleary, M., Flynn, A., Lowe, P., ‘Royaume-Uni. Les fragilités d'un monopole en Angleterre et au Pays de Galles’, in Hervieu, and Lagrave, , eds, Les Syndicats Agricoles en Europe, pp. 231264; Neal, S. and Walters, S., ‘Strangers Asking Strange Questions? A Methodological Narrative of Researching Belonging and Identity in English Rural Communities’, Journal of Rural Studies, 22 (2006), 179–80.

23. Duffhues, T., ‘Profijt en vertrouwen. Landbouworganisaties en hun functies voor boeren en tuinders, 1900–2002’, Tijdschrift voor Sociaal Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek van de Landbouw, 16 (2001), 211.

24. Bisschop and Van Molle, ‘De landbouwersorganisaties’, 907–8; Mormont and Van Doninck, ‘Belgique’, 32–6.

25. In 1975 the ‘for’ Rural women in the acronym KVLV changed its meaning into ‘of’ Rural Women. KADOC, Boerenbond [hereinafter BB], Centrale Bestuurs- en Adviesorganen [hereinafter CAB], 6.3.4, ‘Dagelijks Bestuur’, 21st April 1969; 2.3.3, notes and reports on phase C, April 1967–November 1967.

26. KADOC, BB, Kultuurdienst (hereinafter KD) 1, note Nackaerts, 24th September 1964.

27. Van der Burg, M., ‘Consolidatie en verbreding bij landbouworganisaties voor de Tweede Wereldoorlog: een historische taakverdeling naar gender en generatie’, Tijdschrift voor Sociaal Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek van de Landbouw 16 (2001), 224–6.

28. Annual Reports Boerenbond, 1960–1965; Interviews with Maurice Beddegenoots, Sociologist in the Boerenbond (1961–1964); Director of Organizational Services (1964–1984); Adjunct and First Secretary of the Boerenbond, (1984–1993), 16th June 2008 and 12th March 2010; Interview with Robert Eeckloo, First Secretary (1977–1984) and Chairman of the Boerenbond (1992–1995), 21st December 2007; Interview with Jan Hinnekens, First Secretary (1960–1977) and Chairman of the Boerenbond (1981–1992), 11th December 2008.

29. Even today several interviewed former Boerenbond staff remember Nackaerts as the one and only man of culture in the Boerenbond of those days. Interview Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010; Interview with Cyriel Van Mellaert, ‘Inspector’ of the Boerenbond (1947–1977), 14th December 2010. KADOC, BB, KD 19, notes on the activity of the Cultural Department, 1957; Interview with Hein Nackaerts, ‘Inspector’ of the Boerenbond (1945–1957) and Head of the Culture Department (1957–1984), 21st December 2010.

30. Schokkaert, L., ‘De sociaalculturele organisaties’, in Van den Eeckhout, and Vanthemsche, , eds, Bronnen voor de Studie van het Hedendaagse België, 1041.

31. KADOC, BB, CAB, 7.2.2.6, mailings and notes of the Culture Department, 1957–66; 7.2.2.7, Statutes of the Kultuurdienst, 1957–68; KD, 19, notes on the activity of the Culture Department, 1957–1966; 1, notes on the cultural activity of the farmers’ guilds, 1957–1966; Godsdienstige en Culturele Staf, 1964–6.

32. ‘Boer en cultuur’, Ons Platteland. Orgaan van de Nederlandse Christelijke Boeren- en Tuindersbond, 12th July 1957; KADOC, BB, KD, 1, note De Smet (socio-economic department) on socio-cultural education in agriculture, 3rd May 1965.

33. KADOC, BB, KD, 1, note Nackaerts on the cultural activity in the Boerenbond, 24th September 1964; note Nackaerts on ‘Objective: The Human Being’, 12th March 1965; note De Smet on socio-cultural education in agriculture, 3rd May 1965.

34. KADOC, BB, KD, 1, note Nackaerts, 12th March 1965.

35. KADOC, BB, KD, 19, correspondence between Nackaerts and Boon, April 1966; CAB, 7.2.2.4, organisation of the staff of the Rural Movement, mailings from Nackaerts, 1968–72. Interview with Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010.

36. These numbers represent male farmers and farm workers in the Boerenbond's entire sphere of action, meaning Flanders, Brussels and the province of Walloon Brabant. BB INFODOC, Annual Belgian Agricultural Counts, 1950–1990.

37. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, note Eggers with handwritten excerpts by Tijskens and De Bisschop, 20th February 1967; note De Bisschop, 20th February 1967; note Tijskens, 21st February 1967; Interview with Van Mellaert.

