Saturday 15 April 2023
08.30 - 10.30
Jule Ehms :
Revolutionary Syndicalism on the Shop Floor – The Strike Pattern of the Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Free Workers’ Union of Germany)
Although syndicalism has become a relatively well-established research topic among labor historians, only little research exists on syndicalist union work itself. Using the Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Free Worker’s Union of Germany, FAUD), my paper explores one central aspect of union work and will offer an insight into syndicalist strike action. ... (Show more)
Although syndicalism has become a relatively well-established research topic among labor historians, only little research exists on syndicalist union work itself. Using the Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands (Free Worker’s Union of Germany, FAUD), my paper explores one central aspect of union work and will offer an insight into syndicalist strike action. I will describe the strategies of the FAUD as a participant in industrial strikes between 1918 and 1933.
The FAUD was founded in December 1919 and was the only union in Germany with an explicit syndicalist program. In its early years, the FAUD numbered around 150,000 members and gained experience in calling for and leading industrial actions. However, the period of flourishing syndicalism in Germany did not last for long. By 1924 the FAUD had collapsed. By 1925, the syndicalist union had shrunk to 25,000 members; by 1933 only around 4,500 workers remained.
The FAUD’s strike pattern can be described as conflict-oriented. Taking collective industrial action was not the last, but the first means of choice for resolving industrial disputes. The German syndicalists did not hesitate to mobilize large parts of the workers' community and to call for direct actions (which distinguishes the FAUD from the social democratic unions). At the same time, however, syndicalists proved to be willing and able to compromise. If necessary they revised their demands and collaborated with non-revolutionary organizations. Although the syndicalists welcomed both spontaneous and political strikes, their labor struggles were, all in all, within the framework of classic trade union disputes. They addressed mostly the amount of wages and working hours, they barely involved political demands (which differs significantly from the communist approach). The revolutionary rhetoric of the FAUD followed a thoroughly day-to-day and partly pragmatic work in the factory and did not necessarily result in industrial militancy. Surprisingly this was not only the case for the period after the FAUD had lost a significant number of its members but is also true for the revolutionary years at the beginning of the Weimar Republic when the syndicalists were comparatively strong.
An additional feature of the FAUD’s union work is its grassroots approach. The syndicalists almost unconditionally supported any strike and left the decision whether to strike or not completely to the workers themselves. These did not have to answer to an executive board or had to follow the instructions of a central committee. As I will argue, the high degree of member self-determination the FAUD allowed for contributed to the specific character of FAUD’s strike activity of being conflict-oriented and at the same time being attentive to the demands of the employees. (Show less)
Sophia Friedel :
The German Co-determination Model in a Transnational Perspective - between Demarcation and Rapprochement
In the immediate post WWII years, discussions on workplace democracy and co-determination / workers participation developed in different countries of West Europe. German Co-determination has emerged as a hallmark of the West German industrial relations system. Even though other West European countries took only limited interest in the model – ... (Show more)
In the immediate post WWII years, discussions on workplace democracy and co-determination / workers participation developed in different countries of West Europe. German Co-determination has emerged as a hallmark of the West German industrial relations system. Even though other West European countries took only limited interest in the model – as it was widely seen specifically German – or were outrightly hostile at the beginning, it became one of the two most discussed models for industrial relations and workplace democracy among trade union organisations and networks throughout West Europe. While both the history of German co-determination as well as the transnational history of trade unionism are mature research fields, there is very little historical research on circulations of the German co-determination in a transnational historical perspective. This study starts precisely at this intersection and explores the circulation, reception, discussions and transformation of the Co-determination model across Europe, with a focus on the UK and Swedish trade unions and on transnational trade union organisations and networks.
In all three countries, the discussion about industrial democracy arose after the end of WWII and all of them discussed various forms of participation in order to achieve workplace democracy in the long run. Whilst the German dualistic co-determination model was introduced, the UK relied on nationalisation and collective bargaining. Sweden on the other hand has taken the oath of numerous reforms, a highly developed system of organizational representation through trade unions and a co-determination law itself. In this respect, the Swedish co-determination model and the way the UK chose to achieve workplace democracy are more similar than the German co-determination model. Nevertheless, in the English-speaking world the concept of co-determination has become associated with the German “Mitbestimmung”. That a clear convergence and discussion of the German co-determination model has taken place at least in the UK is shown not only in 1977 with the publication of the Bullock report with its clear parallels and at the same time clear demarcations to the German system but also more recent discussions on corporate co-determination under Theresa May in 2013. The progression from the German model being considered unacceptable for the democratisation of the workplace in the UK to clearly recognisable convergences can be seen.
