Labor movement

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The red flag as a symbol of the labor movement
Critical drawing to illustrate class society (1911)

The term labor movement has two meanings:

  • The labor movement in a broader sense is understood to mean social mass movements of dependent employees in societies with the beginning and advancing industrial capitalist mode of production. Its aim is the emancipation of the working class or the concrete improvement of their living conditions. Their accompanying phenomena include social unrest, protests , strikes and the like. a. even without organizational consolidation.

Organizational forms

The labor movement in the narrower sense, especially in Central Europe, typically consists of four basic types:

  1. The trade unions represent the interests of the employees in the factories and work, among other things, for higher wages and better working conditions.
  2. Labor parties as political organizations. Often these have Marxist roots ( socialist , social democratic or communist parties)
  3. Cooperatives (e.g. consumer cooperatives , housing cooperatives ) as self-help organizations.
  4. Leisure and educational clubs such as workers' education clubs , workers' sports clubs and workers' gardens .


Socialist parties and organizations (1863–1933) of the labor movement in Germany

A central prerequisite for the emergence of the labor movement and its organizations were the social, economic and political experiences common to the early industrial workers ( proletariat ) under conditions of capitalist industrialization and political oppression. As “released” workers, former agricultural workers and farmers as well as socially declassed craftsmen experienced the industrial work rhythm dictated by machines in the early factories , the dark Satanic mills ( William Blake ) for the first time. Added to this were the internal power relations - Karl Marx spoke of the “despotism of the factory” - as well as the miserable living conditions (“impoverishment”) in the proletarian residential areas of the rapidly growing cities.

The country of the first industrial revolution , England , was also the country with the first labor movement. It is wrong, however, to regard the machinists ( Luddites ) at the beginning of the 19th century as their founders. Before Luddism , in England at the end of the 18th century there were already associations of artisans and workers in political societies who fought for universal and equal suffrage and were persecuted ( London Corresponding Society with its secretary Thomas Hardy; later the Chartists ) and also trade unions ( Sidney and Beatrice Webb date the earliest, the Free Journeymen Printers , to 1666). The early unions often disguised themselves as "support funds " (friendly societies) to protect themselves from police persecution under the coalition ban (lifted in England in 1825).

In the early days of the labor movement, the forms of organization and protest were not yet well established. They ranged from ad hoc coalitions to mutual support funds to plebeian suffrage associations, and fluctuate between petitions and deputations, strikes and boycotts , riots and machine storms, which are "organized" by loose, mostly locally limited associations of wage workers to improve the social situation. How far this time was from orderly negotiations between entrepreneurs and wage workers can be guessed at from Eric Hobsbawms in connection with the machine storm coined term of collective bargaining by riot ( collective bargaining by riot).

The rise of the labor movement was closely linked to the barricade fighting of the revolutions of the 1840s in various European countries. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were the theorists of the socialist - communist current within the labor movement. They led the Communist League, which emerged from the League of the Just in London in 1847 , on whose behalf they published the Communist Party's manifesto in February 1848 . With its internationalist claim under the motto “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”, This manifesto became the basis of the party-politically organized socialist and later explicitly communist labor movement.

In 1864, the first international union of workers 'societies, the International Workers' Association (IAA), also known as the "First International", was founded in London . According to the provisional statutes, the IAA united “workers' societies which pursue the same goal, namely: the protection, progress and complete emancipation of the working class”. As a member of the General Council, Karl Marx wrote its programmatic documents and a number of appeals.

Workers' train in Neckarstrasse in Stuttgart on May 1, 1900. A worker carries the red flag

In the German Confederation , Ferdinand Lassalle founded the General German Workers 'Association (ADAV) in 1863, the first, still cooperative-oriented workers' party in Germany. Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel , both leading members of the Association of German Workers 'Associations , an association that competes with the ADAV, founded the Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP) in 1869 , a social democratic party based on Marxist theory . ADAV and SDAP united in Gotha in 1875 to form the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAP), from which the SPD emerged in 1890 . At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, social democracy in Germany and most other countries was still closely linked to the still young trade union movement, and its main content was still clearly aligned with Marxist theory.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were social democratic, socialist, communist and anarchist, as well as Christian and purpose-oriented (" workers ' sickness benefit associations ") workers' associations. Its important founders include Rosa Luxemburg , Clara Zetkin , Luise Zietz and Marie Juchacz .

