Teachers' union delegates topple chair

On 26 May 1997, for the first time in the history of the German Trade Union Federation, DGB, a member union voted out its chair. In the election for the chair of the GEW teachers' union, Dieter Wunder failed to obtain an absolute majority of delegates' votes in the first ballot. Subsequently, he withdrew his candidacy for the second ballot, where Eva-Maria Stange was elected new chair of the GEW.

In the first ballot for the chair of the federal executive committee of the teachers' trade union, Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW), held among congress delegates on 26 May 1997, Dieter Wunder, chair since 1981, surprisingly and unexpectedly failed to reach the necessary absolute majority, although no rival candidate had been nominated. Mr Wunder subsequently stood down as a candidate for the second ballot. It was the first time that a trade union affiliated to the German Trade Union Federation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) had rejected the re-election of its chair in such a way. After the results of the first ballot became public, the congress was interrupted for several hours. During the previous months, there had been considerable and controversial internal discussions on the relationship between the federal executive committee and the executive committees of regional GEW branches, as well as on leadership, trade union ideologies and GEW strategies. Many delegates asserted that they wanted to teach Mr Wunder a lesson, though it was not their intention to vote him out.

On 27 May 1997, Eva-Maria Stange, chair of the Saxony regional branch of the GEW, was elected chair of the federal executive committee in the second ballot. Ms Stange secured the votes of 419 out of 492 delegates. There was no rival candidate in the second ballot. Ms Stange is the first woman to lead the GEW and the first east German union leader within the DGB. In 1979, she joined the former East German teachers' union Gewerkschaft Unterricht und Erziehung (GUE), which was absorbed by the GEW after unification. Instead of demanding that GUE members apply for GEW membership, all GUE members were taken on automatically by GEW. Today, 44% of the roughly 300,000 GEW members come from the eastern German states, while 68% of all members are women.

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