What’s a Works Council?

 

It’s not a “workers’ council.” The word “works” here means “factory” or “facility.” In English we use the word in names like the Bath Iron Works, a big shipbuilding facility in Maine.

Works councils were established in Germany through a 1920 law, specifically as an alternative to the workers’ councils that had sprung up in many factories after World War I. Workers attempted to take direct democratic control of the plants through the workers’ councils, on their way to a revolution that would take over the government. That uprising was thwarted.

The works councils, then, were the German government’s attempt at pacifying militant workers. There were mass demonstrations by workers who opposed the works councils law, charging it would hinder workers’ independent organization. Forty-two were killed by police and a state of emergency was declared, but the law went into effect.

The works councils were abolished by the Nazis but reinstated after World War II under the military government of the United States and its allies. Continue reading “What’s a Works Council?”