A serious setback for the socialist labor movement meant the beginning of the First World War in the summer of 1914. Despite the decades promoted internationalism the respective labor movements of the countries presented after a short discussion - in the sense of a so-called truce as in Germany - behind the governments of their nation states to to go to war against their “class brothers”.

The labor movement reached its climax in the inter-war period , when it partially achieved the character of a comprehensive counterculture , for example in “ Red Vienna ” or in Sweden . A network of clubs and institutions, from looking after the youth through child friends and red hawks to funeral associations, from workers' sports, cycling and hiking clubs to consumer cooperatives, organized at least a considerable part of the workforce. In organizations such as the Workers 'Gymnastics and Sports Association , cooperation was not only practiced on a national but also on an international level, and larger events were also organized with the Workers' Olympics, which in the sporting sector became symbolic of international solidarity . The rescue and fire services were also partly set up by workers' organizations in addition to the existing one. In the interwar period, not only the Austrian Workers 'Samaritan Association , but also some workers' fire brigades, for example in St. Pölten . At events in public spaces, so-called Martin bands often provided musical accompaniment. In Volksheim (also called People's House) focused political, economic and educational functions. With the rise of fascism the optimism of the labor movement was broken. After 1945 there was an attempt at partial revival, but soon it was trivialized and de-ideologized in the beginning period of prosperity in most Western European countries.


In Austria, after the first beginnings in the revolution of 1848, a new establishment took place with the Wiener Arbeiterbildungsverein from 1867. The Austrian labor movement was initially based closely on the example of the German movement; the delegates of the Vienna Association took part in the Eisenach party congress around 1869. Only with the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 did the movement break down; after a phase of crises and divisions in 1889, a social democratic party was founded with the SDAP .


In 1871 the Danish labor movement was formed under Louis Pio . The Danish Social Democrats were founded in the autumn of 1871. In 1898 the trade union federation Landsorganisation i Danmark was founded.


The first Swedish trade union clubs came into being in the 1870s. The breakthrough came after the great wave of strikes in Norrland around 1880. These strikes, which were suppressed with the use of the military, made people aware of the importance of a unified organization. The trade unions came together in 1898 in an umbrella organization, the LO (national organization) .


In France, in 1791 (the second year of the French Revolution) the formation of trade unions and professional associations was forbidden by the Le Chapelier law. With the law of March 21, 1884 (also Waldeck-Rousseau law) this prohibition was lifted.

The Confédération générale du travail (CGT; General Trade Union Confederation) was founded in September 1895 at a congress in Limoges through the merger of the Fédération des bourses du travail and the Fédération nationale des syndicats . The CGT is traditionally close to the French Communist Party .

At the beginning of the First World War , the CGT was the only French trade union confederation. However, the increasingly profound opposition between reformists and revolutionaries led to a split in the organization in 1921. The moderate forces remained in the CGT, while the more radical forces launched a new trade union confederation, the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGTU).

On February 6, 1934, serious clashes broke out in Paris between right - wing extremist anti - parliamentary groups and the police, which left at least 15 dead and thousands injured. Fears of a fascist coup eventually helped to overcome the split on the left and led to the reunification of the CGT and CGTU in March 1936. A little later, on May 3, 1936, the united left won the parliamentary elections, and Léon Blum became France's first Jewish and socialist Prime Minister under the banner of the Popular Front .


The Dutch labor movement emerged in the second half of the 19th century along with revolutionary socialism and anarchism.

United States

About half the population in the North American British colonies were employed by 1750. In contrast to Europe, the social situation of the workers was quite heterogeneous, which was an obstacle to a union of workers with the aim of improving their situation. The employees can be divided into two large groups: the first consists of those male whites who were shipped from the Anglo-Saxon motherland to the colonies as convicts, forced laborers or debtors, but who became free citizens after completing the work imposed on them, and the second from those without rights Slaves. A telling picture is the breakdown of the population of Carolina in 1708: of around 9,580 inhabitants (including around 1,400 indigenous peoples) around 4,100 were slaves.


