The Labour Front
To imagine that when we speak of the Trades Unions in Germany before National Socialism we are speaking of organisations which were the same as our Trades Unions in this country, is to misread the whole situation that existed in 1933.
There are three organisations in this country which the wage earning class have built up for themselves, - the Friendly Societies, the Trades Unions and the Co-operative Societies. The Trades Unions, built up through years of struggle when they were illegal institutions, have become part of the recognised organisations of Labour in this country and in some cases a complete scheme for dealing with the problems which arise between Labour and Capital has been developed like that which exists in our railways, with the Trades Unions, the employers organisation and the railway board as final arbiters. It is also necessary to remember that the Trades Unions not only represent the organised workers in labour disputes but are also benefit societies.
There is no necessary connection between Trades Unionism and Socialism. There is no reason why a Trades Union secretary should not be a member of the Primrose League and walk on to the platform of the congress with a primrose in his buttonhole, except that it is one of the things which is not done. To-day he is expected to be a member of the Labour Party and accept without question the pale pink brand of Socialism produced by the Bureaucratic mind, the mere thought of which makes a genuine Communist vomit.
The Socialist resolutions passed every year by the T.U.C. do no harm to anyone, and do not produce the mildest flutter on the Stock Exchange. Every man voting for them is more or less a Capitalist, the Trades Unions themselves have their funds well invested, the Friendly Societies and the Co-operative Societies have hundreds of millions of invested capital. Harcourt once said we are all Socialists now. He might as well have said we are all Capitalists now.
Keir Hardie did the workman a bad turn when he persuaded the Trades Unions to hoist the banner embroidered by the fair hands of Mrs. Webb, but he secured ample funds for the political organisation.
Both the Liberal and the Conservative Parties can claim credit for the advance in social conditions in this country. Only one Party is absolutely sterile and for this reason, that they have adopted a dogma of foreign origin, a patent medicine to cure all social ills, and the Englishman rightly distrusts cure-alls and suspects a neatly logical system because he instinctively distrusts logic outside the Book of Euclid.
The marriage of Trades Unionism to Socialism has been an unfortunate marriage for the workman, but it has not wrecked the Trades Union organisation.
If we now study the Trades Unionism in Germany before 1933, we find the Trades Unions run by political adventurers, entirely absorbed in politics, riddled with Communism, hopelessly in debt, and with an income insufficient to pay the official salaries. It was necessary in the interests of the German workman to sweep away the whole rotten system by which he was being exploited.
It is forgotten that Hitler as a youth and young man lived in great poverty picking up casual labour in Vienna, and he had the inestimable advantage of studying international socialism and communism from the inside, a victim with an intelligent and critical mind. He found out two things in Vienna, - one that the class war leads nowhere, the other that the only people who made money out of the class war were the Jews.
He himself, one of the workers and one of the victims, had long thought out his solution when he ordered his followers to take over the Trades Union organisation, to dismiss the official parasites, and organise in its place the Labour Front, which took over the liabilities of the old Trades Unions and secured for the old members the benefits for which they had paid the money which had been squandered. Quite apart from National Socialism, the Trades Unions were rotten, were bankrupt and something had to be done in the interests of the working man.
The central idea of the Labour Front is an organisation of industry workshop by workshop, in which all those employed in production including the employer and employed are in one organisation with the object of honest production for the good of the German people. Your interests, said Hitler, are not divided, they are the same. While you quarrel over the share of the payment for production, production itself ceases. He determined to replace the economic system of the 19th century, under which labour is bought as a ton of coal is bought and the employer admits no responsibility to the worker, and the State has to intervene at every stage to protect his health and life, by the ideas permeating the old mediaeval guilds. Production was to become human instead of inhuman. We look back with horror upon the exploitation of child labour in the middle of the 19th century.
Karl Marx and Hitler were equally horrified by the inhuman exploitation of the 19th century, but Karl Marx, a journalist, saw it from the outside. Hitler lived and suffered inside the system, and Karl Marx gave the world a message of hate, of spoilation, of a brutal materialism, while Hitler brought it a message of Peace and revival of the message of the gospel. You are all wrong, he cries to the revolutionary Socialists, your way is the way of death. The negative of evil must be driven out by the positive of good. We need an ethical idea with which to permeate the body politic. Lenin in his frenzy used to cry out for torrents of blood. He bathed in them before the end, and the Russian workman has got a new master, the Communist official. "He beat you with whips but I will beat you with scorpions."
