The International Handbook of Labour Unions
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The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.
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Chapter 9: German Unions Facing Neo-liberalism: Between Resistance and Accommodation

Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten


Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten INTRODUCTION In the autumn of 2010, only two years after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers ushered in the financial crisis, it seems the German economy was in the process of recovery: exports were taking off again and officially registered unemployment was about to reach its lowest level since the early 1990s. But the balance sheet for the unions has not been so healthy. They realise that, while government and employers in late 2008 were receptive to involving them in corporatist crisis management, their more far-reaching goals were dismissed. From the viewpoint of the German unions, the crisis has confirmed the failure of neo-liberal policies. As the president of the Confederation of German Unions (DGB) pointed out at its 2010 congress, ‘Neo-liberalism, deregulation and privatisation were enormous errors. They have led the economy and society down a blind alley’. Consequently, he called for a ‘new order’ to create a society that was characterised by ‘understanding, fairness, solidarity and with good jobs for everyone’ (Sommer 2010, our translation). The character and contours of such a ‘new order’, however, are far from clear. During the past three decades, unions in Germany have mainly focused on defending the principles of ‘Rhenish capitalism’ (Albert 1993), a model which has its roots in the post-war development in western Germany. The German union movement, which emerged in the post-war years, is largely dominated by one large confederation, the DGB, and its comparatively few affiliated unions. Their point of reference has been a...

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