Trade Unions

   Labor in the Weimar era was represented by three distinct and often mutually hostile Spitzenverbande: the General German Trade-Union Federation (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, ADGB); the German Trade-Union Federation* (Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB); and the Hirsch-Duncker Federation of German Labor Associations. Each of these was in turn marked by internal strife and ideological discord inherited from prewar Ger-many, which further frustrated the effectiveness of organized labor. The socialist or free trade unions, known from July 1919 as the ADGB, had a membership in 1919 of 5.5 million. By far the largest Spitzenverbande, the ADGB was affiliated with the SPD; yet, focused on bread-and-butter issues, it restrained the SPD s commitment to Marxism. Unequivocally opposed to the Workers and Soldiers' Councils,* its leadership lauded the labor-management ZAG as the Magna Carta of organized labor. The DGB was largely analogous to the League of Christian Trade Unions (Gesamtverband der christlichen Gewerkschaften, GcG) and had a membership of about 1.7 million in 1922. Although the DGB was open by definition to any nonsocialist, it was predominantly Catholic* and often aligned with the Center Party.* Hirsch-Duncker, founded in 1868 by the reformer Max Hirsch and the publisher Franz Duncker, was a nonsocialist, lib-eral-bourgeois organization. Although fear of Bolshevism led it to merge in November 1918 with the GcG, ideology doomed the alliance. When it re-emerged in March 1920 as the Free National Ring of German Worker, Em-ployee, and Civil Servant Unions (Freiheitlich-nationaler Gewerkschaftsring deutscher Arbeiter- Angestellten- und Beamtenverbande, FNG), its 700,000 members underscored their commitment to the republicanism embodied in the Weimar Constitution* and sponsored by the DDP.
   The term "workers" (Arbeiterschaft or Werktatigen) conveys a meaning in Germany somewhat broader than that denoted in Anglo-Saxon countries. In a country that still esteemed a guild mentality wedded to apprenticeships and artisans, one might be a worker of either Faust or Stirn (loosely translated "hand and "brain ). Although the industrial proletariat were generally viewed as "workers of Faust, white-collar workers, store clerks, civil-service workers, artisans, and some agriculture workers were more often viewed as "workers of Stirn. Accordingly, the Arbeiterschaft implied both wage workers (Arbeiter) and salaried employees (Angestellten). All three Spitzenverbande represented a coalition of blue-collar, white-collar, and civil-servant unions that found unity in a particular ideological platform (although coordination of policy remained difficult or impossible). For the ADGB, led by the pragmatic Carl Legien* until 1920 and thereafter by Theodor Leipart,* that platform was socialism—weakly affirmed and rarely activated. For the DGB, led by Adam Stegerwald* until 1929 and thereafter by Heinrich Imbusch, solidarity was linked with an ecu-menical Catholicism. In its early years the DGB was marked by tensions be-tween conservatives, who were hardened antisocialists, and liberals, who were prepared to amalgamate with the ADGB should the latter sever its ties with the SPD. Yet an important affiliate of the DGB (285,000 members in 1922) was the DHV (German National Union of Commercial Employees), which had its strength in Protestant* regions. The ideology of the DHV differed from that of the largely Catholic industrial unions; the commercial employees were not only antisocialist but retained an anti-Catholic bias and were often anti-Semitic. Averting friction between democratic Catholics and nationalistic Protestants proved impossible. Meanwhile, the FNG (Hirsch-Duncker), espousing liberal democracy, promoted harmony between labor and capital while advocating ar-bitration of labor disputes. The FNG, led by Gustav Hartmann, rejected both strikes and state aid for workers. Aimed at salaried workers, its position was compromised by formation of the Allgemeiner freier Angestelltenbund (AfA, General Federation of Free Salaried Employees), a group linked with the ADGB. Anton Erkelenz,* a founder of the DDP and a labor activist, insisted that FNG members not join the SPD.
   Labor was not restricted to the umbrella groups. In addition to special-interest associations, leaders of the management-controlled "yellow unions," who were excluded in 1918 from ZAG, gravitated to the DVP. Led by Fritz Geisler, these individuals merged as the National Federation of German Unions (Nationalver-band deutscher Gewerkschaften), a neoconservative group that proposed to re-lease workers from the "self-interested spirit" that enlivened the socialist and Christian labor movements. The Revolutionary Trade-Union Opposition (Re-volutionare Gewerkschaftsopposition, RGO), formed in 1929-1930 by the KPD, failed to attract more than 325,000 members. Similarly, the NSDAP's National Socialist Factory Cell Organization* (NSBO) was largely ineffectual.
   Organized labor was troubled throughout the Weimar era by rivalry, internal factionalism, and poor leadership. Although recurring crises produced ad hoc alliances, labor's vitality was subverted by the depression.* A third of the ADGB's approximately 4 million members (it exceeded 8 million in 1922) were out of work in 1931. DGB membership stood at 1.3 million, that of the FNG at about 580,000. Invariably underrating the danger posed by right-wing radi-calism, the ADGB undermined Hermann Muller's* cabinet in 1930 by rejecting compromise on a relatively minor issue of unemployment insurance; Müller's exit triggered the end of parliamentary democracy. Finally responding to danger in 1932, Leipart prepared to work with Gregor Strasser* in an effort to find a moderate course within the NSDAP. But with Hitler's seizure of power, the ADGB found itself in crisis. Hoping to manifest political neutrality, it severed its ties with the SPD (the Christian unions acted likewise vis-a-vis the Center Party). Then, without consulting the SPD, it welcomed the regime's decision to sponsor May Day rallies. The effort at appeasement failed: the NSDAP launched a Blitzkrieg on the ADGB on 2 May 1933, arresting leaders and staff and oc-cupying union offices in a thirty-minute national action. Within weeks the DGB and FNG were also suppressed.
   REFERENCES:Braunthal, Socialist Labor and Politics; Ellen Evans, "Adam Steger-wald"; Larry Jones, German Liberalism; Kele, Nazis and Workers; John Moses, Trade Unionism; Patch, Christian Trade Unions; Skrzypczak, "From Carl Legien."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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