The effects of declining membership on the workplace: factory councils and bargaining agreements

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 23, 2010

The dilemma posed by such a dramatic decline in membership provoked debate within the organization, raising the question of whether or not locals should participate in factory councils and enter into contractual negotiations. Such activities were rejected as incompatible with the union’s principals, which adhered to “direct action” and opposed any form of cooperation with management through representative policies. Still, the syndicalists exercised tolerance in regards to this question in areas where they maintained influence, such as the Ruhrgebiet or the Rheinland, a policy that continued until 1933. When the smaller local unions of the FAUD actually did make contractual agreements they were not recognized under the law, a matter that was eventually brought before the Reichsarbeitsgericht [National Labour Court], which ruled that an organization whose principles advocated class struggle and revolution could not bargain under the protection of labor laws, since it refuted the legitimacy of the legal system as such. With this ruling the effort to win the union both time and room to maneuver came to nothing.

In terms of mandates to the legally-recognized factory councils the other workers’ organizations of the FAUD had long since been pushed to the periphery. Nevertheless, the question of how to attract the attention of more workers and increase the influence of the syndicalists pushed the active members to look for new avenues and methods. However, the integration of the workers into the newly-moulded “social state” had been more or less completed and the central trade unions jealously guarded their gains. Finally the syndicalists set their sights on the agricultural sector, a surprising development in an industrial workers’ organization. And yet, despite a agriculturally-centered publication, “Free the Land”, this initiative achieved no results worth mentioning.