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Labor Unions

During the Weimar Republic, labor unions were divided along partisan lines, a situation that led to competition among the socialist, communist, Catholic, and liberal trade associations. After World War II, labor leaders wanted to break with the past and form a trade union federation independent of political parties. The result was the establishment of the Federation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund--DGB) in 1949.

Four principles guided the founders of the DGB. First, the labor movement wanted representation through an organization that was unitary and autonomous, with no ties to particular religions or political parties. Second, labor leaders decided to organize the unions along industrial lines so that all workers at one firm would belong to the same union irrespective of their individual occupations. For instance, an electrician at an automobile plant would join the metalworkers' union. This organizing principle provides unions with greater bargaining power when negotiating with employer associations, because one union represents the entire workforce of an industry. Third, a decentralized system of interest representation was created. Individual unions typically emulate the federal structure, with local, district, Land , and national offices. Each level has some input into the shape of union policy. Fourth, the unions chose to rely on legislation for the protection of workers' rights, rather than on direct negotiations with business representatives. Thus, when the unions enter into contract negotiations with employers, they can focus on improving workers' economic welfare.

The DGB is the national peak association of the German labor movement and encompasses sixteen unions, from metalworkers to leather workers. The DGB represents virtually all organized industrial workers, most white-collar employees, and many government workers. As of mid-1995, out of a total workforce of 35 million, 9.8 million workers were members of these labor unions. Although the DGB does not represent even half of the German workforce, its unions negotiate the collective bargaining agreements covering over 90 percent of all jobs. Thus, the work of the labor unions affects nearly all workers. The DGB lost over 2 million members between the end of 1991 and the end of 1994. The vast majority of these members (1.7 million) were from eastern Germany, which has been in the throes of radical economic restructuring and has suffered high unemployment. Some DGB officials express the hope that, once the economy in the eastern part of the country stabilizes, DGB membership will grow.

In 1995 the three largest unions were the Metalworkers' Union with just under 3 million members, the Public Services and Transport Workers' Union with 1.9 million, and the Chemicals, Paper, and Ceramics Workers' Union with 742,000. Roughly 31 percent of all members are women.

DGB members can be divided into "activist" and "accommodationist" factions. The activists, led by the Metalworkers' Union and the Industriegewerkschaft Medien, the union for workers in the media, aggressively challenge business interests and are major advocates of social reform. For example, the Metalworkers' Union led the drive for codetermination (Mitbestimmung ) in the early 1950s, for substantial wage gains in the 1960s, and for the thirty-five-hour workweek in the 1980s (see Codetermination, ch. 5). The activist unions are more likely to strike if collective bargaining fails to achieve desired results. In contrast, the accommodationist unions, including those representing chemical workers, construction workers, textile workers, and food-processing workers, prefer to cooperate with employers to achieve stable, sustainable economic growth. The individual unions have responded differently to German unification as well. Activist unions have been assertive in pushing for wage equalization between east and west, an effort that culminated in a massive strike in the metalworking industry in eastern Germany in May 1993.

Two other, significantly smaller peak interest associations represent labor sectors independent of the DGB. The German White-Collar Employees' Union (Deutsche Angestellten-Gewerkschaft--DAG) is composed solely of salaried employees, principally high-level technocrats and managers in private enterprise. The Federation of German Civil Servants (Deutscher Beamten Bund--DBB) has competed successfully with the DGB to represent civil servants. The DBB is better described as a lobbying organization, because civil servants can neither strike nor engage in collective bargaining.

The Churches

Religious associations represent a third major group of organized interests in the German policy process. The experience of the Third Reich had a profound influence on the postwar development of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in the Federal Republic (see Religion, ch. 3). Both espoused the view that moral responsibility extends to political responsibility and that passivity toward the political process is inappropriate. Both also desired greater ecumenism in German society. The establishment of the CDU perhaps best illustrates this last point. The CDU sought to include both Roman Catholics and Protestants in a catchall party that was committed to Christian values. The two churches maintain distinct identities, but the major cleavage in German society is no longer between religious denominations, but between religious and secular interests.

In postwar West Germany, many people felt that organized religion was an important element in the country's newly forming political ethos. Unlike the United States, West Germany acknowledged no separation of church and state. The state formally recognized the political role of the churches, establishing a special legal status for them as public law corporations. Under a German system developed in the nineteenth century, unless church members formally leave the denomination into which they were baptized, they must pay an annual church surtax equal to 8 or 9 percent of their income tax. The federal government collects this surcharge and remits the proceeds to the churches to finance their activities. In 1992 the figure totaled about US$10 billion for Protestant and Catholic churches combined. Churches are included on government commissions and supervisory bodies that influence social and family policy, education, and related topics.

Not surprisingly, the relationship between church and state in East Germany was markedly different. The communist regime wanted control over all aspects of society, and the existence of autonomous churches was unacceptable. In the 1950s, the regime sought to limit the role of the churches to the religious sphere, keeping them out of politics or education. The state proved unable to suppress the churches fully, however, and by the 1970s the SED had resigned itself to accommodating them.

Roman Catholics constituted only 7 percent of the population in the east; thus, it was the Protestant church, with broad backing among East Germans, that played an important social and political role. The Protestant church retained some autonomy from the state, and by the late 1980s the church had become gathering places for dissidents. In 1989 weekly peace services at churches in big cities, such as East Berlin and Leipzig, became hotbeds of opposition to the regime and led to the mass demonstrations that ultimately brought down the communist regime.

The Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland--EKD), the peak association for the seventeen autonomous provincial churches in West Germany, was established in 1948. The structural unity of the German Protestant church officially ended in 1969, when the eight provincial churches in East Germany withdrew from the EKD and formed the Federation of the Evangelical Churches (Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen--BEK). German unity ushered in the reunification of these two federations in 1991, under the auspices of the EKD. As the formal political representative of German Protestant churches, the EKD represents its member congregations in all formal agreements with the government on church-state affairs. On religious and social matters, however, the EKD serves only as a coordinating agent for its largely independent member churches.

The principal organizational forum for the German Roman Catholic Church is the Bishops' Conference, at which all German bishops convene semiannually. Since unification, the eastern bishops also have attended these meetings. As elsewhere in the Catholic world, all decisions on theological matters and general policy emanate from the Vatican; the annual Bishops' Conference addresses current pastoral and religious issues within Germany.

In West Germany, the Roman Catholic Church was traditionally much more active politically on a day-to-day basis than the Protestant denominations. The Bishops' Conference maintains a permanent secretariat in Bonn to monitor activity in parliament and in the federal ministries. Catholic leaders regularly lobby the government on pending legislation relating to social or moral issues. The EKD participates less actively in the political process, but it is more inclined than its Catholic counterpart to speak out on controversial political issues that have spiritual implications. Examples include the Protestant church's strong stance against the remilitarization of West Germany in the 1950s and its continued activism in the areas of peace and nuclear nonproliferation.

Data as of August 1995

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