W. Germans push worker democracy

West Germany's union leaders, whose cooperative policies have helped rebuild this country's powerful economy, have laid out their latest -- moderate -- long-range program.

There are no surprises in the third program adopted by the eight million-member West German Trade Union Federation (DGB) March 14. But it will leave the stamp of today's moderate leadership on the labor movement into the 1990s -- probably after this leadership has retired.

The program -- a methodical Germanic setting-forth of union policy on every conceivable issue in a way that America's more bread-and-butter unions would never dream of -- seeks what some commentators are calling a "third way" between capitalism and communism.

This seems less a serious analysis, however, than a nod toward the habitual bad name that capitalism has among European workers. In reality the DGB program stresses worker democracy within a capitalist system. Nationalization is advocated only very vaguely, if it is necessary for the national welfare.

As in the last comprehensive program (1963), the focus of worker democracy is "codetermination," or worker participation in management decisions through joint company boards. Since legislation from 1976 has already made codetermination boards mandatory for all firms with 2,000 or more employees, however, the DGB is now concentrating on getting "full parity" for workers on all of these boards.

At present only coal and steel workers enjoy full parity, as they have since the Western occupation powers' decartelization of this branch after the war. All other industries give an extra tie-breaking vote to the codetermination board chairman, who is a management representative.

On other major issues the DGB program, of course, calls for a fight against growing unemployment and calls for a total ban on lockouts.

The DGB also gives a cautious endorsement to nuclear energy. Like the government wing (and official policy) of the ruling Social Democratic Party, the DGB calls for only minimal use of nuclear energy. It places priority on use of domestic coal. Unlike the Social Democratic left wing, however, the DGB acknowledges that West Germany's expensive, deep coal cannot fill the country's energy needs and that there will have to be some expansion of nuclear's present 3.5 percent share in primary energy.

At the March 12-14 extraordinary DGB congress in Dusseldorf the expected fight between leftists and moderates did not develop. Neither the legitimacy of communist trade union activity nor nationalization of banking and insurance roused major controversy. The final program was passed by the 504 delegates without a dissenting vote.

Initially, some leftists wanted to recognize communists as well as social democrats in the program's evocation of the movement's working class traditions. This bid was rejected, however, and the program explicitly condemns "all totalitarian efforts" as well as reactionary and fascist movements.

For the first time too, the 1981 program explicitly endorses parliamentary democracy and the multi-party system. It further urges tolerance for all religious, political, and philosophical outlooks.

In his keynote address DGB chairman Heinz Oskar Vetter specifically ruled out the use of the democratic labor movement for revolutionary ends. Theee was no confrontation over alleged communist infiltration of a few of the DGB's sevente en member unions, however.

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