38. Concerning the membership figures of ABS, there is a lot of uncertainty. Only for the years 1968–9 can the number of 10,000 members be assumed to be correct. B. Coppein, ‘De hand aan de ploeg. Vlaamse landbouwersorganisaties en Vlaams-nationalistische partijen in de twintigste eeuw. Deel I en II’, Wetenschappelijke Tijdingen (2005), 67–87, 131–48; Coppein, B., ‘Boeren op straat! De doorbraak van direct syndicale acties bij Vlaamse landbouwers in de jaren zestig (1962–1974)’, Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 35 (2005), 305–64.

39. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, Boon to Hinnekens, 26th September 1966; note Hinnekens, 21st November 1966, 6.3.4, ‘dagelijks bestuur’, 7th November 1966, 21st November 1966, 19th December 1966.

40. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, notes and reports on consultation phases, January 1966-April 1967; note Hinnekens, 21st November 1966; Interview with Van Mellaert.

41. Sectoralisation and possible conflicts between different agricultural specialisations and product sectors were seen as one of the main problems of agrarian interest articulation by rural sociologists in the early 1990s. J. Frouws and M. Ettema, ‘Specialised Farmers’ Associations in the Netherlands. Recent Developments and Perspectives’, in Symes, David and Jansen, Anton, eds, Agricultural Restructuring and Rrural Change in Europe (Wageningen, 1994), pp. 102110; Hervieu, ‘Ruptures identitaires’, p. 146.

42. KADOC, BB CAB, 2.3.3, notes and reports on consultation phases, January 1966-April 1967; note Hinnekens, 7th August 1969; 6.3.4, Dagelijks Bestuur, 3rd April 1964; 1965 and 21st April 1969.

43. The Organisational Services (Organisatiediensten), were the head of all consultants and travelling staff, thus forming a bridge between the local field and the central organisation in Leuven. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, note Beddegenoots, 10th June 1969.

44. KADOC, BB CAB, 2.3.3, note Hinnekens, 7th August 1969; 6.3.4, discussion on an article in the ‘Boerderij Journaal’, 20th April 1970; note of Leunis to Hinnekens with information from Murry and Hawkins (Canadian agricultural economists) on the evolution of farmers’ organisations, 3rd December 1970.

45. KADOC, BB, KD, 1, note Nackaerts on the culture activity in the Boerenbond, 24th September 1964; note Nackaerts on ‘Objective: The Human Being’, 12th March 1965; note De Smet on socio-cultural education in agriculture, 3rd May 1965; CAB, 2.3.3, note Hinnekens, 7th August 1969.

46. KADOC, BB, CAB 2.3.3, Bondsraad, 1st June 1970, Work group on specialisation structure, 18th June 1970, Hoofdbestuur, 8th June 1970.

47. Official announcement of the reorganisation, General Assembly 23rd June 1970; Approval of the renewed Charter by the Bondsraad on 25th October and 22nd November 1970; Approval of the derivative Charters on 31st January 1971.

48. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, note De Bisschop, 20th February 1967; note Tijskens, 21st February 1967; 6.3.4, Dagelijks Bestuur, 21st November 1966.

49. Only in 1990, after a new reorganisation, did the Rural Movement receive equal democratic rights. Annual Reports of the Boerenbond, 1972–1990. KADOC, BB CAB, 2.3.3, note Hinnekens, March 1970 and Charter of the Boerenbond 1971.

50. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, note Nackaerts, 14th May 1970.

51. Dekeyser, L., De Landelijke Gilden van de Belgische Boerenbond: historische analyse en sociaal-culturele werking. Onderzoeksrapport (Leuven, 1990), p. 49.

52. Inleiding tot studieweek van de Organisatiediensten (24th – 27th May 1971) cited by Dekeyser, De landelijke Gilden, p. 50. See also, interview with Beddegenoots, 10th March 2010.

53. Snaet, Algemeen verslag van het studieweekend, 1971, p. 54.

54. KADOC, BB, CAB, 2.3.3, Proposal for the reorganisation by the Hoofdbestuur, March 1970.

55. KADOC, BB, OD, 192, note Beddegenoots, July 1973; 95–128, Meeting of the Provincial Representatives of the Rural Movement, 5th December 1973.

56. Interview with Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010. Likewise, an inspector of that time, Cyriel Van Mellaert, remembered the distance between the ‘business-directed Boerenbond staff’ and the ‘more rural and culturally-minded staff’. Interview with Van Mellaert, 14th December 2010.

57. KADOC, BB, KD, 3, note Beddegenoots, 8th September 1972.

58. KADOC, BB, OD, 95–128, Meeting of the Provincial Representatives of the Rural Movement, 5th November 1975; Interview with Edgard Debergh (General Chaplain of the Boerenbond, 1980–1992) and Julia Baert (Chairwoman of KVLV, 1980–1990), 30th June 2008; Interview with Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010.

