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Military government weekly information bulletin
Number 97 (June 1947)

Lapp, Theodore
Reopening labor courts,   pp. 7-8 PDF (1.3 MB)

Page 7

Free and independent labor courts,
competent to hear and try employ-
ment disputes, are again in operation
in the US Zone of Germany. Born
under the Weimar Republic, emas-
culated and rendered impotent under
Nazi domination, these courts re-
ceived a new birth of freedom under
Control Council Law No. 21, "Ger-
man Labor Courts," approved by the
Control Council on 30 March 1946.
Labor courts, even though retained
beyond Weimar days, became quite
superfluous after the smashing of
trade unionism in May 1933 and the
abolition of the Works Councils Law
by the Nazis. During the Weimar
Republic labor relations were based
upon collaboration between capital
and labor, with a considerable degree
of state intervention. An agreement
reached between various important
employer  associations  and  trade
unions on 15 November 1918 deter-
mined to a considerable extent the
course of labor legislation until 1931.
By this agreement, employers re-
cognized trade unions, restrictions
upon the Tight to organize were de-
clared illegal, company unions were
outlawed, wages and labor condi-
tions were to be regulated by collec-
tive  bargaining  agreements,  and
works councils elected by the work-
ers were to supervise the execution
of these collective agreements. Sub-
sequent labor legislation was but an
attempt to implement the principles
formulated in the 1918 agreement.
These principles were also em-
bodied in the Weimar Constitution of
11 August 1919 (Articles 157-165).
The numerous labor laws and regu-
lations issued during this period re-
quired a vast amount of interpretation
in -terms of specific social and eco-
nomic situations. The answer to this
need was found in the creation of a
separate labor judiciary by the Ger-
man Labor Courts Act of December
1926. The removal of the whole body
of labor law from the competence of
the ordinary courts, and the vesting
of exclusive jurisdiction in a separate
system of courts constituted a re-
By Theodore Lapp
markable experiment in judical evo-
There is no American counterpart.
In the United States decisions of the
National Labor Relations Board, a
quasi-judicial agency administering a
law which is in many respects si-
milar to the aforementioned Novem-
ber agreement of 1918, are subject to
review by courts within the regular
federal judiciary system.
Control Council Law No. 21, with
a few important exceptions, reenacts
the German Labor Courts Act of 1926.
The law established, under the Min-
istry of Justice, a system of local
and regional (appellate) labor courts.
The local courts (Arbeitsgerichte)
were courts of the first instance, the
jurisdictional area of which usually
coincided with that of the ordinary
local  courts  (Amtsgerichte).  In
districts where certain industries pre-
dominated and the volume of disputes
warranted, special vocational cham-
bers were set up with exclusive juris-
diction over litigation within parti-
cular industries. The bench was com-
posed of one regular member of the
judiciary as chairman, and two lay
assessors representing employers and
employees respectively.
The Regional Labor Courts (Landes-
arbeitsgerichte) were courts of second
instance and were attached to ordi-
nary regional courts (Landesgerichte).
Appeals could be brought to the Re-
gional Labor Court from the Local
Labor Court in cases where the ob-
ject of litigation. exceeded RM 300,
and in cases involving disputes of a
fundamental legal nature.
The Labor Courts were competent
to hear and try disputes between
parties to wage contracts; disputes
between employers and employees
arising out of their common work;
and disputes between employers and
employees arising out of the applica-
tion of the Works Council Law.
Jurisdiction could be totally ex-
cluded by insertion in collective
agreements of a clause referring all
disputes to a conciliation committee
whose composition was specified in
the Labor Court Act itself. Jurisdic-
tion could be partially excluded by
voluntary conciliation or by an agree-
ment to submit all points of fact in-
volved to extra-judicial arbitration,
leaving only decisions on points of
law to the labor court. No profession-
al attorneys were permitted to plead
before courts of the first instance.
During the Nazi regime these tri-
bunals had been gradually deprived
of much of their jurisdiction and of
their democratic composition. With
the suppression of trade unions and
genuine works councils, court juris-
diction was restricted to individual
disputes. The panels of court mem-
bers previously nominated by trade
unions, were designated by the Ger-
man Labor Front (DAF). Upon the
outbreak of war in 1939, the courts
were turned into one-man tribunals.
The operation of these Nazi do-
minated tribunals was suspended by
Military Government Law No. 77. Or-
dinary local courts (Amtsgerichte)
were permitted to reopen in Wuert-
temberg-Baden as early as July 1945.
Soon special chambers were attached
to the ordinary courts, competent to
handle those labor disputes which
had proved incapable of resolution
by  the   conciliation  departments
attached to the labor offices (Arbeits-
amter). Prior to the reopening of se-
parate labor courts, these special
chambers attached to the local courts
had processed a total of 316 out of
the 575 cases referred to them.
Control Council Law No. 21 re-estab-
lished Labor Courts as the only com-
petent adjudicators of civil disputes
arising from collective and individual
labor agreements and from appren-
ticeship contracts, and restored the
panel system of selecting court mem-
bers from among nominees proposed
by the unions and employers or
employers' associations.
A noteworthy departure from the
1926 law, was the removal of labor
courts from the supervision of the
Ministry of Justice, and the placing
16 JUNE 1947

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