Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany
Council-employee relations, pp. 33-35 PDF (1.5 MB)
- 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 danger 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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