Athol Books Magazine Articles


All Articles
Articles By Author
Articles By Magazine
Articles By Subject
Full Text Search

Athol Books

Aubane Historical Society
The Heresiarch Website
Athol Books Online Sales
Athol Books Home Page
Archive Of Articles From Church & State
Archive Of Editorials From Church & State
Archive Of Articles From Irish Political Review
Archive Of Editorials From Irish Political Review
Belfast Historical & Educational Society
Athol Books Secure Online Sales

Other Sites

Irish Writer Desmond Fennell
The Bevin Society
David Morrison's Website

Subscribe Securely To
Athol Books Magazines

Church & State (Print) Church & State (Digital)
Irish Foreign Affairs (Print) Irish Foreign Affairs (Digital)
Irish Political Review (Print) Irish Political Review (Digital)
Labour & Trade Union Review (Print)
From: Problems Of Capitalism & Socialism: Articles
Date: January, 2010
By: Document

Further Light on UK involvement in German Industrial Relations 1945 - 49 and its relevance in 2001

This issue consists of the republication of a Paper for the BUIRA Annual Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University 5th-7th July 2001. It was written by by Geoffrey Stuttard and Jörn Janssen. What follows is an extract from that document.

The original purpose of this paper was to re-examine the two myths which have lingered on about the British Government's involvement in the development of industrial relations in Germany in the immediate post-war period: first, that the Foreign Office was responsible for the setting up of the system of Co-Determination and Workers' Councils, and second that the TUC was responsible for setting up the post-War structure of German Trade Unions, the latter a particular favourite of Victor Feather when General Secretary of the TUC and repeated by Neil Kinnock in a Parliamentary debate in 1971 (Hansard, 19 January 1971).

This was prompted by the release from secrecy in 1999 of two Foreign Office files on 'Trade Union Development in the British Zone of Germany', which we examined, and were led on to other material, with the assistance of people connected with the events, such as Len (Lord) Murray, who was in the research department of the TUC in 1946 and introduced us to a remarkable witness—George Foggon, who was an active member of the Manpower Division of the British Control Commission in Germany from 1945. He not only added valuable personal testimony to the evidence, but handed over to us his own files for the period and, very important, the files of the late Edward Barber, a leading member of the Manpower Division. Finally John Monks, General Secretary of the TUC, confirmed us that this was a burning issue in the present situation of EU labour legislation.

From these sources it was clear that the two myths had already been exploded, even if the evidence had not been made generally public. The TUC myth was dealt with in an interview which George Foggon gave to Albert Burdett—published in the AEU Journal in June 1988, under the title of Post-War Germany—a myth exposed.

The Foreign Office myth was extensively explored in the unpublished Ph.D. thesis of Ian David Turner, submitted at the University of Manchester in October 1984 under the title of British Occupation Policy and its effects on the town of Wolfsburg and the Volkswagenwerk, 1945-49, in its Chapter 6 on British Policy on Worker Participation in Industry.

Other sources we were led to were the TUC archives at Warwick, the DGB (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) archives at the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Bonn, and various secondary sources, especially those in German by Rolf Steininger. From all these we were able to add to the exposure of the two myths by Foggon and Turner.

Indeed the material began to show that the situation was almost the opposite of what the myth had set out, that is, that there was a steady opposition by the Foreign Office to the setting up of the Workers' Councils and that it advocated restricting their role, and of any development of co-determination, except in special circumstances.

We came to examine the reasons why these exploded myths came into being and to linger on, and then moved to the much wider question of why forms of industrial democracy failed to develop, and have continued to fail in the United Kingdom. This question became linked to what is happening today, when the British Government continues consistently to oppose EU legislation which aims to widen industrial democracy across the Union—also linked to the clash between the British industrial relations tradition with that of Germany in particular and that of continental Europe in general.

Historical background

But first—to the myth and the reality. The story begins well before 1945: it relates to the development of industrial relations in the UK from the 19th century, to the commitment of all three parties, employers, unions and state, to a pattern of collective bargaining, a confrontational pattern from which the state and the law should only intervene in a crisis, like a war or a general strike. One factor, which becomes important later in Germany, is the Whitley Report of 1918 from the 'Committee on Relations between Employers and Employed, with its recommendation of the setting up of a three-layered pattern of Joint Industrial Councils, Joint District Councils and Works Committees' (Cd. 9153). This is the pattern which the British Manpower Division consistently tried to have established in Germany.

