Free trade unions (Austria)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The free trade unions in Austria was the social democratically oriented trade union direction in the Cisleithanien part of Austria-Hungary and after 1918 in the Republic of Austria . A central trade union organization was founded in 1892. The umbrella organization was later called the Reichsgewerkschaftskommission . Since 1928 the umbrella organization called the Federation of Free Trade Unions . It was banned in 1934. After the Second World War, the parliamentary group of social democratic trade unionists in the Austrian Trade Union Confederation continued the tradition of free trade unions.


The basic state laws of 1867 and the coalition law of 1870 allowed the formation of trade unions. It was against this background that trade union organizations were formed. The focus was Vienna, where 70% of the members lived.

Many of them were oriented towards social democracy. They even sought to found a social democratic party in 1874, which did not come about because of differences of opinion about the course to be taken. There was also no comprehensive trade union organization. In the 1880s there was repression comparable to that in Germany during the Socialist Law . A state of emergency was imposed on various occasions in industrial centers such as Vienna, Wiener Neustadt and other places . The labor movement was divided into a more moderate and a more radical direction. There were numerous wild and mostly unsuccessful strikes, so that regulation of the industrial action appeared necessary.

The Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria was founded in 1888/1889 at the Hainfeld party congress . This also increased efforts to found a trade union organization. The establishment of trade unions was recommended at the party congress.


At the beginning of the 1890s there were ten trade union central associations in addition to smaller organizations. In 1892, professional associations oriented towards social democracy founded the Provisional Commission of the Austrian Trade Unions . The immediate cause was the convening of an international trade union congress by the English Trade Unions in London . The aim was to separate the union from the political labor movement. This met with severe criticism in Austria. The provisional commission should, among other things, coordinate the representation of Austria at international trade union congresses.

A first Austrian trade union congress took place in 1893. There were 194 organizations represented, which together represented approximately 50,000 members. Some were still local professional associations, others were district associations and others were already members of a crown land . At this congress, the trade union commission - later called the Reichsgewerkschaftskommission in Cisleithanien - was founded as the umbrella organization . Carl Legien was present as the representative of the German trade unions . The industrial group principle was adopted as the goal of the organization , without it being possible to fully integrate the professional associations into it. The trade union commission was responsible for the organization of the regular trade union congresses, for trade union statistics and was responsible for the integration of the trade unions in industrial groups. The individual unions financed the central organization through fees per member.

Structure and organization

In all countries belonging to Cisleithanien, union crown land centers were set up. These originated in Moravia , Austrian Silesia , Upper and Lower Austria , Salzburg , Tyrol , Vorarlberg , Bohemia , Styria , Carinthia , Bucovina and Galicia .

Organized in the trade union commission were the professional groups of construction workers, workers in the clothing industry, miners, the chemical industry, the iron and metal industry, gas and water workers, the graphic professions and the paper industry, trade and employees, woodworkers, horn, Leg and turtle industry, agricultural group, food industry, leather industry, textile industry, traffic and transportation, female hand and machine industry.

As a body, the trade union commission published the magazine Die Unions (published 1893–1922). There were also other specialist journals in German, Czech and Slovenian.

The numerous local strikes caused major financial problems for the unions. In 1894 a central strike regulation was therefore adopted. Strikes had to be reported to the respective crown land headquarters, which then informed the trade union commission. Unregistered strikes were usually not entitled to support money. The strike support itself was fed by collections made by the union commission among the affiliates. The funds not used after a strike went into a general strike reserve fund. The regulations were later refined.

Development until 1918

In 1895 Anton Hueber became secretary of the union commission. Under his leadership in particular, the organization took off considerably. In 1906 the free trade unions in Austria had around half a million members. Anna Boschek became a member of the trade union commission in the 1890s and managed to get a rise in women's organization.

In the 1890s, Christian workers' associations began to form forerunners of the Christian trade unions . The German national trade unions were established in 1900.

In 1900 there were several large strikes by the free trade unions. It was about the implementation of a reduction in working hours. Several collective agreements were also concluded.

Soon after it was founded, the national tensions that ran through the empire also became visible in the trade unions. The Czech workers in particular were often opposed to management by the Vienna headquarters. This conflict had a parallel in the labor political movement. Already at the second trade union congress in 1896 the Czech side requested separation, but this was rejected by the majority. This was followed by the start of building up our own Czech organization. One such was founded as Odborové sdružení českoslovanské in 1897 with a focus on Bohemia .

The First World War hampered the development of the trade unions. The free trade unions lost 60% of their members through convictions and the like. However, the number of organized women increased during this period. The powerlessness of the unions during the war led the workers to criticize the organizations. From 1917 the organizations recovered. Various strikes broke out, culminating in January 1918.

Republic time

As in Germany, the free trade unions in Austria (Trade Union Commission German Austria) experienced a sharp increase in membership immediately after the war. The peak was reached in 1921 with 1,079,777 members. Since 1923, the bi-monthly magazine Arbeit und Wirtschaft appeared as a new organ . At the beginning of the republic, the trade unions played an important socio-political role.

