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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 30

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domination. Jhere union backing weakened, works councils became
impotent, tools of management, or disappeared entirely. The great
advantage which labor had seen in the law, namely its permanence and
independence from the fluctuations of organizational strength proved
futile. The high price labor had paid for securing its gains by the
legislative method, namely the loss of greater gains individual unions
in a strong bargaining position could have made, all this for the sake
of labor solidarity, had been paid in vain. It has been the experience
of unions everywhere that not the law alone, but the legally protected
and sponsored voluntary agreement - sometimes arrived at only after an
economic struggle - yields greater and more lasting gains.   The foregoing
discussion does not intend to question the German union's decision to
strike or not to strike at any given point of time. It does not advocate
the strike. It simply attempts to clarify to what extent the prevailing
statist line of thought affects the union's attitude towards economic
As far as the works council is concerned, Control Council Law No. 22
attempted to teach the lesson of voluntarism by changing the nature of
the works council from a compulsory to a voluntary association of
working men.  Unlike the WJeimar law, Law No. 22 does not compel but
only permits the formation of works councils which would thereafter
come about through agreement between capital and labor, company and
union. lihile this may necessitate a show of force, more lasting and
better results for the workers could be achieved in this fashion. The
shop agreement concluded between the management and the works council
of the AEG Berlin on the basis of Allied legislation gave the council
and the union far greater benefits - and sooner - than all the State
laws which followed.
Neither German employers nor German labor, however, was able and
willing at that time to forsake legalism for the economism and voluntarism
of the labor agreement.   The Bavarian unions and employers in the metal
industry, as well as the General Employers' Association and the DGB
Wuertteemberg-Hohenzollern also used the opportunity offered by Law
No. 22 for the purpose of producing a "model shop agreement." Their
intention, however,, was not to clear the way for voluntary agreements
but to write another works council law with more specific provisions
than the "frame" which Law No. 22 had erected.   Instead of filling
"frame" by agreement, the parties preferred a "law" regardless
of the
fact that such laws tend to place a ceiling on workers' demands, a
straitjacket on works council-employer relations, and finally an end
to experimentation. Not even the new and democratic German trade
unionism could free itself from the traditional spirit of etatism, of
uniformity and "legality" which 12 years of Nazi domination had
reinforced. It proved unwilling and was probably at that time also
unable to assume the risk of independent economic action.

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