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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Advantages of union control,   p. 17 PDF (480.2 KB)

Page 17

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With the aid of aforementioned means, the unions have achieved,
in a surprisingly short period, an equally astonishing degree of
more than nominal control over the works councils. What advantages
have the unions been able to reap from this development?
Besides the assistance given by the works councils, in many
instances, in rebuilding the unions, works councils have also
played a significant role in union organizing activities. Almost
all postwar works council laws give works councils the right to
contest the hiring, transfer, promotion, and discharge of workers
on certain grounds (personnel codetermination). As far as hiring
is concerned, the employer has to inform the works council of the
name of tfie applicant to be added to the staff. In a Bremen
shipyard, the union proceeded to veto the hiring of a man who
refused to join, the union. (The Bavarian draft legislation - and
the Weimar law - would exclude such an attempt at enforcing the
union shop.) A less drastic method in general use by works councils
is to hand out to all newly-hired men, when sent for clearance to
the works council, union membership applications. While there is
no evidence that transfers and promotions have been utilized to
promote union aims, some reason exists to believe that the works
councils will be influenced by union considerations in dismissal
cases. They will favor union against non-union men, other things being
equal - and sometimes not 'so equal. Similar preference has been
known to exist in the handling of grievances although such actions
are equally beyond the pale of the law.
The works councils also provide a reservoir for future union
leadership by providing a good training and proving ground. Many
present-day union officials came up this way. A popular and vigorous
works council leader will soon be voted a union delegate, then
perhaps an honorary chairman of the local, and later on elected to
a salaried union office. From here on, he may move upwards in the
union hierarchy.
Another advantage sometimes claimed by the unions is hard to
substantiate. In those Laender where works councils are compulsory
and where works councils with no union affiliation may occasionally
result, the union may be able to organize the entire plant by the
simple device of enrolling the works council. Only one such
instance could be established beyond doubt. The ability of works
councils, once organized, to keep the newly-organized members in
the union and to act as a nucleus of strength, is better established.

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