And in Germany too the past is important, with roots in the 19th century. Already in 1849, in the aftermath of the 1948 Revolution, a minority of deputies of the new Frankfurt National Assembly had submitted Article § 42 for trade regulations ('Gewerbeordnung') concerning the establishment of Factory Committees ('Fabrikausschüsse').

Workers' Committees ('Arbeiterausschüsse') came on the agenda again after the great miners' strike in 1889 when the Emperor proposed to introduce them "in order to stem social democratic influence". The proposal was turned down by the employers. Eventually, as a result of protracted strikes in the mining industry, Workers' Committees were made obligatory for this sector in 1905 through trade regulations. As they stipulated amicable relations between employers and employees, they were, however, rejected by the majority of Social Democrats and Trade Unions.

The dispute about them reached a new stage in 1917 with the so-called 'Council Movement' ('Rätebewegung') which led to the 'November Revolution' and the temporary establishment of Workers' Councils as governing bodies at municipal and company levels.

The Weimar Constitution for Germany then provided the legal framework in Article 165 to establish Workers’ Councils for "the pursuit of their social and economic interests" in regions and companies, which became the basis for the Workers' Council Act of 1920 ('Betriebsrätegesetz') (Däubler, p.184-189). This legislation of 1920, which was a defeat of the labour movement in the fight for the socialisation of key industries, gave extensive powers to the Councils, edging into forms of co-determination (Blanke et al. vol. 1).

The collapse of Trade Unions and Workers’ Councils under the Hitlerian clamp-down, supposedly due to the fission of the German Unions into religious and political groupings, led to a post-1945 Union commitment to a single Union, with industrial divisions and a role in political and economic planning at various levels. The object was to prevent another state-employer dictatorship, and was based on the need for rights protected by law.

In Germany in 1945, the British and German systems of industrial relations clashed. Preparations for UK action in Germany began well before the end of the 1939 war. In the middle of the war, in 1942, the concept of a Control Commission was discussed, so that, by 1944, this had been set up in detail with 12 divisions, with the Manpower Division designated to cover the area of industrial relations (Foggon 3/XVI).

At the same time, in London, a group of refugee German Trade Unionists, 'Landesgruppe deutscher Gewerkschafter in Großbritannien', set up in 1939, was meeting to work out in detail plans for a post-war Union structure (Barber II). The Chairman of this group, Hans Gottfurcht, became in fact a kind of liaison officer between the UK and the emerging German Unions, with the backing both of the Foreign Office and the TUC. He went for an official visit to Germany from 6th March to 30th April 1946 and wrote a confidential report to the Foreign Office and the TUC (TUC Archive, MSS 292/943/11, Report Gottfurcht).

At the centre of action on industrial relations in Germany in 1945 was this Manpower Division: it was made up mainly of members of the UK's Ministry of Labour, with all their experience of consultation, conciliation and the existing pattern of collective bargaining, with the Joint Industrial Councils, à la Whitley, having temporarily been a pattern in war-time Britain. This was exceptional within the UK tradition and only the special circumstances of the War pressurised it into being—so that for it to be recommended as the pattern for Germany was eccentric.

Some, like George Foggon, were pulled out of the Forces in action, and briefed in London before being despatched to the British Zone. (This was one of the four zones of occupation, the largest in population, alongside a Soviet one, an American one and the later addition of a French one. Berlin was a separate zone, divided into four sectors between the four powers and it was here that the quadripartite Commandatura was based.)

The difficult position of this Manpower Division illustrates how some of the issues were to develop. It was one of the 12 divisions under a British Control Commission led by military men, not knowledgeable about industrial relations and not particularly sympathetic to Trade Unions; there was in the field a Trade and Industry Division, which, according to Foggon, was rather a rival and either more in sympathy with German employers, or at least seeing the re-installing in control by employers as essential for the re-birth of the German economy; and there was the British Foreign Office, with a new Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, widely experienced in Union and business affairs and keen to be involved in IR [Industrial Relations] affairs:

Then there were the Division's equivalents in the other Zones, of which the most important was the Soviet group with fundamentally different aims to those of the British Government.

And, of course, there were the Germans themselves, with their very different traditions in IR, anxious to re-group, take on industrial, economic and political powers, and conscious of their failings in the past and the need to learn from their experiences, and German employers anxious to resume their ownership and managerial positions.