New labor code in Germany

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Fri Feb 16 06:56:01 MST 2001

> Could cdes. in Germany (particularly Johannes Schneider?) inform us on the
> labor code, which has been presented here as a progressive code that is
> opposed by capitalists?

Hi Nestor,

actually it is not a complete new labour code, but legislation about the
rights of the works' councils. Beeing a work's council myself I am sorry to
say the changes are very, very marginal. If you accept the whole framework
you could say there are a few improvements compared to the current
legislation, but these are very technical and really only of interest those
ones who have to deal with the sections of the code on an everyday basis.

Let me take the opportunity to explain the whole issue in a more wider
framework. Traditionally labour at a workplace level are highly regulated
and instittutionalized by law in Germany (I assume this is a parallel to
Argentina, at least in the hey-days of Perionist unionism, and quite
opposite to the situation France and the UK). This means there are highly
formalistic regulations to install a work's council at a workplace. Once
installed that work council has well-defined rights when dealing with the
management. Most importantly some members of the work's council will be
allowed to work full-time for the work's council (if there are more than 300
employees, to be changed to 200 in the new code). All members of the work's
council have an enhanced protection against lay offs. A very important
aspect of the legislation governing the works's councils is the fact that
there is no _formal_ discrimination between workers who are German citizens
and those ones who do not have citizenship. Whereas non-German citizens do
not have the right to vote, to assemble freely, to form associations etc.
they have every right to participate in the formation and the activities of
the work's council (I am talking about the formal rights here only).  This
is an important fact given the multi-national composition of the German
working class. Since most immigrants are working-class in some inner-city
areas of Germany the majority of the working class does not have full
democratic rights.

The intention of that legislation has always been to channel the
class-struggle into legal and formalized structures. From a revolutionary
point of view the setbacks of such a framework should be obvious: members of
the work's council (especially the full-timers) constitute the lowest strata
of the labour aristocracy, beeing an important factor in the
buearocratization of the worker's movement. In pratice the role of work
councils ossicilates from beeing the mouth-piece of the management, an organ
mediating betwen the management and the shop floor level, an organ of
expression of actual working class concerns up to beeing the most advanced
expression of class conciousness at a given work place.

The high level of legal formalization brings the danger that even
class-concious members of the work's council start to think less in terms of
shop floor mobilization but more within the framework of legal means: you
will tend to think rather of finding a bourgeois court to 'force' management
to do something in worker's interest than organizing a strike (which would
be illegal for members of the work's council, because the law demands they
act in conformity with the interests of the company, that is why in a case
of a strike the formal leadership of the strike is usually not identical
with the work's council).

To sum up the revolutionary critique: the work's councils are an imprtant
aspect of integrating the working class into the capitalist system and
organizing a frame for class collaboration. But at the same time work's
councils can be an important tool in the class struggle. If the rights of
the work's councils are used without any reformist illusions, they can be
used as a means to defend the economic (mostly bread-and-butter) interests
of the working class. Used by class concious members and backed by combative
colleagues a work's council might even be able to pick political issues. I
think for the rights of the work's council goes pretty much the same what
goes for any other democratic right: socialism can only be achieved by
revolution and not reform, but a democratic surronding creates the most
favourable conditions for revolution.

Historically the work's councils are an achivement of the 1918 November
revolution. The formal legal establishment of work's councils was a
concession by the capitalists to the working class in 1920. The work's
councils were one of the first institutions to be dissolved by the Nazis. In
the 50ties the conservative Adenauer administration passed a new
legislation, which was widely seen as a defeat for the union movement. The
current law is from the early 70ties and has been passed as a part of the
reformist euphoria of these days.

The background for the present reform of the legislation: The unions pumped
millions of marks into the 1998 Socialdemocratic election campaign. At the
beginning of the term some of the worst laws of the previous Kohl government
were revoked. But especially after the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine the
Schroeder government put forward an austerity progamme that was even more
drastic than that of the conservatives. Since next years are going to be
elections the government decided to pass a legislation that served primarily
the interests of the union bureaucracy (mostly through the extension of the
full-timers in the work's councils).

Initially the Red-Green government expected the new legislation expected the
legislation to go through very smoothly. The new code was drafted by the
social ministry led by former deputy chair of the metall workers union
Walter Riester. But since the Blairite SPD has raised so many expectations
among capitalist circles, employers got enraged by a proposed lgislation
that even only minimally favoured the unions. The capitalists protest found
some echo among the Blairite sectors of social-democracy, spearheaded by
economic minister Werner Mueller, a former manager of the utilty giant EON
(the Veba-VIAG merger). Mueller is no socialdeomocrat himself, but was
nominated by the SPD for his post. In the controversy over the proposed code
Muller allegedly threatened with resignation.

The case was decided by Schroeder more or less in favour of Riester and the
unions. It shows that despite its Blairite wing, the union wing within the
SPD still has some influence. As a pragmatistic thinking of re-election
Schroeder cleverly used the issue to tie the core SPD constituency,
organised union members to the party.

Once again the controversy showed the reactionary role of the Greens: Their
budget speaker Oskar Metzger and deputy economics minister Margareta Wolf
openly supported the capitalists and Werner Muller, posing as a neutral
force between the two sides.

Those ones intersted in the details of the debate can do a Find all words
search for 'Riester council' in the archived material of the conservative
Frankfurter Allgemeine at:
It returns 21 results.


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