In 1928 there was a reorganization to which Anton Hueber had made a significant contribution. The Federation of Free Trade Unions in Austria was founded. Hueber became chairman. The association was based on organizations based on the industrial group principle. In total there were 38 unions and 7 local unions. These organized around 655,000 members.

In the same year, yellow unions were formed. These were promoted by large companies, were close to the home guards and rejected labor disputes. The Christian trade unions also continued to exist. Its membership doubled from 1921 to 1932 to around 130,000. The German national trade unions had around 50,000 members. There was also the communist red trade union organization and approaches of the National Socialist NSBO .

Time of the authoritarian corporate state

The unions in the Federation of Free Trade Unions were dissolved at the time of Engelbert Dollfuss' Austrofascism in the course of the February fights in 1934. Instead, the state-run, state-run unified trade union, the Federation of Austrian Workers and Salaried Employees, was created.

The free trade unionists , however, organized themselves underground and initially set up independent union cells in companies . Under the influence of the Social Democrats, members of the free trade unions founded an illegal leadership (Committee of Seven ) on February 18, 1934 . Another illegal trade union group was the Communist-dominated Reconstruction Commission . The former trade unions of industry, trade, insurance, banks and municipal employees came together in September 1934 to form the Illegal Free Employees Union (FRAGÖ). These three groups united in 1935 to form the illegal alliance of free trade unions , chaired by Karl Mantler . In Czechoslovakia conferences were held regularly and in Brno an international connection point has been established. As the organ of the federal management of the illegal free trade unions, “The Trade Union” appeared regularly as well as the weekly newsletter “Trade Union Information” as a hectography (with the assistance of Otto Leichter, among others ). In addition, newspapers were produced for individual industrial groups.

The July Agreement , which gave the illegal National Socialists considerable freedom of movement while the labor movement was still subject to state repression, sparked discussions in the illegal free trade unions about the attitude towards the regime and its institutions. While the trade unionists leaning towards the revolutionary socialists continued to advocate a rigid boycott of legal organizations, communist-minded trade unionists demanded more flexible use of the legal positions in the unified union. This view prevailed, which, surprisingly, in autumn 1936 , led to the fact that functionaries appointed in many companies could be replaced by shop stewards who were actually unionized.

At the same time, sympathizers of the National Socialists gained influence in the unified trade union, whereas the illegal free trade unionists mobilize. In the spring of 1937 they wrote a memorandum to Federal Chancellor Schuschnigg , signed by elected representatives of around 100,000 workers and employees, which documented the willingness of the Austrian workers to defend the country's independence against the aggression of the Third Reich . After the Berchtesgaden Agreement became known , representatives of the illegal free trade unions tried to talk to Schuschnigg, in which they wanted to offer him support in the fight against National Socialism in exchange for granting political freedoms. In fact, on March 3, 1938, such a meeting took place in a workers' committee led by Friedrich Hillegeist ; Schuschnigg stated that the demands for co-determination could only be taken into account within the framework of the existing institutions, and delegated the continuation of the talks to the Minister of Social Affairs and his State Secretary. On March 7th, the illegal trade unions organized a large shop stewards ' conference in the former Floridsdorf workers' home, at which around 350 free trade union shop stewards discussed the results of the negotiations and how to proceed (the Floridsdorf conference ). It was decided to support the government in the fight against Hitler after promising democratic demands. However, there was no further meeting with Schuschnigg. In any case, the free trade unionists spoke out in favor of unreserved support for the government for the referendum he was planning on March 13th on Austria's independence.

After the so-called annexation of Austria to National Socialist Germany , the trade union federation was also dissolved and the members transferred to the German Labor Front .

After the Second World War, the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions was established as a unified trade union. In it the faction of the socialist trade unionists continued the tradition of the free trade unions. The faction also got back the property of the free trade unions.


  • Willy Krula: The history of the Austrian trade union movement from its beginnings to 1945. Status 2002 Online version (PDF; 839 kB)
  • Fritz Rager: Trade Union Commission German Austria. In: Ludwig Heyde (Hrsg.): International dictionary of trade unions. Vol. 1 Berlin, 1931 p. 679ff. Online version

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Peter Autengruber : History of the Austrian trade union movement until 1945 . In: OGB (ed.): Union Kund . tape 2 . Verlag des ÖBG GmbH, Vienna 2017, p. 99–101 (script for educational events of the ÖGB).
  2. ^ A b Reinhard Schurawitzki: The free trade unions: Illegal for Austria! In: Documentation archive of the Austrian resistance (ed.): "Anschluss" 1938 . Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna 1988, ISBN 3-215-06898-2 , p. 70-76 .
  3. Otto Leichter. In: - Web dictionary of the Viennese social democracy. SPÖ Vienna (ed.); accessed on July 13, 2018.