Labor movement in Germany

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The labor movement is a comprehensive term for alliances and organizations that have been formed in Germany since the beginning of the industrial revolution to represent the political and social interests of the workers . Its aim was and is to improve the economic and social situation of the working population. This goal is pursued with different concepts, ranging from mere social reform to revolutionary socialism .

History and Development

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


Das Volk (Journal of the General German Workers' Brotherhood)

Historians usually place the origin of the German labor movement in the period of the first organizational founding in the 1830s, when the first secret societies of wandering craftsmen such as the Union of the Righteous were formed abroad , often not until the revolutionary year of 1848, when the general workers' brotherhood was formed For the first time workers' organizations were also active in Germany. Protests by workers, however, are much older and go back to the early modern period, for example the participation of miners in the peasant wars of 1524/1525.

The question of the origin is also linked to the question of the nature of the labor movement: does it only refer to the organized movement in the form of fixed associations or also unorganized protests such as wildcat strikes or machine attackers? Historians such as Karl Heinz Roth definitely affirm this; the majority of historical accounts focus on organizational history.

Organizational history

Political party

If one looks at the organizational history of the workers' movement, one can see that the movement was long associated with the democratic organizations of the bourgeoisie. In liberal educational associations, for example, the workers and the bourgeoisie fought together for social reforms such as the right to vote, freedom of the press and freedom of expression .

It was not until the 1860s that their own organizations were founded, which only felt attached to the working population and which for the most part tended towards socialist goals. The first organization of this kind was the ADAV , founded by Ferdinand Lassalle in 1863 , followed in 1869 by the Social Democratic Workers' Party founded by Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel .

Both organizations saw themselves as socialist, but had differences over the question of the German nation-building and the establishment of trade unions: Lassalle rejected trade unions, while Bebel and Liebknecht promoted them with reference to the writings of Karl Marx . Both groups united in 1875 to form the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany . After it had been banned in the meantime, this party was renamed the SPD when it was founded in 1890 . Until the First World War, this was the only workers' party to represent the interests of workers. It was only during the war that there was a split, first into the SPD and Independent Social Democrats, then into the SPD and KPD , so that since the Weimar Republic several parties have been struggling to represent the interests of the workers. While the social democracy committed itself to the path of social reform, the KPD saw itself committed to the revolution. In the council movement of 1918–1920, however, there were representatives of all workers' parties.


In addition to the workers' parties already formed since 1848 trade unions out that had its origins in the first artisan associations of the late Middle Ages, however, re-emerged as an attachment of the various parties in its modern form. In the 1860s there were Lassallean, Marxist but also the liberal Hirsch-Duncker trade unions . The Christian trade unions were added in the 1890s . Until the end of 1933, the free trade unions were by far the strongest trade union branch. While the parties were active at the political and parliamentary level, the trade unions saw themselves primarily as representing the economic interests of workers and carried out strikes and wage disputes. In Germany, this separation of politics and economy was particularly strong, while in France the tradition of syndicalism dominated, in which the trade unions also called for counter-proposals in society through political strikes and similar measures.

Workers' associations and cooperatives

In addition to parties and trade unions, the labor movement also formed numerous social associations ( workers' associations ) such as educational , sports and chant clubs , nature lovers , Waldheim clubs , social organizations such as the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) and the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB) and finally cooperatives that primarily supplying the workers with food, housing, etc. served.

The party, trade unions and proletarian self-help organizations have also been referred to as the three pillars of the labor movement .

Christian labor movement

The Christian labor movement emerged in response to the socialist aspirations of the working class. She rejected their revolutionary goals and also their atheistic worldview and developed various theories of class harmony, for example in the form of Catholic social teaching . The responsibility of the church for the workers was first understood by Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler as an inner mission . While the Protestant workers' movement initially closed itself off due to the socialist laws, the Catholics were more open and thus also dominated non-denominational efforts, such as the Christian trade unions from 1894 to 1933. In the Catholic workers' movement , the Catholic workers' associations or the Kolping Society emerged . The Protestant workers 'movement emerged as a minority movement in Catholic areas, such as the first Protestant workers' association (EAV) in Bavaria in 1848. In general, however, denominational concepts of society emphasize social equilibrium compared to social conflict strategies.

