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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 29

- 29 -
activityr in the cause of democratic labor may prove embarrassing
in a chinge of the political situation. The followership attitude
- never absent from the German scene and intensified by the Nazi
period - still prevails. The slow development of cunstruictive
rank-and-file union life and of active membership participation in
union affairs hinders, on the other hand, the rapid evolution of a
definite rezponsibility on the part of the leaders towards the union
members. The dangerous situation has besides its temporary causes
a more deep-seated cause, namely the German union tradition. German
and American literature have always berated German unionism for its
high degree of centralization of power. This characteristic produces
in turn a preference for political action as against the rough-and-
tuimble of direct economic action. The current unemployment, the
depletion of union treasuries, and the fear that any strike may be
utilized by the comnunists for their own purposes are not the only
reasons why the unions, in the recent past, have been slow to resort
to economic weapons. Such rationalization of the reluctance to strike,
as labor's responsibility for the size of the national product, the
danger that higher wages may unloosen the inflationary spiral, the
fear that strikes may lead to a resurrection of fascism and may
endanger labor's chances for codetermination legislation, contain, of
course, a grain of salt.   Such considerations, however, have not
deterred unions elsewhere in similar circumstances from achieving
visible gains for their members.
Viere one of the real reasons the leadership's fear that members
wouli not follow a strike call or could not support a strike of long
duration because of their insufficient resources, then this would
indicate the need for higher wages and as a prerequisite therefor
the need improving the internal cohesion of the movement. One way to
this end is to "deliver the goods" which in turn may necessitate
use of economic as well as political pressure. The present-day unionists
remember only dimly real bread-and-butter strikes. In several plants
visited, the last strike for wages occured in 1928. They know best the
political protest strike of one or two hours duration. To stress
political actions was perhaps inevitable before 1933 when the unions
were closely linked to political parties. Even then, it proved dangerous
for the unions to rely on political ideology alone to keep the membership
in line as the events of Way 1, 1933 proved.
The creation of politically neutral unions left them with only
one purpose, namely, the improvement of the economic and social
conditions of the workers. That aim can be achieved by the use of
political and economic weapons. German labor history provides ample
proof for the unreliability and impermanence of mere political and
legal victories. The depression period proved for instance that the
mere existence of the law guaranteed neither the formation or even the
continued existence of works councils nor their freedom from employer

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