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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Works council- a factor in union weakness,   pp. 28-32 PDF (2.3 MB)

Page 28

- 28 -
To those who give unreserved support to the union as the only
effective form of labor organization, the foregoing account would
appear to amount to a severe indictment of the works council. But
are these dangers specific works council problems? Are the Anglo-
American unions which have been spared the necessity of adjusting
themselves to legally-commanded works councils immune to dual and
rival unionism? Would it not seem as if American.unions also have
to fight off communism and that they had met the identical problems
with the very same methods which have been detailed here? American
communists have been quite successful in the past in capturing shop
steward positions, union office in locals and intermediate organizations
and, at times, entire national and international unions.
Group egotism is by no means a monopoly of the Germans. There
are many recorded cases where U.S. locals, to save the jobs and pay
of their members, clashed with national union policy. In the depression,
for instance, many American locals agreed to or acquiesced in wage
rates below the collective bargaining rate. Control of the international
union over some locals was often remote. Disciplinary action,
expulsion, revocation of charters and sequestration of funds were
rarely taken when depression - the period when locals are most likely
to turn company-minded and to stray from the path of union policy -
depleted union ranks and treasuries.
The dangers just discussed are, of course, ever present. They
confront organized labor everywhere and can only be overcome by a
vigilant and strong labor movement. .'that is lacking in the German
labor movement is not vigilance but union strength. For a number of
reasons, all clearly recognized by the DGB, the German unions are
until now by no means as strong as they appear at first glance. The
magnificent organizational record of over 5,000,000 members out of
about l4,CCO,COO employed in the respective fields is offset by
considerable internal weakness. Fortunately, most of the causes of
this weakness are only temporary.
The weakness is partly a consequence of the Nazi regime which
has led to a lack of leadership and to membership apathy. Much of the
present-day leadership is superannuated. Only 30 percent of the present
membership had the experience of a free democratic labor movement.
Too many of the unionists of that period have been obliterated by
Nazism, war and natural death. The other 70 percent knew only the
frozen state-decreed wages of the Nazi period, and Dr. Ley's sham
labor front. These younger workers are sceptical. distrustful of all
organizations, be they unions or political groups.   To them the DGB is
not so greatly different from the compulsory German Labor Front (LAF).
Besides distrust and apathy, there is the fear that any pronounced

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