Proletarian women's movement

The first impulses of a workers 'movement as part of the workers' movement also emerged in connection with the March Revolution of 1848. One of its protagonists was the publicist Louise Otto-Peters , who in the politically motivated women's newspaper she founded in 1848 called for the union of women workers along the lines of the associations of male journeymen . However, these demands remained unheard for a long time, even in the second wave of founding in the 1860s, the workers' organizations saw themselves as pure men's associations that even rejected women's suffrage. Only in the 1880s did this change radically: under the influence of the writings of Friedrich Engels and August Bebel , a Marxist theory of women's emancipation emerged, which was quickly adopted by newly founded workers' associations. Clara Zetkin , and later Luise Zietz, played a pioneering role as organizer . The proletarian women's movement was persecuted by the state even more severely than its male counterpart, multiple waves of prohibitions in the first few years forced a completely informal structure, and only from 1908 onwards did the state grant women the right to organize themselves in political associations. Women's suffrage was not won until the November Revolution of 1918.


In addition to free elections, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the most important demands of the early labor movement included social desires: a humane existence, i.e. minimum wages , the eight-hour day , the five-day week, occupational safety , protection against dismissal and security in the event of illness , disability and unemployment . In addition, workers' education played an important role. These achievements were fought for bit by bit with strikes , but they always remained controversial: the 8-hour day, first achieved in the November Revolution, was canceled by entrepreneurs in the mid-1920s, as was the unemployment insurance set up in 1927, which was no longer supported by the government in 1930 has been. This alternation of successes and setbacks meant that in addition to social reform, the idea of ​​a socialist transformation of society persisted for a long time and is being discussed again today. The movement pioneer Wilhelm Weitling had already called for a Christian-inspired “community of property” in the 1830s, Ferdinand Lassalle wanted to gradually overcome private property with socialist cooperatives, while Karl Marx demanded the revolutionary conquest of power by the class-conscious working class organized in a party.

See also



  • Wolfgang Abendroth : Introduction to the history of the labor movement. From the beginning until 1933. 2nd edition. Distel Verlag, Heilbronn 1988, ISBN 3-923208-19-7 .
  • Helga Grebing : History of the German labor movement. From the revolution of 1848 to the 21st century. Forward 2007, ISBN 978-3-86602-288-1 .
  • Ralf Hoffrogge : Socialism and the labor movement in Germany: From the beginnings to 1914. Schmetterling Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-89657-655-2 .
  • Arno Klönne : The German labor movement, history - goals - effects. DTV, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-423-11073-2 .
  • Axel Kuhn : The German labor movement. Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-017042-7 .
  • Horst Steffens, Thomas Herzig (Ed.): Through night to light? - History of the labor movement 1863–2013. Catalog for the exhibition in the Mannheim Technoseum, Mannheim 2013.


Failure and problem


  • Jürgen Kocka : Employment relationships and employee livelihoods. Foundations of class formation in the 19th century . Bonn 1990.
  • 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 )
  • Jürgen Kocka (ed.): 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 )
  • Ralf Hoffrogge : Socialism and the Labor Movement in Germany: From the Beginnings to 1914 . Butterfly Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-89657-655-2 .

time of the nationalsocialism

Scientific journals on the subject

Web links

Commons : Labor movement in Germany  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. For example in Arno Klönne, Die Deutsche Arbeiterbewetzung, Munich 1989.
  2. Ralf Hoffrogge, Socialism and Workers' Movement in Germany - from the Beginnings to 1914, Stuttgart 2011, p. 17 f.
  3. ^ Karl Heinz Roth, The Other Labor Movement, Munich 1974.
  4. ^ Peter Brandt : The labor movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Development - Effect - Perspective, in: Yearbook for Research on the History of the Labor Movement , Issue I / 2002.
  5. Axel Weipert: The Second Revolution. Council movement in Berlin 1919/1920. Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-95410-062-0 .
  6. Ralf Hoffrogge, Socialism and Workers' Movement in Germany - From the Beginning to 1914, Stuttgart 2011, p. 127f.
  7. ^ A b Carl Gunther Schweizer: Evangelical workers' movement . In: Friedrich Karrenberg (Hrsg.): Evangelisches Soziallexikon / On behalf of the German Evangelical Church Congress . Stuttgart: Kreuz-Verlag 1954, p. 34 f.
  8. Introduction, table of contents