Are unions socialist

History and present

Christian Trade Union Movements in the 19th Century

The first significant steps towards trade union associations took place in Germany towards the end of the 19th century. The first “workers' associations” were founded in the early 19th century. The Christian and socialist trade unions as well as the liberal trade unions emerged from them. In 1899 the first Christian trade union congress took place in Mainz, at which the top organization, the "General Association of Christian Trade Unions", was formed.

The three main directions in the German trade union movement - the communist-socialist, the Christian and the liberal - existed side by side until they were violently dissolved or brought into line in 1933, the year when the National Socialists came to power. In that year, the top trade union organizations formed from workers ', salaried employees and civil servants' associations had the following membership figures:

  • General Free German Federation of Trade Unions (socialist) around 4.6 million members
  • German Federation of Trade Unions (Christian) around 1.2 million members
  • Hirsch - Duncker trade associations (liberal) around 0.5 million members


After the occupation of the union houses and after the arrest of numerous union leaders, these unions were forcibly dissolved after May 2, 1933 or incorporated into the NSDAP under pressure. The members were forcibly transferred to the newly founded "German Labor Front". The property of all trade unions and their major economic institutions was confiscated or transferred to the labor front. All ties and relations with the international trade union organizations were also severed.

Re-establishment of the trade unions after 1945

Immediately after the collapse of the German Reich in 1945, the reconstruction of the trade unions in the four zones of occupation began. Leading representatives of the former trade unions pursued the goal of founding an ideological “unified trade union”. Union work should take place independently of basic ideological principles. This left the traditional German and continental European path of the directional unions. With the principle: one company - one union (industrial association principle), the traditional professional association principle has also been abandoned. The military commanders and the Allied Control Council, through their licensing practices, had a decisive influence on the new union structure with which Anglo-Saxon models were adopted.

In the Russian military administration sector, Order No. 2 of June 10, 1945 allowed the formation of trade unions. On the basis of this order, a unified union for all "working people" was brought into being, which existed in the former German Democratic Republic as the "Free German Trade Union Confederation (FDGB)". As a communist trade union, this FDGB was affiliated with the World Trade Union Federation.

In the three western zones of occupation, the first directive of the military government on the establishment of trade unions appeared in August 1945, with which the military authorities announced that a license was compulsory for every new union formation. In the "Industrial Relations Directive No .: 16" of April 12, 1946, the specific conditions for the approval and establishment of the trade unions were later summarized. In theory, workers and employees were given the right to "choose the type of union they want". In practice, however, only unified union associations received a license.

The Saarland, which initially existed as an autonomous state structure between France and Germany - but under French administration - made an exception. There, the French military authorities allowed the establishment of competing unions (socialist and Christian directional unions) from the start. As a result, the Christian unions were able to regain a strong union position here very soon. After the Saarland was annexed to the Federal Republic of Germany, the Saarland Christian trade unions joined the Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany (CGB), which was later founded.

In the three western occupation zones, the licensed unitary trade unions united in October 1949 to form the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), including the DAG. At the same time, the DGB joined the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. By anchoring the industrial union principle in the statutes of the DGB at the 1950 congress, the DAG was effectively excluded from the DGB, because until the merger with other DGB unions to form the ver.di union in 2001, the DAG was organized according to the professional association principle.

Attempts have also been made since 1946 to re-establish the German Association of Officials (DBB) as a trade union professional association. These efforts, too, initially failed due to the objection of the occupying powers, who always tried to promote the monopoly of the industrial unions. After several years of preparation, the "Deutsche Beamtenbund" was finally constituted in 1950. Today it is numerically the largest organization of civil servants and is divided into numerous professional and professional associations. The Christian Trade Union Federation and its member associations maintain constructive cooperation with the DBB in several fields of work.

Failed unity union

The splitting off of the German white-collar workers 'union and the German civil servants' union from the German union confederation was essentially due to organizational and professional policy reasons. The employees and officials who organized themselves in these two associations outside the DGB feared - rightly - that their professional interests and claims would be neglected or even discriminated.

A split in the unified trade union for ideological or political reasons, on the other hand, could only occur after the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany. It was not until Article 9 of the Basic Law came into force on May 23, 1949 that the freedom of association and association was re-anchored as a basic democratic right. This lifted the licensing requirement, so that the employees could finally decide freely about their union again.

The first to make use of this right were those from the former Christian German Trade Union Federation (before 1933). In 1950 the "DHV - German Trade and Industrial Employees Association" and the "Association of Female Employees (VwA)" were re-established. Both associations immediately rejoined the International Federation of Christian Employees' Associations. At first there was no top trade union organization of the Christian trade unions in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The re-establishment of the DHV and the VwA took place mainly for ideological reasons and thus in contradiction to the new principle of the unified ideological union, as was the founding of the Christian trade union movement in Germany (CGD) in 1955. In the text "The Unified Trade Union in the Light of Catholic Social Doctrine", Lothar Roos correctly described what would have to be expected of a unified trade union in terms of party-political neutrality and ideological tolerance as follows:

  • "A unified union is politically neutral,
  • if she is not part of any political party,
  • if it does not conduct politics in the interests of, in favor of or under the leadership of a party,
  • if it has no firm ties to a party - both de jure and de facto.


