Fishing in the River Rhine and in the Cayuga Lake - with one single net?

Ideas for a co-operation

by Rüdiger Zimmermann

In my presentation I would like to give a survey of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn and its library and archive. In addition I would like to touch upon the international co-operation of our institutions within the International Association of Labour History Institutions (IALHI) and its joint projects and, furthermore, tell you something about the latest project of the IALHI which has to do with the international trade union movement. Finally, I would like to let you know about my ideas on how the Martin P. Catherwood Library could join in this project.

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Library and archive (named Archive of Social Democracy) are departments of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The foundation is a private, non-profit cultural institution which is committed to the basic values of Social Democracy. It acts in the spirit of Germany's first democratically elected president, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert and was founded as his political legacy.

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is a political foundation. It is closely connected with the German Social Democratic Party though organisationally independent from it. Political foundations are typical German institutions and a result of developments after the two world wars. After two wars that proceeded from Germany and after the crash of the national socialist reign of terror it was clear that institutions were needed that aimed at democratic political education in the broadest sense. (

The weakness of German democracy before 1933 was that political parties were condemned by the opponents of democracy. These parties though enforced democratic reforms step by step in the German imperial authoritarian state before 1918. Therefore one of the programmatic aims of National Socialism was to eliminate political parties in Germany forever.

In the democratic part of Germany the traumatic experiences with National Socialism and the experiences with one-party dictatorships in Eastern Europe led to the founding of political institutions of education that were closely connected with political parties. The founders of our constitution had also learned their lesson from history and allowed political parties a special position within the formulation of political demands and objectives.

The imagination that the shaping of political ideas is linked to political education was brought to Germany especially by the American victorious power after 1945. So the existence of political foundations in Germany is also based on American ideas of democracy.

In Germany political foundations that are closely connected with parliamentary parties are mainly financed by public funds. The state though does not have any influence on the foundations' aims and contents. The premise for financial furtherance is that the political parties have been represented in the parliament for a longer time.

In this respect there is a difference between political foundations in Germany and those known in the United States. Political foundations are non-commercial organisations and of course they also receive private funds. Public funds though predominate the furtherance. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation for example receives more than 90 % of its furtherance from the state.

These days more than 500 people world-wide work for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Which aims does the foundation have?

After the Second World War a special emphasis in the work of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation was the establishment of an archive and a library. The German labour movement, deeply rooted in the German Social Democratic Party and the German trade union movement, is the eldest political force that always felt commitment to the basic values of democracy and also defended these.

Many historians say that in the period between the end of the war in 1918 and the national socialist take-over the labour movement was the only true support for democracy, which - in my opinion - is right.

The Library of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation

The establishment of a big library and a large archive within the Friedrich Ebert Foundation was influenced by the special political development in East Germany. In the German Democratic Republic the history of the labour movement was a “national research project”. Scientific research in East Germany always aimed to prove that it was the much smaller Communist Party of Germany that represented the humanistic legacy of the German labour movement. Historical arguments were also used to justify East German authorities' claim to leadership.

In the sixties a large archive and a big library of the labour movement was established within the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in order to contrast with this claim of being the sole legitimate representative. The intention was to establish one main comprehensive knowledge-centre in West Germany in order to enable an open-minded historiography of the German and international labour movement.

Today these institutions are part of the “Centre for Historical Research” of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation which contains the following parts:

Today more than 100 people work in the Centre for Historical Research. Apart from the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam it is the biggest institution that is concerned with theory and practice of social movements.

At the moment there are 30 colleagues in our library. Presently the library stock contains more than 650.000 volumes ( It collects secondary literature on German and foreign labour and trade union history and on social history. The emphasis lies on publications of European political parties and trade unions. The files of the German labour movement that got lost could of course not be obtained again in the post-war period. Books however were another case. It was possible to build up a strong basis of literature by extensive and specific acquisitions in second-hand bookshops and systematic microfilming.

The real gain though were libraries that were taken over completely. Private collectors as well as institutions ceded their libraries to our foundation in Bonn. In 1969 the German Social Democratic Party parted with its library that had been re-established after 1945. Before 1933 the library of the Social Democratic Party was classified as an historical monument. Among others it contained the private libraries of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. During the war the SPD library was scattered and fell into the hands of the Red Army. Soon after 1945 a new remarkable collection of books was established in Bonn which finally was given to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

In addition the library of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation took over the library of the German Trade Union Confederation and of some of its affiliated unions. The taking over of several German trade union libraries meant an expansion of more than 200.000 volumes. Among these were of course many duplicate books. When we thought about the best place to keep these books we had the idea of the Catherwood Library which, I think, was a good idea. Certainly it was the beginning of a productive co-operation.

If one would write down the history of all these different trade union libraries that became part of our library, the result would be more than a book with many pages. Before 1933 German trade unions were very proud of their libraries. More than 200 libraries with several hundred thousand books existed. The Nazis plundered the libraries and concentrated the books in Berlin. Many books got lost during the war. Nevertheless, a large book treasure survived in Berlin which was divided up among the victorious powers after the war. At first the “American books” were brought to the Library of Congress, then in 1948 they were returned to the German trade unions. Not all but a lot was given back.