Man moves forward by new ethical ideas or rather by the unfolding of the inner meaning of old ideas like the opening of a flower from its green case, petal after petal is displayed and each means a step upwards.
I do not deny that our English Socialism, though I believe it to be wrong on economic lines, is an ethical movement, but Continental Socialism is and has been a very different affair controlled by men lusting for power and exploiting labour for its own ends.
The new organisation of labour is known as the Labour Front, which not only carries on the old benefits of the Trades Unions, and supplies them for half the subscription but has undertaken new activities in the "Strength through Joy" movement which we have never thought of in this country. It has also made universal the payment for holidays, which is based upon the National Socialist idea of the workman as a man with rights as a citizen of the German State, and not merely a penny-in-the-slot machine who is only to be paid when his wheels turn inside. If the T.U.C. instead of passing Socialist resolutions would take up the practical tasks of the Labour Front, they would find universal support in this country and double their membership.
Besides the Labour Front which contains to-day over 20,000,000 members, the National Socialist Government has passed an elaborate Labour Law which I shall make some attempt to describe, but before doing so deal with one of the main accusations against the National Socialist Government, that they have forbidden strikes. Strikes are a form of war, and in the U.S.A. are frequently accompanied by actual warfare, and are destructive and ruinous to both parties and to the community. It took us a long time to recover from the blow to trade of the General Strike. I remember in the Coal Strike of 1921, the Miners Union called out the men at the pumps, thus destroying many millions of pounds of property on which their own living depended. At that time being head of the Technical College in Edinburgh, I wired for our mining students to return from their holidays and go straight to the Fife coal fields and man the pumps. In two days the water was under control, but the Government who had promised to send soldiers to protect the mines were of course not ready, so the mob of miners threw out our boys, the mines were flooded and millions of pounds of property destroyed, and after the strike was over the Fife miners had to wait six months before they could resume their work underground.
I was violently abused by the Fife miners secretary who afterwards became Secretary for Scotland in the Labour Government for taking the side of the mine owners. I replied I have nothing to do with the quarrel between the miners and the mine owners. The mines do not belong either to the mine owners or the miners. They are my property as a member of the British Commonwealth and I have a right to protect my property, a sound National Socialist principle.
It must not be forgotten that while strikes are forbidden lock-outs are also forbidden and it was a lock-out of the miners by the mine owners, before the Commission had reported, that caused the general strike.
If the dreams of the T.U.C. are fulfilled and we become a Socialist State one of the first acts of the State will be to abolish the Trades Unions and forbid strikes.
The Labour Law
The Labour Law is so utterly different from any Act of Parliament in its ideas and expression that it is difficult to follow an intelligible path through its intricate proposals.
In the first place there is the new constitution known as the confidential council in every factory. This body contains representatives from every section of the industry, the workman's representatives being chosen by secret ballot from a list prepared in consultation with the Labour Front, a list for which certain qualifications are necessary such as that to be on the list, a workman must be over 25 and must have belonged to the establishment for a year, with not less than two years' previous experience in a similar industry. The office of a member of the council is an honorary one, and the employer or manager is bound to give the council information necessary for carrying out their duties.
The employer or manager is responsible for the welfare of the workers and the council is to assist the employer in his duties with a view to increase the efficiency of the factory and to deal with any disputes arising between the employer and the employed. The members of the council must all belong to the Labour Front organisation.
The majority of the council may lodge an appeal in writing to the "Labour Front" against any decision of the employer.
The voting list for members is drawn up by the employer and the chairman of the National Socialist cell organisation.
The "Labour Trustee" is a government official and appointed to supervise a group of factories; he has no connection with trade or industry.
The duties of the Labour Trustee are as follows: They supervise the formation and operation of the confidential councils and give a decision in case of a dispute. They decide in cases of appeal by the council and may reverse a decision of an employer and issue the necessary ruling themselves.
The Labour Trustee decides respecting proposed dismissals. The employer is bound to give notice in writing of more than 9 dismissals out of a 100 employees, and more than 10% of dismissals over 100. The dismissals cannot take place until four weeks after the Labour Trustee has been notified. Establishment rules of hours and wages and grounds for dismissal without notice must be issued in writing by the employer to the work people.
The Labour Trustees may lay down guiding principles for each establishment and rules and general rates where minimum conditions of employment are needed, for the protection of the work people. The Labour Trustee has great powers over his district and can make rules to apply to the special conditions of that district.
