How do you become a union leader?


Trade unions emerged in the 19th century in the course of industrialization. The aim of the workers' associations was and is to improve the social and economic living conditions of their members. They represent their interests vis-à-vis employers and the state.

Basically, two main groups can be distinguished in Germany: Under the umbrella of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) are the eight individual trade unions IG Bau, IG Bergbau, Chemie, Energie (BCE), the Education and Science Union (GEW), IG Metall, the union Food, pleasure, restaurants (NGG), the police union (GdP), Transnet and ver.di combined. They represent employees in the private and public sectors. The DGB is represented by the chairman of its federal executive committee, Reiner Hoffmann.

The German Association of Officials (dbb) acts as a trade union umbrella organization in the public sector alone. 39 trade unions from the public service and the privatized service sector belong to the dbb, e.g. the union of German locomotive drivers (GDL). Acting federal chairman of the dbb is Josef Arendes.

In addition to these two main groups, there are other trade union groups, such as the Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany, the Marburger Bund or the German Association of Journalists. As a rule, they represent professional groups.

Article 9 of the Basic Law grants every German the right to form clubs and societies. These clubs, associations, interest groups, societies, associations etc. are free amalgamations of interested parties within democratic states that exert influence on political events without, however, bearing government responsibility themselves.

In the circle of these interest groups, the associations of employees (trade unions) and associations of employers (employers' associations) are referred to as social partners. An important prerequisite for the functioning of these social partners is that the balancing of the conflicting interests between capital and labor is not perceived by the state, but is left to them for themselves (collective bargaining autonomy).

In the Federal Republic of Germany there are around 150 employee associations that pursue collective bargaining policy and are therefore trade unions.

The Basic Law not only protects the right of individuals to form an association with others or to join a specific association, but also guarantees the protection of coalitions (associations) that have come together to safeguard and promote common interests. For example, workers' associations are protected in their existence, their organizational autonomy and in their association-like activities. This protection exists against

  • the state: the state can only set those barriers that are necessary to protect other legal interests or legal participants;
  • Third parties: Third parties may not discriminate against club members - union members - because of their membership in this club;
  • the members: the expulsion of a union member can be examined by the ordinary courts.

A coalition of workers protected by the state is called a trade union if it fulfills the following requirements (these requirements also apply to employers' associations):

  • It has to be an association of workers.
  • It must be a voluntary association of employees.
  • It has to be a permanent alliance between a large number of members.
  • Unions must be independent of the opponent.
  • Trade unions must be able to act as opponents of the social partner employers' association.
  • The union must be supra-company. That means: Your sphere of activity must not be limited to one company. Exceptions are the "house trade unions" of the Post (Deutsche Postgewerkschaft) and Deutsche Bundesbahn AG (TRANSNET - Union of Railway Workers in Germany). They are generally recognized as unions.
  • Trade unions must be a countervailing force. So they have to have a coalition strength that enables them to push through their ideas with power. This position of power depends on the number of members of the trade unions. As the membership increases, they are able to put pressure on the employer.
  • The workers' associations and the decision-making process to be carried out in them must meet democratic requirements with the aim of promoting the working and economic conditions of the members.

In contrast to Italy, France and England, for example, in the Federal Republic of Germany the majority of union members are concentrated in a few large unions. These are the trade unions of the German Federation of Trade Unions (ver.di, IG Metall, industrial trade union for mining, chemistry, energy, etc.), the German Federation of Civil Servants, the Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany, the Marburg Federation, the Deutsche Bank Employees Association and the German Association of Journalists. (Ni)