In this tiny, windswept village 60 miles east of Amsterdam, 530 men and women believe they work in the best of all factory worlds - and to the dismay of Dutch labor unions and businessmen, it is a highly profitable one.
Employees at the Breman B. V. plant here not only produce the firm's popular household equipment, they elect their bosses, share in profits and geniunely run one of Western Europe's most dazzling showcases of industrial democracy.
In the five years since Breman's worker-control plan came into existence, annual sales have jumped to 50 million guilders ($20 million) fron 15 million guilders ($6 million), the number of workers has tripled, and absenteeism now stands 8 per cent below the national average.
While impressed, labor leaders do not hide their chagrin. Breman's scheme was introduced by the owners, and goes far beyond the union-backed legislation for worker participation that the center-left government is trying to push through the Dutch parliament.
"They (the union leaders) think our workers have turned into greedy capitalists, and businessmen think we are in a more practical style," comments chief designer Pieter Van Olst. "We all too socialistic," says one of the company's three elected directors, Berend Eenkhoorn. "We argue that it is better to do it your own way, rather than have the government do it for you."
Eenkhoorn and his two colleagues serve as the firm's only executives and can be dismissed at any time by a two-thirds vote of all workers. They share key decision-making powers with a council of 15 workers chosen for three-year terms.
The most controversial feature of the Breman plan, however, involves its lucrative profit-sharing arrangements. One-third of all profits are handed directly to the workers, one-third ear-marked for taxes and factory upkeep, and one-third passed on to the company's sole shareholders, the Breman family. When losses occur, the profit-sharing scheme is discontinued until the firm returns to the black.
Leftist critics insist such a system merely spreads the capitalist ethic to the workers by dangling the lure of higher earnings before them. They claim that if generous profit-sharing measures were applied to other firms, jealousies could crack the fragile solidarity of the unions because many workers would be employed by chronic losers and thus not reap any rewards.
Conservative economists also oppose the extension of the Breman plan to other companies. They feel that fewer profits would be plowed back into investment, stunting economic growth in The Netherlands.
Berman employees seem to enjoy their maverick status and point out that they are far better off than if the union-sponsored plan were in effect at their plant.
"The union's ideas are unfair," asserts one plumber at the factory. "In their case, most of our share in the profits would go into a big fund, so we would never see the money. Here we can pocket the money right away, and that makes us work better." The plumber says that last year his cut from Breman's profits amounted to $1,200. He calculates that with the union profit-sharing format only $320 would have come his way.
Productivity has blossomed under the profit-sharing formula, but company directors claim a more conspicuous result has been the workers' willingness to suggest innovations that may enhance the quality of the firm's products. "The guys often come to me saying this or that thing can be made [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Apart from the sizeable bonus provided by the profit-sharing scheme, workers' salaries at Breman B. V. average 10 per cent more than those paid elsewhere. "They earn it because they contribute more here," adds Eenkhoorn.
A devout and active Calvinist, Breman professes that his religious convictions led him to put ideas about social reform and a more harmonious working community into practice.
The unique project was born when Raint Breman and his four brothers inherited the family concern and decided, as he says, that "those responsible for the Breman company's success should get the profits."
"My brothers and I received control of the firm just because our father had an accident, so we had a different view about business," admits Breman. "We were not technicians, and we felt that those who applied their talents to help the firm should get their proper share."
At first the workers hardly could believe the owners' proposition, but any skepticism quickly dissolved into elation when they soon were given $40,000 - the first portion of the year's profits - to divide among themselves.