59. Belgisch Staatsblad, 24th January 1974, No. 639, p. 334; Interview with Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010.

60. KADOC, BB, OD, 95–128, Meeting of the Provincial Representatives of the Rural Movement, 4th January 1974; Official approval on the National Advisory Board of the Rural Movement, 9th February 1974; Boerenjeugdbond/Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd, 4.7.2.13, 23rd March 1979; 4.7.2.8, January 1976.

61. The Boerenbond lobbied intensively for the passing of this decree. Annual Report of the Rural Guilds, 1977–8; KADOC, BB, OD, 95–128, Meeting of the Provincial Representatives of the Rural Movement, 4th December 1974; KD, 19, discussions of the outcomes of the Decree, 29th November 1976.

62. KADOC, BB OD, D19–1I, note Snaet, 3rd May 1974; 95–128, Meeting of the Provincial Representatives of the Rural Movement, 14th May 1974; Boerenjeugdbond/Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd, 4.7.2.13, 14th April 1975 and Annual Report of the Rural Guilds, 1975–6.

63. Cloke, P., ‘Conceptualizing Rurality’ in Cloke, Paul, ed., Handbook of Rural Studies (London, 2006), p. 20.

64. KADOC, Boerenjeugdbond/Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd, 4.7.2.13, Grondvisie, 14th April, 1975, pp. 3–10.

65. C. Bisschop and R. Emmery, ‘Farming and Folkore in the Contested Countryside: The ‘Year of the Village’ (1978) and the Transformation of the Farmers’ Union in Flanders’, Agricultural History Review (forthcoming); Interview with Beddegenoots, 12th March 2010; Interview with Dries Delrue, ‘Inspector’ (1969–1983), 8th March 2011.

66. KADOC, BB, KD, 1, note De Clerck on the socio-cultural education of the Rural Movement, 25th June 1979; B, Raskin, ‘probleemgevoeligheden van dit ogenblik’, Balans van mei 68, themanummer van Kultuurleven, mei 1978, pp. 435–43; Luk Holvoet, ‘de filosofie van de actiegroepen’, Balans van mei 68, themanummer van Kultuurleven, mei 1978, pp. 444–53.

67. KADOC, Boerenjeugdbond/Katholieke Landelijke Jeugd, 4.7.2.13, Grondvisie, 14th April, 1975, pp. 4, 14.

68. Halhead, ‘Rural Movements in Europe’, 596–611.

69. Flemming, J., ‘Danemark. La gestion d'une agriculture intensive’, in Hervieu, and Lagrave, , eds, Les Syndicats Agricoles en Europe, p. 66.

70. Van der Woude, Rolf, Op Goede Gronden: Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Christelijke Boeren- en Tuindersbond (1918–1995) (Hilversum, 2001), p. 510; Smits, Marinus, Boeren met Beleid: Honderd jaar Katholieke Nederlandse Boeren- en Tuindersbond 1896–1996 (Nijmegen, 1996), pp. 310–12.

71. Cleary et al., ‘Royaume-Uni.’, 234–5; Cleary, ‘Royaume-Uni’, 115; Heinze and Voelzkow, ‘Organizational Problems’, 26–7.

72. Nevertheless, in 2011 the Boerenbond has lost much of this unity. In 1998, the bank and insurance departments were formally separated from the agricultural organisation, but there are still some strong personal and structural links between the newly founded KBC and the Boerenbond. Likewise, the strong relationship between the male Rural Guilds and the female KVLV has lost much of its oneness or solidarity. Despite the residual financial and structural links, the mental bonds are much looser nowadays, which is strengthened by the new non-Leuven based location of the KVLV head office.

73. Van der Burg, ‘Consolidatie en verbreding bij landbouworganisaties’, 226–228.

74. Ahrne, Göran, Social Organizations. Interaction inside, outside and between Organizations (Londen, 1994), pp. 83, 104.

75. Halhead, ‘Rural Movements in Europe’, pp. 596–611.

76. All organisational charts are designed by the author. The sources for all the membership figures and analyses in this paper are: Annual reports Boerenbond, 1945–1990; Annual Reports Rural Guilds, 1972–1990; KADOC, BB, CAB, 9.2.5, membership recruitment; OD, 192, note Snaet on an overview of the membership figures, 12th January 1970; 171–4, notes on membership recruitment and figures, 1950–88; note Beddegenoots, July 1973; CAB, 9.2.5, notes on membership recruitment, 1970–88; BB INFODOC, Annual Belgian Agricultural Counts, 1950–90. These figures represent Flanders plus Brussels and the province of Walloon Brabant, i.e. the work area of the Boerenbond.

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