Archiv für Sozialgeschichte
Band XLIII/ 2003 - Summaries

Wolfgang Schröder,

Trade Unions as Social Movements - Social Movement within the Trade Unions in the 1970s

In retrospect, the 1970s appear as the "golden decade" of the German trade unions: continuous growth in membership, intensive wage and strike movements, as well as fundamental social and political reforms, due to the trade unions' extensive political influence, serve to illustrate this thesis. As between 1966 and 1982 German national politics were shaped by the SPD, the party with which the German trade unions were most closely allied, the trade unions less than ever needed to rely solely on their own strength. For the first time since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the trade unions had a direct, moreover a privileged access to the government: A number of former trade union leaders served in highest political offices and with the Konzertierte Aktion between 1967 and 1977 there even existed an own political platform, which enabled the trade unions' direct political participation in some fields. Frequently, the 1970s are therefore also retrospectively labelled the "Social Democratic-Trade Union Decade". From a somewhat different perspective, it is necessary to ask to what extent the trade unions in this phase were able, in the face of an increasingly apparent, significant change of the hitherto accepted German model of society and economic growth, to set the course for a different organisational policy. From this viewpoint, the 1970s as a decade of transitions have not been sufficiently used to adapt the organisation of labour to the new character of modern capitalism. Instead, it was particularly the so-called progressive forces, inside and outside the trade unions, who rather led to a conservation of traditional trade union paradigms and objectives in the context of industrial society.


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