Stuttgart’s union-driven renewal of the Labor-Management Co-Determination System in Germany

Excerpted from Hilary Wainwright:

“Something interesting is going on in the city of Stuttgart, one of the regional success stories of the German system of Mitbestimmung, or ‘co-determination’, where workers have a role in the management of companies.

The dominant trend in Germany is of co-determination becoming ‘crisis corporatism’, in which the unions concede low wages and increases in hours, ostensibly to save jobs. But in Germany’s southern manufacturing centre, in contrast, trade unionists are holding out for workers having real control over the conditions and hours of work – and over the purpose of their labour too.

In Stuttgart’s public services, the union Verdi has combined a strong fight over wages and conditions with an effective and popular campaign to improve and defend public services. In response, the city government – a coalition of the SPD, Green, Die Linke and local party Stuttgart Ökologisch Sozial – is re?municipalising several services that the previous CDU city government sold off.

Meanwhile, among the 20,000 workers at the Daimler Mercedes factories, a radical grouping in the IG Metall union is also looking beyond bargaining over the price of labour, instead holding out for shorter working hours and an alternative view of the future of the car industry.

‘We have a huge amount of intelligence in this factory,’ says works council member Tom Adler, also an active member of Stuttgart Ökologisch Sozial. ‘It’s not beyond the capacity of our designers and engineers to think beyond the motor car.’ His view is a minority one, but this critical minority – who publish a factory newspaper, Alternativ – were able to win 25 per cent of the vote for the works council.

The reaction of Stuttgart workers to the destruction of public services and the perversion of co-determination indicates that austerity measures are coming slap-bang up against the legacy of two periods of democratic and egalitarian reform. The first is post-war reconstruction, including the welfare state. The second is the system of co-determination, which was strengthened in response to rebellions in the 60s and 70s.

However, the resistance now, in Stuttgart as elsewhere in Europe, is not simply over the erosion of the institutions created in these periods of reform – after all, that erosion has been taking place for at least a decade. It is a profound and uncertain clash of cultures, expectations and increasingly activities, shaped by these periods of reform and rebellion, across generations. People’s expectations, or at least sense of legitimate claims, are for cultural equality as well as moves toward economic equality, and for meaningful and dignified work to match the decades of expansion of higher education.

Economic initiatives shaped by social and ecological values are now coming from many different places, many beyond the familiar sources implied by traditional economic models. They make a long list, including workers getting together more frequently than ever since the 1970s to form co-ops rather than accept the doom laden dictates of the banks, and workers and users of renewable energy similarly choosing co-operation to combine skills to meet needs on the basis of shared values.”

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