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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

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

Page 27

- 27
If company-mindedness prevails to such an extent, it is not
surprising that the employer, unless confronted with a communist-
dominated works council, prefers dealing with his works council to
doing business with the union. A minority view, expressed by two
employers' associations recognized, however, in the union the more
stable, the basically more conservative, economic and social force
as opposed to the quite unpredictable works council.
Manifestations of Company-Mindedness
The manifestations of this company-mindedness are quite serious.
There have been cases of works councils: insisting on overtime
work when the union opposed it in the interest of the unemployed;
preferring the discharge of some employees to the union demand for
shorter hours for all; applying to public labor offices for exemption
from night-work prohibition laws for women in violation of union
policy. A works council in a decartelized I.G. Farben plant in
Ludwigshafen demanded the restoration of private stockholder rights
because it had been convinced by management that this was a condition
for foreign investment credits. At the same time, the unions were
fighting such a move since it would jeopardize their hope for
nationalization of the I.G. Farben empire. Works councils have been
observed making unilateral demands on German and Occupation authorities
to halt dismantling of plants, robbing thereby parallel union efforts
of their effectiveness. W;orks councils are inclined to lobby government
for credits and, in the past, also for relief from price control when
such action cannot be supported by the union. Pioneering in a new and
dangerous field of labor activities, one works council offered an
exclusive sales contract to the works council of a customer firm to
assure orders for the firm and jobs for the workers. When the Hamburg
city government mobilized funds for work-relief, the number of persons
employed fell to one-third of the estimate, inasmuch as the employed
workers, through their works councils, pressed for a longer work week
for those already employed. 'While the metal workers attempted to
achieve equal pay for equal work for women workers in Berlin, the
works councils of Siemens and Halske and AEG agreed in shop agreements
to a considerable differential in favor of men. So strong is the
pressure from below in these cases that a union which opposed family
allowances and company housing in principle acquiesced in such practices
when the works council of a rubber plant remained adamant.
The list could be prolonged ad infinitum j/. It should have become
obvious by now that in all these cases the works council's action
represented the true but short-sighted will of the employed. Involved
here is not necessarily employer domination, certainly not democracy,
but a conflict between the interests of the smaller and the larger group,
between short and long-term benefits, a universal problem transcending
the ield of labor.
/ See Dr. Herbert Bachmann in "Recht der Arbeit," 1949, p. 168
further examples.

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