The heyday of corruption and the end of corporatism - Robert Kurz

A short article by Robert Kurz on corporate corruption in the context of the decline of “corporatism”, with particular reference to Germany and the trade unions, the Works Committees and the Siemens scandal.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on April 16, 2013

The more fictitious and speculative the capitalist valorization process becomes, the more brazenly corruption flourishes. If necessary, one eats a greasy sausage without any bread. Dietary recommendations are useless, because everything ends up the same; if they catch you, that is your bad luck. Bad luck has seemingly finally attached itself to that real global player, the German corporation, Siemens. One after another, a series of “black boxes” have been discovered; the government’s tax auditors would like to delve into the affairs of the transnational company. The president of its board of directors, Johannes Feldmayer, is now being held in preventive detention, and is suspected of having transferred illicit funds to the Works Committees. At least 15.5 million Euros have ended up going to Wilhelm Schelsky—the former chairman of the “Labor Community of Independent Members of the Works Committee” (the AUB)—under the pretext of a “consultant’s contract” without any actual services worth mentioning having been rendered. The AUB is not a special creation of Siemens; at the federal level it represents 10% of the members of the Works Committees and competes, as the traditional Christian trade union federation, with the DGB [the German Trade Union Federation, the social democratic-oriented trade union federation].

A classic case, one might say. Submissive and domesticated “yellow trade unions” have constituted one of the means employed to undermine the foundations of the socialist workers movement and to pacify social conflict since the 19th century. On the surface, it would seem that IG Metall [the metalworkers trade union of the DGB, and the most powerful union in the Federation] has played its traditional role in this dispute, proclaiming that it is scandalized by the AUB affair and expressing its anger at such illicit funds transfers. Yet only recently the DGB was itself implicated in a similar scandal, when the leaders of the Works Committee of Volkswagen were the beneficiaries of under-the-table financial transfers and all-expenses-paid vacations. The distinction between “yellow” and “red” trade unions has long since been erased. The colors of this glorious tradition have faded to such a degree that they are indistinguishable. It is no secret that the princes who are nominated by the DGB to serve on the Works Committees are treated—legally—like kings (they are often granted the free use of a car and chauffeur), nor is it rare for the “electoral campaign for the Works Committee to be financed by money from the employer,” As Bernd Ziesemer, the editor in chief of Handelsblatt, proclaims, not without malice.

This kind of corruption is a structural problem with its own history. The “Works Councils” cultivated after the defeated Revolution of 1918 preserved nothing but the name of an institution for emancipatory self-management; as a kind of school of co-administration in the logic of capital, they had nonetheless not entirely incorporated entrepreneurial competitive interests, and as representatives of the employed personnel they were ambivalent from the start. Under the national socialist state, the Works Councils were assimilated into the racist and antisemitic “peoples community” and functioned within the framework of the “enterprise communities” as social whitewash for the regime.

After the Second World War, the Works Councils became a constitutive part of the social market economy in the corporatism of state, trade unions and corporate management, without this transformation ever being critically elaborated. In the times of the economic miracle, this corporatism did, of course, register achievements for the masses of the wage workers. The “honorable administrators” of co-determination were able to point to respectable results. With the onset of globalization and the third industrial revolution, however, everything gave way to co-administration of the crisis, reduced to setting the rate of wage reductions, transition to part time and temporary contracts and massive layoffs. Even the status of company employees once thought to be untouchable is now under threat, so that the trade union representatives in the Works Committees and the Monitoring Commissions turn a blind eye towards social concerns. As a result, and under the pressure of globalization, the old national corporatism is dissolving very rapidly.

In the institutional ruins of the enterprise constitution, like everywhere else, everyone will get their turn. The “networking opportunists” at all levels know that the end of their access to a slice of the pie is coming; this is why they are trying to feather their nests now. This also applies just as much to the executives in the private sector as well as to the political class, to cultural and scientific activity, and social organizations. The trade unions that now call themselves service provision enterprises and teach their employees “customer-oriented quality management” are no exceptions.

What takes place at the highest levels, also takes place at the lowest: now the celebrated basis largely consists in the proliferation of dissociated Me, Incorporateds [“Me, Inc.” is part of current German political jargon and refers to the values of extreme individualism and the attitude of every man for himself]. All the banners of political and social identity have been soaked in the capitalism of crisis by the yellow emetic of the banner of economic liberalism. Thus, with regard to corruption, Germany occupies a good position in the center of the global playing field. Everyone expresses their cheap indignation; and everyone is comparable, given the chance, because the one thing that is sure is that no one believes in “regular” promotion as a result of one’s own merits. So, please, spare us the obligatory moral effusions, as if the problem was the human limitations of a handful of perfectly interchangeable persons. The Marxian concept of “character mask”, which is more relevant today than ever, was not originally elaborated in the sense of an ethics of good people.

Robert Kurz
April 15, 2007

Translated from the Spanish translation in March 2013
Spanish translation by Amaranta Süss: www.