The traditional British instrument of industrial democracy, collective bargaining, seemed to be leaving no room for worker participation in the sense of co-determination in the phase of relative stability for the trade union and labor movement up to the 1970s. However, a clear change in the perception of the German model in the phase of radical growth and strike in the 70s is quite noticeable which continues into the phase of decline and re-organisation. Crisis and major challenges opened up traditional models of workplace democracy for the introduction or expansion of co-determination. This investigation shows how the German idea of co-determination interacted with other models of workplace democracy in the conceptions of British and Swedish trade unions. (Show less)
Pete Hodson :
Gallaher’s Tobacco: Work, Industry and Gender in Northern Ireland
The paper will use the example of Gallaher’s Tobacco factory in Ballymena to explore the gendered impact of deindustrialisation in the context of Northern Ireland. Belfast-based Gallaher’s opened a state-of-the-art cigarette manufacturing plant in Ballymena in the 1950s. The factory provided female industrial employment in a rural area of Northern ... (Show more)
The paper will use the example of Gallaher’s Tobacco factory in Ballymena to explore the gendered impact of deindustrialisation in the context of Northern Ireland. Belfast-based Gallaher’s opened a state-of-the-art cigarette manufacturing plant in Ballymena in the 1950s. The factory provided female industrial employment in a rural area of Northern Ireland. Using oral histories, the paper will discuss how women framed their experience of industrial work, identity as manual workers, and status as female earners within the domestic economy. After several multinational takeovers, Gallaher’s closed their Ballymena plant in 2017 with the loss of 900 jobs, with production moving to Poland. The paper will explore how women workers negotiated job loss, perceptions of capital flight and their re-integration into a saturated industrial labour market. The paper will conclude by asking whether the near-absence of industrial heritage is linked to Gallaher’s status as a ‘light’, ‘unskilled’ and predominantly female-employing manufacturer, and whether mass redundancies in Ballymena affected notoriously stubborn Northern Ireland voter behaviour in the town. (Show less)
Bridget Kenny :
Lift Labour and City Space: Race, Gender and Skill in the Labour of Elevator Maintenance, Repair and Operation in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1950s-1970s
Based on extensive archival and interview material, this paper uses the site of elevators and the multiple forms of labour required to install, maintain, repair and operate lifts between the 1950s and the 1970s, to examine how ‘lift labour’ constituted urban space in Johannesburg, South Africa. It examines elevators as ... (Show more)
Based on extensive archival and interview material, this paper uses the site of elevators and the multiple forms of labour required to install, maintain, repair and operate lifts between the 1950s and the 1970s, to examine how ‘lift labour’ constituted urban space in Johannesburg, South Africa. It examines elevators as an urban infrastructure explained through such articulated forms of labour – some more visible than others—that drew out key lineaments of ‘racial capitalism’.
The job of passenger lift operator was legally ‘reserved’ for white employment in the late 1950s in greater Johannesburg (Kenny 2020). The occupation itself was an odd job to be reserved, as it was nominally a service job, involved few people and the request came not from a worker or a union but from the husband of a (white) woman riding up in a lift with a black liftman. The affective dimensions of job reservation, unexamined in debates about job reservation, a core feature of apartheid labour control, point to wider significances of public intimacies in a changing city. Furthermore, in commerce, an important sub-sector covered by this ruling, employers hired white women to operate department store lifts as a way to meet the legal restriction. White women’s labour was defined as secondary to white men’s in terms of pay and occupation, producing race, class and gender ambivalences complicating arguments about the apartheid state’s hegemony, as women became ‘lift drivers’ and challenged gendered skill. In turn, lift operation contrasted with lift installation, maintenance and repair, for which tacit rules of hiring (but not formal job reservation) kept black men from becoming lift engineers. Yet by the 1970s, these jobs had opened to black artisans (first Indian and coloured men and then African men), trained through apprenticeship and technical programmes by white working class men. The strict regulation around safety and standards of maintenance, combined with global firms sourcing lift technology, produced an invisible yet highly skilled black male labour force maintaining and repairing this critical infrastructure. The generational relations required to reproduce new cohorts of repairmen complicate the story of lift labour and city space.
This paper considers in the same frame these articulations of race and gender within lift labour under apartheid. From this everyday urban site (the lift in the office building, residential highrise or department store) a view of multiple conjunctures extends our theorisation of racial capitalism to affective relations and changing city space to show how labour comes to constitute urban modernity and place.
Kenny, Bridget. 2020. “To protect white men: Job reservation in elevators in South Africa, 1950s - 1960s,” Social History 45 (4): 500-521. (Show less)
Tomas Widing :
Social Reform or Revolution? The Communist Party of Sweden and Trade Union Practice (1943–1953)
This paper aims to discuss the political practice of the Communist Party of Sweden from 1943 to 1953, focusing on the Party’s work within the trade union movement. My main interest is the contradiction and dynamic between the revolutionary socialist objective of the Party and the pragmatic – arguably reformist ... (Show more)
This paper aims to discuss the political practice of the Communist Party of Sweden from 1943 to 1953, focusing on the Party’s work within the trade union movement. My main interest is the contradiction and dynamic between the revolutionary socialist objective of the Party and the pragmatic – arguably reformist – day-to-day practice at the grassroots level.
The dissolution of the Communist International in 1943 and the move towards the so-called “peaceful road to socialism” – with the “Peoples democracies” functioning as a new ideal – meant that the concept of revolution changed. The revolution was no longer conceived as a clear break, an insurrectionary rupture, but as a more transitionary and long-term process. In Sweden, this also meant that the communists focused their struggle on gradual changes. In the trade unions, for example, they pushed for more radical demands (among other things, for higher wages), which won them quite large support. On the one hand, therefore, at the grassroots level, the Swedish communist trade union practice can be characterised as rather moderate. The communists were responsible and pragmatic trade union activists, working within an organisational framework dominated by the reformist practice of the social democrats. On the other hand, the loyalty to the communist states, as well as the long-term revolutionary objective persisted. The contradiction between a revolutionary socialist goal or ideology and the not-so-revolutionary day-to-day practice was, of course, not new – the same contradiction had existed earlier within Social Democracy. This paper will discuss the development of the Communist Party of Sweden in relation to the theoretical approaches developed in research on the earlier process within the social democratic movement, especially in Sweden. Consequently, the paper will also touch on the larger question that I aim to examine in my PhD thesis, namely: why does the revolutionary working-class organisations in a capitalist and democratic society tend to develop in a reformist direction? (Show less)