The Labour Trustee appoints an advisory council of experts for the various branches of industry in his district for consultation on questions which are of a general nature or which involve a principle. Three fourths of the experts must be chosen from lists of individuals drawn up by the Labour Front.
Employers and members of the confidential councils shall be selected in equal numbers. One fourth of the members can be appointed by the Labour Trustee from suitable persons in the district. The Labour Trustee can appoint a committee of experts to advise in individual cases.
The Labour Courts
If an employee is dismissed after one year's employment in an establishment of not less than ten persons he may lodge a complaint with the Labour Court. The complaint must be accompanied by a report from the confidential council that the continuance of employment has been unsuccessfully raised by them.
If the Court decides the reversal of the dismissal it shall include in the sentence an amount of compensation if the employer refuses to revoke the dismissal. It will be noted that the employee is carefully guarded from wrongful dismissal. He has first an appeal to his own confidential council and then to the Labour Court.
Social Honour Courts
One of the most interesting ideas in the Labour Law is the Social Honour Court.
The idea of the Social Honour Court is that a person can harm the State by actions which are not illegal and that the employers and employees in a working community have responsibilities to each other, the works and the State. Offences under this category are as follows: - If an employer exploits his workmen, or abuses his authority, or is disobedient to instructions given by the Labour Trustee: If a member of the confidential council reveals without authority confidential information or technical or business secrets which have become known to him through his duties as a member of the confidential council: If an employee endangers industrial peace by maliciously provoking other employees, or if a confidential man interferes unduly in the conduct of the establishment, or continually disturbs the community spirit.
The Honour Court consists of an official of the judiciary appointed by the Federal Minister of Justice and the Federal Minister of Labour, as chairman, one leader of an establishment and one confidential man as assessors. These two are selected by the chairman from a list drawn up by the German Labour Front.
The Honour Courts may impose a warning, a reprimand, a disciplinary fine, disqualification for the position of leader, or confidential man, and removal of the offender from his post.
Decisions on offences against social honour are given on the application of the Labour Trustee by an Honour Court established for each Labour Trustee's district.
Strength Through Joy
There must have been a time before the black cloud of industrialisation pouring from a million factory chimneys destroyed joy in life, when the people however poor they may have been had some communal pleasures. The folk songs, the peasant dancing, the beautiful peasant costumes worn on important occasions all indicate that such a time once existed.
The beauty of the buildings in our villages also show a people living in the land who had the capacity for appreciating and the pleasure in building the house and the Church. Mankind does not live by bread alone and this is the central idea of the "Strength through Joy" organisation which is a branch of the Labour Front.
The movement has taken four directions. One is that the pleasures of the theatre, the concert hall, and travel, even as far as Madeira, could be put in the reach of all at a very small expenditure by the individual. Last year by means of the "Strength through Joy" organisation 4,850,000 German work people attended theatres. Travelling companies that go from village to village have been organised, the theatres have agreed to give certain special performances at cheap prices, the whole movement has not only brought the theatre to every door but has proved profitable for the theatres themselves.
Excellent music is now also available and the German has always had a love for good music.
The second side of their organisation is the development of music and dramatic societies and athletic clubs. All this of course would have been impossible by a central organisation. The fact is the "Strength through Joy" idea has caught on in Germany, and with a little guidance from headquarters the villages and the workshops are organising these things for themselves. Broadcasting is being used to transmit the best of their local efforts.
The third idea is improving factory conditions, not only by providing washing and bathing facilities and dining rooms, but by making the factories inside more pleasant places, and turning waste ground outside into gardens, and even converting the hideous dumps into things pleasant to look at. Factories in this country are often pleasant places and well equipped. Bryant and Mays in East London is surrounded by gardens and tennis grounds for their employees. But it is only necessary to penetrate the industrial quarters of Manchester, of the Five Towns, of Birmingham, or of Glasgow, to realise their appallingly dreary ugliness.
50,000,000 marks have been spent on improving the factories since the "Strength through Joy" movement was started, and prizes are given for the most beautiful villages.
The fourth side is their very complete organisation of educational work.
The astounding success of this movement would never have been achieved, as I have said, by a central organisation alone. The people of Germany have grasped the idea of National Socialism and with a little direction and suggestions from headquarters are working out the practical application for themselves. Hitler is right when he says, "I represent today the German people more closely than any Prime Minister of a Democratic country". The lightest touch on the wheel from the captain is all that is needed to steer the ship.