ldd header

Refereed articles

Trade unions and institutionalised workers' participation: The German experience

The article addresses the bold but thus far unsuccessful endeavour of the LRA to promote worker participation in managerial decision-making by means of workplace forums. A basic obstacle, the author argues, is uncertainty on the part of trade unions as to the implications of establishing these structures.

The article then examines the historical relationship between trade unions and works councils in Germany. Here, too, the trade unions initially felt threatened by representative employee bodies at workplace level and strongly resisted them. During the twentieth century, however, trade unions learned to cooperate with works councils and establish a fruitful division of labour. While there may be some tensions between works councils and trade unions, such tensions tend to reflect the friction between the macro-perspective of the trade unions and the micro-perspective of the works councils, which can also arise if trade unions operate at both levels. While stressing that conditions in Germany have been very different from those In South Africa, the author concludes that the German experience may help to establish a more objective framework of discussion that could assist in advancing the debate in South Africa beyond its present impasse.

pdfDownload full text.