Now almost all of the books that have been given back are in Bonn again (and each single book could tell its own fascinating story). We hope they will now remain in our library forever.

Among the large libraries that we took over there are also some important ones of international trade secretariats. I am particularly mentioning this because these libraries are of special importance for our joint project that we are planning. In the eighties three big international trade secretariats parted with their extensive and valuable libraries:

These three libraries were the basis for our rich collection of international trade union material.

In the nineties many other trade union organisations parted with their libraries. Although they were important organisations, the size of their libraries was rather small. One reason was that the collections were built up in a short period of time.

They were the following organisations:

Especially the library of the International Metalworkers' Federation was of great importance for us. The collection dates from the early years of trade union mergers. Moreover, in neutral Switzerland the books were safe from the inferno of the world war. I think without exaggeration we can say today that our library has one of the largest collections of international trade union literature world-wide.

Now, how is it possible to gain access to the collection? All books are catalogued in a database that is searchable on the Internet since 1996. Our library is open to the public. It is connected to national and international inter-library loan. Years ago the library developed an electronic document delivery system and for some years now has also been making efforts to collect and catalogue electronic documents of political parties and trade unions.

The Archive of Social Democracy of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation

In the Archive of Social Democracy of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation the number of staff is much bigger than in the library ( At present 50 people work there. The archive collects private documents of important personalities of German Social Democracy and the German trade union movement. It collects the organisational papers of the German Social Democratic Party down to regional level. The staff of the archive is in charge of the central archive of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), the central organisation of German trade unions. The biggest German trade unions have given their papers to Bonn as well. In this context the archive of the German Metalworkers' Union IG Metall has to be specially mentioned. The IG Metall had 2.8 Million members and till 2001 it was the biggest member union of the western world. But this year it was exceeded by the number of members of ver.di, the German union for the service sector.

The take-over of archives of international trade union organisations though caused the biggest increase in the last couple of years. In his essay “Documents of the international and European trade union movement within the Archives of Social Democracy of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation” my colleague Hans-Holger Paul, who - together with his team - is responsible for this expanding part of the archive has given a remarkable summary of this process ( The text was written for the IALHI conference 2000 in Oslo and gives a good overview of the acquisition policy.

The library's and archive's acquisition policy is co-ordinated. In the last couple of years the political and trade union connections of the archive have been advantageous to the library. Apart from the traditional international mergers there have recently been many European trade union mergers. With the advancing of political integration the European trade unions had to find new positions, too. The European mergers are getting more and more important for national trade unions because many juridical and social conditions for their existence are fixed in Brussels.

With the take-over the files of European trade unions our archive has set an important example. There are contracts with most European trade union organisations. In accordance with these contracts the files of these organisations will be archived in Bonn.

The work of the International Association of Labour History Institutions (IALHI)

Organisations that are closely connected to the labour movement began early to form international unions. The European archives, libraries and museums did that in 1970. At that time representatives of eight countries followed an invitation of the British Labour Party in order to launch the International Association of Labour History Institutions.

At the beginning this was a typical West European matter. It was dominated by Central European countries: Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland.

Soon the Scandinavian countries joined in. They belong to those countries with the longest tradition in the development of archives and libraries of the labour movement. The Swedish archive Arbetarrörelsens arkiv och bibliotek was founded in 1902 and has the longest continuous tradition. Archive and library of German Social Democracy are indeed 20 years older, but their holdings were scattered during the world war.

Until today Scandinavian institutions are the backbone of the IALHI. Recently this year Karin Englund from Stockholm was the first woman to be elected as secretary of the IALHI. In the past the annual meetings served as a platform for the exchange of information. This was important and for many colleagues it is nowadays still the most important aspect of the IALHI's work. Especially the co-operation among libraries was and is of essential meaning. For many years there was a great exchange of duplicate books, in fact there was a transnational exchange of whole libraries. Apart from this it is especially necessary to mention all the joint bibliographical projects.

In the digital age the international co-operation has changed its character. Now there is a countless number of possibilities. Many IALHI members are still quite conservative in their work and do not use the new technical facilities in the best possible way, whereas others are more progressive and very creative. But this is just natural.

The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam maintains the IALHI website ( There one can find addresses, URLs, a news service, a web museum and a serials service. At present there are considerations on a joint search engine which shall retrieve information of the archives' websites.

The latest project we realised was a bibliographical one that lists all documents of the Socialist International and of thirty-nine other international organisations related to Social Democracy (Socialist Youth International, International Friends of Nature, Asian Socialist Conference etc.)

The project was realised conventionally. The responsible person was our colleague Gerd Callesen, director of the library of the archive of the Danish labour movement. This project was actually less a bibliography than an union catalogue of the involved member organisations. But this was in fact what we had in mind. In the Library of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation we are trying to convert this bibliography into a database ( It is intended to maintain and supplement this database in the following years.

At the same time we managed to microfilm nearly all journals of the bibliography with the support of a sponsor, the Erich Brost Foundation. I think I do not break a secret telling you that such a project also means a great logistic challenge. How are these microfilms distributed? With the help of a German non-profit business that works on a co-operative basis all IALHI members can purchase the microfilms at quite a low price. (Mikrofilmarchiv der deutschsprachigen Presse, Königswall 18, D-44122 Dortmund).

