FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

Labor Under the Nazis

Nazi soldiers force Polish jews to line up to do forced labor. German Federal Archives

In 1929 Germany of all great countries came the nearest to being a paradise for organized labor. To be sure, it was definitely capitalist and neither the Social Democratic Party nor the Free trade unions associated with them seemed likely to make it anything else in the near future. But within the limits of capitalism, German labor enjoyed not merely in theory, but to a large extent in practice, almost every considerable right and privilege that well-meaning reformers or its own spokesmen could suggest.

The three major labor bodies—the Free unions (much the largest), the Christian (predominantly Catholic) unions, and the small liberal or Hirsch-Duncker unions—between them counted six and one half million members. The right to organize and to bargain collectively was written into law and some twelve million employees were under collective agreements. These agreements were enforced under the supervision of Labor Courts established at labor's behest by the law of 1926. These courts had proved friendly to labor. Seventeen million men were protected under an elaborate unemployment insurance system which in 1927 had been added to older systems of accident, health and invalidity insurance. Workers were further protected by old age insurance and in many trades had won protection against, or compensation for, arbitrary discharge. Despite Germany's economic storms, real wages by 1929 were back at the pre-war level—which had never been high. This was still true in 1930, after the depression had begun. The eight-hour day was also fairly general.

The consumers' coöperative societies, to which a great many workers both manual and clerical belonged, numbered some four million members and had an annual turnover considerably in excess of a billion marks. The workers also had their own banks, which were as successful as the economic situation permitted. The free unions even established a few businesses of their own, and the building workers, organized in guilds, had done well in coöperative construction work. Works Councils, although they had disappointed the hopes of some optimists as a vehicle

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