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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Dangers to the union position,   pp. 18-27 PDF (4.8 MB)

Page 18

- 18 -
Statement of the Problem
There is, however, also a series of dangers to the union
position involved in the German works councils. What are they
and to what extent have they been met by the unions? The following
discussion will deal with: 1) the works council as a competing
labor organization; 2) the works council as a means for other
social forces (rival unions, political parties, employer) to wean
the allegiance of the workers away from bona fide unionism; and
3) a potentially harmful works council influence upon union policy,
structure and strength. Not all of the potential dangers are real.
On the other hand, not all of those which are real are fully met.
Possibility of Dual Unionism
Inasmuch as the works council as well as the union aim to
represent the interests of the workers, what prevents the works
council from becoming a dual union? Union authority is derived
from a voluntary membership. If the law requires the establishment
of works councils, but not a union membership, works councils may
come theoretically into being which have either no union connection,
or a non-union majority. However, the latter hardly exist at all.
Wherever they do appear, the union makes a concerted effort to win
over the majority and in all reported instances, except in a small
textile plant, the effort was successful. Works councils which
have no union connection, however, exist quite often.
An analysis of this group is likely to show that non-union
works councils are found precisely in those areas where union
organization is difficult, costly and disappointing, such as in
small, handicraft and patriarchal enterprises, in rural areas,
and in industries with a high percentage of female workers. In
sufficiently numerous instances, works councils in such unorganizable
areas are not even formed or disappear after serving the interests
of the employer for a time. Ther mortality is especially high in
a depression.
In small-scale enterprises where the union can hardly gain a
foothold, works councils are not formed, even where they are
compulsory by law. In Wuerttemberg-Hohenzollern, for instance,
only 47 percent of the workers participated in 1949 in works
council elections in enterprises with 5-19 employees, only 64 percent
in firms with 20-49, but 99 percent in plants with more than 200
workers. Since small-scale industry predominates in this State,

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