Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany
Development of recent works council legislation, pp. 3-7 PDF (2.3 MB)
- 7 - 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 council is nothing but the extended arm of the union".
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