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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Council-employee relations,   pp. 33-35 PDF (1.5 MB)

Page 35

- 35 -
Even where the union is functioning, the works council - better
than any local labor group - may serve as a check on the proper
operation of the national union, since it does not have to fear
retaliatory union measures. A works council may, for example, prod
a union which fails "to deliver the goods" and which incurs the
of sacrificing immediate economic gains for the membership to far-
fetched political ambitions in the broad economic field. Furthermore,
it may relieve the excessive rigidity of industry-wide collective
bargaining by entering into shop agreements which adapt the general
rules tothe special conditions of the individual enterprise.   The works
council may also provide remedial action where the uniformity of union
action acts as a brake on obtaining for the workers of an individual
plant gains greater than those provided by the collective agreement.
Most important, the works council may serve as a corrective to
excessive union centralization and bureaucracy. It has to play its
part in keeping thp union responsive and democratic, the eternal union
problem. This task is performed by the council by maintaining a
critical and watchful attitude and by expressing the complaints of
workers, members and unorganized alike.   The danger of bureaucratization,
which is inherent in all large-scale organizations, is probably greater
in Germany than elsewhere. While the national union serves as a check
on the company-mindedness of the local plant organization, the works
council serves as a corrective directed against the central union
administration becomiAg too remote from the day-to-day problems of
German labor.
Finally, the works council, more so than the union, .is the vehicle
for any attempt to achieve the vague ideal of "industrial democracy."
To use German terminology, it is primarily the works coqncil which is
considered - not only by the employers but also by the workers, whether
rightly or wrongly - to be the proper exponent for the exercise of
personnel, social, and economic codetermination.
Any appraisal of the works council will hence have to weigh the
danger which this institution presents to the union against the danger
which an overcentralized union, unchecked by works council, presents to
labor. Furthermore, a clear picture must be gained as to what effective
means exist to check both dangers. As was shown before, there are
several methods which a strong union could utilize in curbing inimical
works council activities.   Bat no effective means, short of far-reaching
governmental actions are known which can be relied upon to restore union
democracy once it had been lost to an all powerful group of leaders.

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