IG Metall debates 'manifesto for the future'

In June 2002, Germany's IG Metall metalworkers' trade union held a 'congress on the future' to discuss its 'manifesto for the future'. The union's aim is to define new policies and strategies for the years to come. Drawing a large audience of some 800 union activists and academics, the meeting discussed a wide range of subjects but most prominently focused on issues relating to collective bargaining, working time policies and welfare state reform. In autumn 2003, most of these issues will be put to a vote by the delegates at IG Metall's national congress.

On 15 June 2002, the German metalworkers' trade union, IG Metall, concluded a three-day 'congress on the future' (Zukunftskongress) which brought together some 450 union activists as well as 350 academics from various disciplines and research institutions. The congress, which took place in Leipzig and which was also addressed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, discussed the union's 'manifesto for the future' (Zukunftsmanifest), entitled 'Offensive 2010. Opportunities for a better future' (Offensive 2010. Chancen für eine bessere Zukunft). The congress concluded IG Metall's 'debate on the future' (Zukunftsdebatte), which was launched in 1999.

Debate on the future

In 1999, IG Metall decided to initiate a debate to examine the sustainability of its work in respect of both trade union activities and society as a whole, relating to its programme and its strategic aims and targets. The objective of the debate was to develop new perspectives and strategies for the union (DE0104219F). The debate was divided into three phases.

The first phase, launched in 2001, involved a survey, conducted through 'polling weeks' (Wochen der Befragung), analysing the views of some 120,000 union members and non-members who took part in surveys, interviews and group discussions (DE0111205F). In addition, the union commissioned nine comprehensive literature reviews on various subjects related to the debate. In the second phase, the findings were discussed at all levels of the union's organisation. The manifesto for the future discussed at the Leipzig conference marks the third and final phase, whereby the results of the research and the discussions are to be transferred into more concrete resolutions and consequently into union policies. According to IG Metall's schedule, a revised draft of the manifesto will be made available by the end of summer 2002, and union delegates will have the opportunity to vote on some of the core issues put forward in the document at the union's next national congress in autumn 2003.

Core issues

The 'manifesto for the future' covers a lot of ground and formulates points for discussion as well as suggestions for future union policies in the following five areas:

  • perspectives for work in manufacturing and in services;
  • combining work and life;
  • global regulation of the economy;
  • reform of the welfare state; and
  • reform of the union.

Within these five general fields, several important aspects have sparked controversial debates. Many of those debates will probably continue until the issues are finally presented to the delegates at the union's national congress for a final vote in autumn 2003. Some of the most controversial debates are summarised below.

The future of industry-wide collective bargaining

While it is still IG Metall's goal to contribute to a fair distribution of wealth and income, the manifesto acknowledges that this goal has rarely been achieved in recent years. It also argues that the introduction of EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has made national wage policies more difficult. While the union still considers industry-wide collective agreements to be the instrument of choice to guarantee appropriate wages and working conditions, the manifesto also acknowledges the need to introduce more differentiation between companies. According to the IG Metall president, Klaus Zwickel, the most recent collective bargaining round in 2002 (DE0205206F) showed the union's significant difficulties in formulating joint bargaining demands. Mr Zwickel emphasises that during his entire career as a union representative, he had never before experienced a situation where differences in wage demands within IG Metall's jurisdiction were larger than 5%.

To meet the need for more differentiation, the manifesto suggests considering various instruments. So-called 'opening clauses' could be introduced into the industry-wide agreement as a tool to allow for additional adjustments to be negotiated at company level. In addition, the manifesto also suggests extending the use of supplementary agreements (Ergänzungstarifvertrag), which have already been introduced in several companies. The union also claims, however, that differentiation per se is not a sufficient goal for the union's bargaining policy and that company-level differentiation needs to be embedded in an obligatory set of rules to be set at industry level. While employers' associations are particularly interested in the introduction of new wage schemes, which make pay contingent on companies' performance (DE0112207F), the unions have long resisted such demands. With the new IG Metall manifesto, however, this issue is back on the agenda.

Some participants at the June conference urged IG Metall to distinguish more carefully between two different causes for differentiation. First, there are measures to be applied in the case of companies which find themselves in an economic crisis. In these cases, company-level pay cuts may be introduced to help the company survive. Second, other measures are required to help workers participate in the profits of those companies which are doing extraordinarily well. In addition, some union activists and academics strongly warn IG Metall not to overtax company-level works councils. In a situation where works councils are empowered to negotiate more differentiated provisions on wages, hours and working conditions at company level, it is argued that they are forced to take on some extra duties which they are not able (or willing) to perform. Such a concept for decentralisation would also face difficulties because about 40% of all companies with more than 21 employees do not have a works council.

Dealing with working time flexibility

While in the 1980s and 1990s, IG Metall's working time policies mainly focused on initiatives to fight unemployment, the approach suggested by the manifesto is much more multifaceted. At the centre of IG Metall's programme is the concept of 'time sovereignty' (Zeitsouveränität) which enables workers to reconcile the needs of work and social life. While IG Metall seeks to increase workers' opportunities to adjust their working time to their personal needs more flexibly, the union also intends to make some progress in the field of working time reduction.

According to Mr Zwickel, his union plans to give notice to terminate existing framework agreements on working time, which will enable it to negotiate revised working time arrangements in 2003. According to the manifesto, the union will also pursue more differentiated collective working time policies. Thus, IG Metall will seek to reduce working time for those groups of workers who suffer from more strenuous working conditions, such as shift work, or those who are taking care of elderly relatives. In addition, the union hopes to reduce weekly working time in east Germany from 38 to 35 hours, to bring it in line with the level in the western part of the country.

Representing the interests of women

The manifesto's section on the representation of women starts with a remarkable degree of self-criticism by the union. The manifesto acknowledges that, despite the fact that in several branches of the union women represent a high share of the overall membership, their voice is still not heard when it comes to deciding on concrete union policies. In general, it is argued, both IG Metall's culture and its leadership structure are still subject to male domination.

The union also urges works councils to use their powers to reduce gender wage discrimination. Furthermore, when it comes to working time policies in general and part-time work in particular, inequality is still the norm. Thus, in his public presentation of the manifesto, Mr Zwickel urged men not to refrain from being involved in childcare. Mr Zwickel also argues that those men who believe that part-time work is an issue relevant merely for women are wrong.

Commentary

There are probably only a few unions in Europe which have the resources and the courage to initiate such a broad debate on the future of the union, economy and society as IG Metall has done with its 'debate on the future'. The most impressive aspect of the debate is probably its high degree of openness as well as the high degree of public attention the union has received. While some of the discussions were mainly driven by the 'usual suspects', the Leipzig conference was also open to employers' representatives. Thus, even Hans Werner Busch, general secretary of the Gesamtmetall metalworking employers' association, could not help but acknowledge the union's attempts at cautious modernisation. The breadth of the debate, however, also forced the union to make some sacrifices. In several fields, observers were right when they considered the manifesto to be too shallow, lacking the depth which would enable IG Metall to overcome many of its most recent challenges. Considering the document to be a discussion paper, rather than a detailed agenda for the years to come, there might be still room to fill this gap before delegates meet to vote on the issues in autumn 2003. (Martin Behrens, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)

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