A new IALHI project: publications of international trade union organisations.

The success of the project of the Socialist International gave us the idea to simply repeat this success. Many IALHI organisations collect national publications. The common interest of all members are usually publications of international organisations. Since this year international documents of the social democratic parties are efficiently recorded. There has not been such progress with the international trade union organisations yet although preliminary work has been done.

I already mentioned that our library has taken over large stocks from international trade union organisations. Our archive also keeps large amounts of documents. But the mutual interest between the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the international trade secretariats is not only restricted to the sources of the movement.

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is an important partner of international trade union organisations in their daily work. Especially in the field of educational work our foundation works closely together with the international trade secretariats, but for good reasons the trade union organisations certainly keep their independence within this co-operation. On the title pages of many publications both the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and an international trade union organisation are mentioned. Every year there is a meeting at our foundation which all general secretaries of the international trade secretariats attend.

Of course our foundation has also published quite a lot about the international trade secretariats. This is something our foundation and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations have very much in common. In our foundation though there is a great political interest besides the scientific one. And again I think I do not break a secret telling you that the political interest predominates by far. But: there is a scientific interest in our foundation and this is represented by library and archive.

Many works on theory and practice of the international trade union organisations that were written in Germany and Western Europe could not have been published without books and documents kept in Bonn. Other important material is kept in the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, in scandinavian libraries, in Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland and last but not least in the United States.

The idea of the project

We are trying in Bonn to develop a database for the IALHI that records the printed documents of the international trade union organisations. Not only papers of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), its predecessors and its international trade secretariats shall be recorded but also papers of the christian International Federation of Christian Trade Unions (IFCTU) and of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

Of course we are mainly interested in documents of free trade unions. But as International Association of Labour History Institutions we cannot neglect the WFTU and its trade secretariats. The reason is that we have also members within the IALHI which are closely connected to the WFTU by its tradition. This for example applies to the archive of the biggest French trade union confederation CGT.

But modern technology facilitates the combination of different philosophies of life in one database and allows to separate them again virtually. This enables the organisations of the ICFTU to link themselves exclusively with their data holdings.

We decided to start off in a small way. We intend to begin with the recording of periodicals and press releases. Later we want to add protocols and yearbooks to the database. At present a student apprentice is beginning to copy periodical titles from our own catalogue into this new special database. In a second step the web catalogues of big IALHI libraries will be searched which certainly includes the catalogue of the Catherwood Library. The relevant titles will be recorded in this special database.

The database is based on German standards, including the German cataloging rules which unfortunately differ from American standards.

A great help is the conventional union catalogue of our Scandinavian institutions. In 1986 and 1994 our friends in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark published two editions of their marvellous inventory of their holdings (Internasjonale fagsekretariater : felleskatalog over historisk kildemateriale fra de internasjonale fagsekretariater. Rev. utgave. - Oslo, 1994. - 156 S.)

Of course we will also refer to other conventional reference works, such as those that have been published here in Cornell. We do also expect quite a lot of our German serials database (ZDB). Until the First World War Berlin was the “secret capital” of the international trade union organisations and German predominated as their “official language”. In 1932 twenty-seven out of thirty-two secretariats had their headquarters in Germany. Some institutions stayed in Germany between the two wars. For understandable reasons none of them returned to Germany after the Second World War.

All documents recorded in the database are indexed on the basis of a classification of the organisations. The classification of the free trade unions was developed in our library. The part of the classification that refers to the WFTU and its trade secretariats will be developed by Gerd Callesen from Kopenhagen. Gerd knows many libraries in East Europe and with regard to the organisations of the international labour movement in Europe he might be one of the greatest experts.

The structure of the documents of the trade secretariats is extremely complicated. They were and are published in many different languages at the same time, the titles of protocols and regional conferences change permanently. Sometimes one gets the impression that those responsible for these publications just had in mind to torment librarians.

This is one of the reasons why we started with relative simple journals and newspapers. It is intended to record historical and contemporary documents at the same time. But there are also other reasons why we started the project with journals. It is easier to produce microfilms of journals. At present we are trying in Bonn to win our previous sponsor over to finance the filming of international trade union periodicals. This will be decided at the end of December.

All libraries that contribute to the project even only with one single issue will receive a microfilm of the corresponding journal. All other IALHI institutions shall have the opportunity to buy a copy at a low price. We still do not know exactly how to organise the distribution. There is no official decision yet, but I think the suggestion from Bonn will have some influence.

After the microfilming of the journals it will certainly be sensible to start with the microfilming of protocols and yearbooks. It is not clear yet whether we will produce microfilms or microfiches within this procedure. Besides, we are thinking of microfilming both German and English documents.

Surely we will find a solution for all problems. The Catherwood Library is a great and important library in the field of theory and practice of the international trade union movement. In Cornell there has been intensive research on this topic, and Cornell has a lot of experience in the production of big collections of microfilms. I would really like to invite you to join our project. Surely we shall have the opportunity to talk about further details.