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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

Development of recent works council legislation,   pp. 3-7 PDF (2.3 MB)

Page 7

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Communist Party) to create in the workers' councils - the
counterpart of the Russian soldiers-workers-farmers' councils -
the bastions from which the class struggle could be unleashed
in the plant and the revolution carried through to a rapid and
successful conclusion.
Furthermore, there were not merely isolated works councils
but the making of a works council movement which aimed at
replacing the unions. It took bloody street-fighting and a
prolonged political battle between the radicals and the middle-
of-the-road, Socialist (SPD)-controlled unions before the compromise
works council law of February 4, 1920 was evolved. Moreover, many
years elapsed before the unions gained control over the works
councils wresting them fairly successfully from domination by the
Communist Party (although Communist Party members remained here
and there in leading works council positions). By and large, the
unions were also able to contain the employers' influence on the
councils. Substantial as the union victory was, it was never
complete or secure. Employer influence wras particularly evident
during the depression. Furthermore, it was achieved only at the
expense of immediate, intimate, everyday union-worker relations
in the shop. All those important services and contacts which, for
example in the United States, are performed by union shop stewards,
had to be abandoned to the works council, the shop organization of
organized and unorganized workers as well. It became, hence, necessary
to limit the respective areas of action.
A distinction was drawn between those questions arising in the
shop and those which can be settled only at the industry and national
(supra-plant) level. Collective bargaining, political action, those
welfare activities affecting the worker after the employment relation-
ship had been severed, fell into the latter category and, therefore,
belonged to the unions. The intra-shop activities were assigned to
the works council.
One of the principal instruments employed in this struggle between
the two potentially competing forms of workers organizations, the union
and the works council was consequently to delineate carefully, i.e. to
restrict the area of permissible works council activities in the law,
and to leave the essential function of wage determination in the hands
of the unions. In the latter field, the works council was charged
only with the obligation to police the collective bargaining agreement
(as well as the application of protective labor legislation). Shop
agreements could be concluded with the employer, but these agreements
could only improve but not reduce the benefits provided by the collective
agreement. The seaon'n equally important task which confronted the
unions was to gain actual control over the works council membership.
The unions confronted the Communist slogan of 'All the power in the
hands of the councils" with a formula of their own: "The works
is nothing but the extended arm of the union".

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