Demonstration of the Industrial Workers of the World in New York in 1914

Basic requirements of the early labor movements were universal suffrage (an example is the struggle of the Chartists in England), freedom of association and assembly, education, the freedom of association and the right to strike . With regard to wage and working conditions, an early demand of the (English) labor movement was: "A fair job for a fair wage" To achieve the general goal of a decent existence , minimum wages were introduced through collective agreements or state regulations, the " eight-hour day ", later the " Five-day week ", occupational safety , protection against dismissal and protection against illness and unemployment , the state-fixed minimum wage aimed at. These socio-political achievements were fought bit by bit through electoral movements, protracted strikes and collective bargaining, as well as high-profile campaigns . The current demands for a European minimum wage show that demands of this kind are still made today by the heirs of the labor movement, the trade unions.

See also


  • “No longer nothing.” History of the Labor Movement. Four-part documentary film by Stan Neumann for Arte (France 2020)


Labor movement in general

Labor movement Europe

  • Wolfgang Abendroth : Social history of the European workers' movement . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1965.
  • Wolfgang Abendroth: Introduction to the history of the labor movement. From the beginning until 1933. 3rd edition. Distel Verlag, Heilbronn 1997, ISBN 3-929348-08-X . (only European labor movement)
  • Nanni Balestrini , Primo Moroni: The golden horde: workers' autonomy, youth revolts and armed struggle in Italy. 2nd Edition. Verlag Association A, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-935936-08-7 .
  • Stefan Berger , The European Labor Movement and its Historians. Changes and perspectives. In: Yearbook for European History. 6, 2005, pp. 151-181.
  • Valérie Boillat, Bernard Degen , Elisabeth Joris , Stefan Keller , Albert Tanner, Rolf Zimmermann (eds.): On the value of work. Swiss trade unions: history and stories. Rotpunktverlag, Zurich 2006, ISBN 3-85869-323-5 .
  • Willy Buschak : Labor Movement and Europe in the Early 20th Century . Klartext, Essen 2018, ISBN 978-3-8375-1870-2 .
  • Peter Decker , Konrad Hecker: The proletariat: politically emancipated - socially disciplined - globally exploited - nationalistically corrupted; the great career of the wage class is coming to its just end. GegenStandpunkt-Verlag, 2002, ISBN 3-929211-05-X .
  • Dieter Dowe : Action and Organization: Labor Movement, Socialist and Communist Movement in the Prussian Rhine Province 1820-1852. (= Series of publications by the research institute of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. 78). Publishing house for literature and current affairs, Hanover 1970.
  • Dieter Dowe: Bibliography on the history of the German labor movement, socialist and communist movement from its beginnings to 1863, taking into account the political, economic and social framework. With an introduction. Reporting period 1945–1971 (1975). (= Archive for Social History . Supplement 5). Verlag Neue Gesellschaft, Bonn-Bad Godesberg 1976, ISBN 3-87831-210-5 .
  • Helga Grebing : History of the German labor movement. An overview . Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, Munich 1966.
  • Ralf Hoffrogge : Socialism and the labor movement in Germany and Austria. From the beginnings to 1914. Butterfly, 2nd, extended edition, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 3-89657-691-7 (first in 2011 as socialism and labor movement in Germany ).
  • Stefan Keller : The time of the factories. Of workers and a red city. Rotpunktverlag, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-85869-228-X .
  • Arno Klönne : The German labor movement. History - goals - effects. DTV, Munich, ISBN 3-423-11073-2 .
  • Jürgen Kocka : Workers and Citizens in the 19th Century. Variants of their relationship in a European comparison (= writings of the Historisches Kolleg . Colloquia . Vol. 7), Oldenbourg. Munich 1986, ISBN 978-3-486-52871-8 ( digitized version )
  • Jürgen Kocka: Tradition ties and class formation. On the socio-historical site of the early German labor movement (= writings of the historical college. Lectures . Vol. 8), Munich 1987 ( digitized version )
  • Richard Klucsarits, Friedrich G. Kürbisch (Ed., On behalf of the Austrian Society for Cultural Policy, Vienna): Women workers fight for their rights. Autobiographical texts (…) in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the 19th and 20th centuries. 2nd Edition. Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 1981, ISBN 3-87294-083-X .
  • Wolfgang Renzsch: Craftsmen and wage workers in the early labor movement. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1980, ISBN 3-525-35700-1 .
  • Gerhard A. Ritter (Hrsg.): The rise of the German labor movement. Social democracy and free trade unions in the party system and social milieu of the empire (= writings of the historical college . Colloquia, vol. 18). Munich 1990. ISBN 978-3-486-55641-4 ( digitized ).
  • Michael Ruck (Ed.): Opponent - Instrument - Partner. Union understanding of the state from industrialism to the information age. (= Understanding of the State, Vol. 106). Baden-Baden 2017; Nomos Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8487-3055-1 (brosch.), ISBN 978-3-8452-7204-7 (eBook) [Germany, France, Great Britain, USA].
  • Michael Schneider : Under the swastika. Workers and the workers 'movement 1933 to 1939. (= History of the workers and the workers' movement in Germany since the end of the 18th century. Volume 12). Dietz, Bonn 1999, ISBN 3-8012-5025-3 .
  • Edward P. Thompson : The Origin of the English Working Class . 2 volumes. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-11170-1 .
  • Hedwig Wachenheim: the German labor movement 1844 to 1914 . Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1971.

