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Foreign News: Mitbestimmungsrecht

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West Germany’s Bundestag last week passed a law that will give German labor unions a legal half nelson on German industry. The law takes West Germany farther from free-enterprising capitalism and closer to socialism—yet it was sponsored by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his conservative coalition, which hoped thereby to prevent passage of a more drastic law. Mitbestimmungsrecht (literally, the right of code termination) is the word for Germany’s new halfway house to socialism. Extending to all German industry the rules that have bound the Ruhr’s steel mills and coal mines since 1947, it requires employers to give their workers a substantial share in all decisions affecting their business. The bill’s provisions: ¶ In plants employing more than 500 workers, labor representatives will sit alongside management and stockholder representatives on the board of directors. Labor will cast one-third of the votes. ¶ In medium-sized businesses (between 100 and 500 workers), workers’ committees must be kept informed of all policy decisions (e.g., profits, sales, financing), and must pass on all improvements. They will also have a say in hiring & firing. ¶ In small workshops (less than 20 employees), watchdog labor councils will handle work contracts, employee welfare, grievances and training.

Codetermination will not apply to schools, churches and newspapers, where it might constrict freedom of thought.

Kurt Schumacher’s German Socialists held up passage of the bill for three days, while they held the floor for 25 hours in the longest filibuster in the short history of the new Bonn Republic. The bill, they complained, is “reactionary” because it gives the workers only one-third instead of one-half of the voting power in the larger industries. The German Federation of Trade Unions (6,000,000 members) for the first time agreed to join with Schumacher’s party in fighting Adenauer.

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