It goes without saying that a trade union has an influence on politics in the performance of its task of representing the interests of the workforce. Party political neutrality does not mean political abstinence. Every activity in public space is in itself political. However, there is a fundamental difference between whether a union as such exercises political influence in the sense of its own activity, or whether it pursues party-political goals. A union that wants to be politically neutral may only take a position on political issues insofar as there is complete agreement among its members ... ideological tolerance means ... that the union as a whole is involved in socio-political action, in its political As in their educational work, they want to contain all means and goals about which there are different views in the ranks of their members for ideological reasons. If the union gets involved in a certain ideological direction, it brings that part of its members - even if it is only a small minority - who cannot approve of this worldview or this ideological sub-goal, into a conscience and ceases to be a unified union to be."

These decisive criteria of party political neutrality and ideological tolerance were and are continuously and grossly violated in the German unions and caused the experiment to fail thoroughly. In particular, the DGB and its industrial unions took on the role of auxiliary troops of the social democratic party. In 1953, the DGB took this party-political one-sidedness to extremes when, on the occasion of the election to the German Bundestag, it called for a fight against the Christian Democratic Union led by Chancellor Adenauer. Under the official DGB election slogan "Vote a better Bundestag!" the opposition Social Democratic Party should be brought to power. That has not changed to this day: In the Bundestag election campaigns of 1998 and 2002, the DGB and its unions intervened in the election campaign with massive actions in favor of the SPD and financed this from membership fees, including the contributions of Christian-socially minded union members.

With the abandonment of ideological tolerance, the DGB also frightened numerous members who were staunch supporters of the principle of the unified trade union, but who did not want to be politically tied to German social democracy. Leading representatives of the Christian-Social in the DGB called on their union for democracy and tolerance. They demanded that their friends and supporters - even as a minority - could exercise an influence commensurate with their strength in all trade union bodies. This necessarily presupposes the possibility of group formation and the principle of proportional representation within the union. The Austrian Federation of Trade Unions was constituted according to this model: there are socialist and Christian factions, even a - albeit small - communist faction.

Re-establishment of Christian trade unions

The demands of leading representatives of the Christian-Social in the DGB, the fulfillment of which should guarantee ideological tolerance and party-political neutrality for the future, remained unanswered, unless the public declaration of the then DGB chairman Friday was the answer: "SPD and DGB are children of one Mother". The public had the impression that the top officials of the DGB wanted to challenge the separation of the annoying warners from the Christian social camp.

In 1955 the Christian workers' unions were re-established in the "Christian Trade Union Movement of Germany" (CGD). On June 27, 1959, all Christian trade unions of workers, employees and the public service merged in a trade union top organization - the Christian Trade Union Confederation of Germany (CGB). This re-establishment was undoubtedly very late. In the meantime, the DGB unions had developed into "consolidated" unions in the Federal Republic of Germany and exerted a far-reaching influence in the German economy, primarily through their own business enterprises and via the detour of codetermination. In the factories, the members of the Christian trade unions were fiercely fought, and in the DGB opinion, the Christian trade unions should not play a role in public life either.

The re-establishment of the Christian trade unions did not lead to an unification of the Christian-social camp in the Federal Republic of Germany. First of all, the re-establishment of the CGB was fought against by a "Christian-social college in the DGB"; but a few years later the central committee of this "college" also had to capitulate to the balance of power in the DGB. They submitted to the balance of power in the DGB without turning away from it. In a statement published on October 8, 1960, the union was declared a failure. These colleagues, who had believed in the possibility of a tolerant unified union until the end, had to admit literally:

"The illusion of the possibility of a unified trade union movement has become visible to the general public. The historical forces have proven to be stronger than the mere goodwill of some participants".

In the end, what remained are the social committees of the Christian Democratic Workers' Union (CDA). This association is not a trade union or a union-like organization, but an official party association within the CDU. Within the CDA there are still significant currents that up to this day cling to the unified union ideals, under the illusion that they can still convert the DGB to party-political and ideological tolerance.

The union situation today

Today there are three recognized trade union umbrella organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany:

  • German Trade Union Confederation (DGB)
  • German Civil Service Association (DBB)
  • Christian Trade Union Confederation of Germany (CGB)


For those familiar with trade union cooperation in other democracies, it will always remain incomprehensible that in the Federal Republic of Germany, with recognition of all competing interests, there is hardly any cooperation or tolerance between the DGB and the other trade unions, which is primarily due to the undemocratic in every respect Monopoly claim of the DGB is due. The ruthless struggle of the “unions” against competing unions ultimately harms all unions. Around 25% of German employees are unionized, with a sharply decreasing tendency, especially within the DGB. There would be enough room for all trade union directions for the struggle and wooing of the unorganized. Overall, this would strengthen the German trade union movement and thus also the representation of employees' interests. But the monopoly claim and the intolerance of the unity fanatics have discredited the union idea so profoundly in wide circles that the consequences of this undemocratic practice are likely to continue for a long time.

Christian Trade Union Confederation of Germany - CGB

The CGB, founded in Mainz on June 27, 1959, is the leading union organization of the Christian unions in the Federal Republic of Germany. This re-establishment was the organizational completion of a development that began with the re-establishment of Christian employee associations in 1949/50, continued through the founding of the Christian trade union movement in 1955 and through the annexation of the Saarland to the Federal Republic with the Christian trade unions that had existed there since 1947 got a strong impulse. The founding of the Christian trade union movement in 1955, especially under ideological aspects - primarily by personalities from the Catholic and Protestant professional associations - made the trade union question a problem that continues to this day, even in public. This is shown particularly clearly by the discussion about the entanglement between the DGB and the SPD and about the pressure on employees in companies and administrations who are not organized in the DGB unions.


Printed on 05/20/2021 12:14 PM.