DGB elects new chair

In late May 2002, Michael Sommer was elected as the new chair of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), succeeding Dieter Schulte who had held the post for eight years. Mr Sommer called for a new programme to achieve 'social fairness'.

On 28 May 2002, 94% of the delegates at the federal congress (Bundeskongress) of the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) - which took place from 27-31 May in Berlin - voted for Michael Sommer as DGB's new chair. Mr Sommer - who received 364 out of 387 valid votes casts - is 50 years old and had been the vice-chair of the Unified Service Sector Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) since March 2001. Mr Sommer succeeded Dieter Schulte, who had held the DGB chair for eight years. Also at the congress, the following were re-elected as members of the DGB federal board: Heinz Putzhammer (receiving 93% of valid votes), Ursula Engelen-Kefer (85%) and Ingrid Sehrbrock (64%). Dietmar Hexel was elected as a new member, receiving 94% of the vote.

DGB is Germany's main umbrella organisation for trade unions, grouping eight individual industry-based unions with a total of 7.9 million members – see the table below. Every four years, 400 delegates of all DGB-affiliated unions meet at the federal congress to decide on DGB's future strategies and to elect the five members of the federal board (Bundesvorstand).

Membership of DGB-affiliated trade unions in 2001
Trade union Membership Membership as % of DGB total
Unified Service Sector Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) 2,806,496 35.5%
Metalworkers' Union (IG Metall) 2,710,226 34.3%
Mining, Chemicals and Energy Workers' Union (IG Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) 862,364 10.9%
Building, Agricultural and Environmental Union (IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU) 509,690 6.5%
Railworkers' Union (TRANSNET) 306,002 3.9%
Education and Science Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW) 268,012 3.4%
Food, Beverages and Catering Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten, NGG) 250,839 3.2%
Police Union (Gewerkschaft der Polizei, GdP) 185,616 2.4%

Source: DGB.

The newly elected Mr Sommer stated in his first speech that DGB and its affiliated unions must in the future be the 'mediator and motor' ('Mittler und Motor') for a fair social modernisation process. In order to achieve a change in trend, after two decades of neo-liberal government policy, towards a policy of 'social fairness' he advocated a new 'social contract' and called for a dialogue to bring together the various initiatives and groups which have social responsibility. Furthermore, the new DGB chair made an appeal to all trade unionists to cooperate and to pool their power behind this long-term programme. The proposed social contract is aimed, among other objectives, at achieving equal opportunity between men and women. As an important element in this approach is all-day childcare, Mr Sommer proposed a widespread DGB campaign on the issue. As well as strengthening the political influence of trade unions, another aim of Mr Sommer's programme is to stop the decline in the membership of DGB-affiliated unions (DE0103210N).

At the beginning of his speech, Mr Sommer attacked the employers' associations because of demands for new conditions relating to the tripartite national Alliance for Jobs (DE9812286N and DE0106229N) that they had made in mid-May 2002. The Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereingung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA), the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag, DIHK) and the Confederation of German Industry (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI) had called for making further meetings of the Alliance for Jobs conditional on an agreement that industrial action will not take place without prior mediation and that wages should be exclusively oriented to productivity. The new DGB chair rejected the employers' demands and supported the Alliance for Jobs as an alliance with the exclusive aim of fighting unemployment.

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