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Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany

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

Page 34

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Employee Attitude Towards Works Councils
Most employees seemed to regard the works council primarily
as a grievance comnittee through which their claims could be
presented to the management. No distinction was apparently made
in their minds between the council and the union. The works
council is seen merely as an adjunct of the union and part and
parcel of the same thing - organized labor.
Moreover, the average employee views the institution of works
council as his most intimate contact with the democratic process.
His participation in this institution, one of the most important
expressions of grass-root democracy in the German workers' experience,
is far more real to him than his role in political life. He had
been made even more aware of the inherent value of this means of
self-expression by the abolition of works councils in the Soviet
Zone of Occupation.
Works Councils and Union Democracy
Particularly in Western Berlin, the works council has turned
into a symbol of the Western concept of democracy. The measure of
independence from the union which the works council derives by
law proved of tremendous importance in Berlin where the local trade
union federation, the FDGB, was Communist-dominated. The council
became the weapon by which the workers could free themselves from
Communist leadership which did not have the confidence of the
membership. The defeat of the Communist-sponsored candidates in
the Western Berlin works council elections of 1947 and 1948 gave the
non-Communist and majority opposition a bridgehead from which to
conduct their battle for a democratic trade union organization.
The law which guarantees the works council's continued existence,
provides for this institution at the same time a greater independence
from the national union, than the usual union local processes. It
would therefore appear that, better than a union local, the legally-
independent works council can serve as a check on a national union
or a union federation which no longer represents membership interests,
be it because the union is torn by dissension or has fallen prey to
a political party which subordinates workers' interests to their own
purposes. Where the union has ceased to function, the independent
works council continues to exist by virtue of the law and may thus
provide some representation of employee interests which would otherwise
be unrepresented. As long as the council exists, it also provides
the opportunity for future unionization by an alert and aggressive
labor organization.

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