Fisher, Paul / Works councils in Germany
Council-employee relations, pp. 33-35 PDF (1.5 MB)
- 34 - 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local, the legally- independent works council can serve as a check on a national union or a union federation which no longer represents membership interests, be it because the union is torn by dissension or has fallen prey to a political party which subordinates workers' interests to their own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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