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Article in ‘Tijdschrift voor Zeegeschiedenis’ by Joep Schenk

Joep Schenk recently published a new article in the Dutch journal ‘Tijdschrift voor Zeegeschiedenis‘ (Journal for Naval History), titled ‘War-time opportunities. Rhine sailors versus the Coal-trading union, 1914-1918’.

tijdschrift voor zeegeschiedenisAbstract: During the First World War the British economic blockade squeezed off transit via the Netherlands to Germany. Consequently, unemployed Rhine skippers flooded the Dutch inland shipping market and freight rates plummeted. With help from the national government skippers were enabled to constitute unions after the inland navigation crisis of 1917. These unions played a major role in improving the skippers’ market position towards big business. Historians understand the First World War, therefore, to have been a major turning point in the history of Dutch inland navigation. However, this article demonstrates that the First World War also gave rise to an enormous concentration in the business of coal shipping. New archival material shows that the main Dutch coal trading company, the Steenkolen-Handelsvereeniging, succeeded in buying up ships from distressed boatmen, and quickly acquired a Rhine fleet of monopolistic proportions. The concentration of coal shipping within the enterprise allowed the Handelsvereening, among other things, to take a hard line on the ‘terroristic’ Unions at the expense of individual skippers. War, especially in the case of the neutral Netherlands, can be considered a window of opportunity for (new) economic actors. Research in the archives of big business completes our picture of these opportunities in the case of inland navigation and provides us with a better indication of the exact distribution of power within this field after the war.


Joep Schenk, Kansen in oorlogstijd. Rijnschippers versus de Steenkolen-Handelsvereeniging, 1914-1918, pp. 32-52