Publications of Thomas Fetzer
Defending Mitbestimmung: German trade unions and European company law harmonisation 1967-1990
Recent years have witnessed an enormous growth of research about European Union legislation in the field of employee participation. Besides studies analysing the legislation itself, many publications also deal with the impact of EU developments on employee participation in member states. While impressive in its conceptual breadth and empirical detail, this literature lacks a historical dimension. Taking the example of Germany and of the German trade union confederation, DGB, this article demonstrates that such a historical perspective is important not least because it sheds new light on contemporary debates. The case study chosen concerns the impact of regulatory initiatives for a European Company (Societas Europaea, SE) Statute on DGB co-determination policy since the late 1960s. The article argues that DGB positions shifted from an exclusive focus on the protection of national achievements, towards an approach that combined protection with attempts for re-regulation at the European level from the late 1980s.
Exporting the American model? Transatlantic entanglements of industrial relations at Opel and Ford Germany (1948-1965)
Surveys of labour practices in subsidiaries of US-owned firms in Europe often argue that reluctance to join employer associations is a distinct feature of the American approach to industrial relations, entailing tensions with trade unions, particularly in so-called stakeholder economies like Germany. Taking the cases of Fordwerke and Opel, this article demonstrates, however, that this general claim does not always fit the historical pattern of US companies in post-war Germany. When the choice between plant and industry bargaining became a major issue at Opel (1948–58) and Fordwerke (1960–65), there was no significant pressure by Detroit management for decentralized negotiations. The real promoters of plant bargaining were the local works councils and union organizations, whose ideas, however, were controversial within the broader IG Metall union organization. The majority of the union's leadership feared that a decentralization of bargaining could weaken overall organizational strength and solidarity, or even lead to autoworkers splitting from the union. A transatlantic link was important, too – yet on the labour rather than on the management side: The American United Automobile Workers (UAW) trade union, concerned about growing Ford and GM investments in Western Europe, actively supported a shift towards plant bargaining in Germany through bilateral contacts and through a lobby for international collective bargaining coordination under the auspices of the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF). Such a prospect sounded as threatening to IG Metall leaders as to Ford and GM management, and their collusion accordingly ensured that industry bargaining prevailed. From the companies’ point of view the costs and constraints of membership in the German employer association were a drawback more than offset by the advantage of being shielded against a scenario of militant wage pressure by German car workers drawing on international support.
The Late Birth of international labour cooperation: Cross-border trade union networks at Ford and General Motors 1953-2001
Multinational companies (MNC) are today one of the most important challenges for the trade union movement. Against this backdrop, and given that the growth of MNC has been a long-term historical process, it is rather surprising how little efforts labour historians have devoted to the topic — despite the existence of a relevant and rich sociological and industrial relations literature. The article aims to contribute to fill this gap with a case study analysis of international trade union networks at Ford and General Motors, two firms in which such networks emerged early after the Second World War, and which today, at least in Europe, stand out as 'best practice' cases of international labour cooperation in the guise of European works' councils. The paper inquires into the changes in the motives, forms, and practical results of cross-border cooperation initiatives at Ford and GM in Western Europe during the second half of the twentieth century, and interprets these patterns against the backdrop of the broader development of trade union internationalism during the post-war period, and the more specific challenges organized labour faced in these two multinational firms. I argue that serious attempts for international cooperation were already made during the 1950s and 1960s but were frustrated because of management obstruction and also because of fears among major European unions that international bargaining could weaken national union structures and solidarity notions. It was only during the 1990s that the emergence of European works' councils led to the first tangible results of international cooperation, reflecting above all the much more threatening labour market consequences of MNC development during that period.
European Works Councils as Risk Communities: The Case of General Motors
The European works council (EWC) at General Motors is widely regarded as an outstanding example of cross-border trade union cooperation. This article reconstructs its development as a European trade union `risk community', which since the mid-1990s has faced unprecedented challenges to workers' interests as a result of intra-European competition for investment and GM's strategy of corporate globalization. To a limited extent, the EWC offered a European solution to local and national problems, but cross-border cooperation has remained fragile and issue-specific, and has implied a Eurocentric notion of trade union internationalism.