Labor movement Africa

  • Thomas Schmidinger: Workers' Movement in Sudan . Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-631-51311-9 .

Labor movement Middle East / North Africa

  • Hanna Batatu : The Old Social Clases and the Revolutionary Movement of Iraq. A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of its Communists, Ba'thists and Free Officers . Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1978, ISBN 0-86356-520-4 .
  • Joel Beinin, Zachary Lockman: Workers on the Nile. Nationalism, Communism, Islam, and the Egyptian Working Class, 1882-1954 . American University Press, Cairo 1998, ISBN 977-424-482-6 .
  • Joel Beinin: Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East . Cambridge University Press, UK 2001, ISBN 0-521-62121-6 (review) .
  • Tareq Y. Ismael, Jacqueline S. Ismael: The Communist Movement in Syria and Lebanon. University Press of Florida, 1998, ISBN 0-8130-1631-2 .
  • Kasim Talaa: From Solidarity Club to Communist Party. A history of the Iraqi left. In: Mary Kreutzer, Thomas Schmidinger (Ed.): Iraq: from the republic of fear to bourgeois democracy? ca ira-Verlag, Freiburg 2004, ISBN 3-924627-85-1 .

Labor Movement Asia

  • Vinay Bahl: The Making of the Indian Working Class: The Case of the Tata Iron and Steel Company. 1880-1946. SAGE Publications, 1994, ISBN 0-8039-9187-8 .
  • Dipesh Chakrabarty : Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890-1940. Princeton University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-691-07030-X .

Labor movement Latin America

Labor Movement North America

  • Jeremy Brecher: Strikes and Labor Revolution: American. Labor movement 1877-1970. Abridged edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1975. (Original: Strike! Revised and Updated Edition. South End Press Classics, 1997)
  • Desmond Morton: Working People: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Labor Movement. 4th, revised edition. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-7735-1801-0 .
  • Philip Yale Nicholson: Labor's story in the United States. (= Laboratory in crisis). Temple Univ. Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2004. (German: History of the labor movement in the USA. Forward, 2006)


Web links

Commons : Labor movement  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Labor movement  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sidney and Beatrice Webb: The History of Trade Unionism . Revised edition. London 1920, p. 27.
  2. Karl Marx: Provisional Statutes of the International Workers Association . In: Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels: Works (MEW), Volume 16, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1968, pp. 14–16, here: p. 15.
  3. Arnd Krüger , James Riordan (Ed.): The Story of Worker Sport. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL 1996, ISBN 0-87322-874-X .
  4. Ralf Hoffrogge : Socialism and the Labor Movement in Germany and Austria - from the beginnings to 1914 , 2nd edition Stuttgart 2017.
  5. Eric J. Hobsbawm: Laboring Men. Studies in the History of Labor. 6th edition. London 1979, ISBN 0-297-76402-0 , p. 348.