“Is the collective agreement finished? Unfortunately not. But for the purpose of reducing the high unemployment rate, it would be desirable to bring an end to comprehensive labor agreements. What an executive board and a secretly chosen works council can and want to agree on benefits them both. However, the applicable law to a large extent prohibits them from making company agreements and instead they are under the thumb of the common functionary ambitions of the employer’s association and the union. Both the board and the council are far from independent operators. Both fight for prestige and power – and for the preservation of their extensive official bureaucracy.” (Helmut Schmidt, 2001)
On the first of May one can see how unions are doing. Labor Day was once their most important holiday. In a sea of red flags, trade unionists celebrated the annual High Mass of the labor movement. Calls for revolution were admittedly rather rare; however, tones of class struggle were common. Unions were force to be reckoned with. They were often drivers of policy. Today it is a rather weary event. Fewer and fewer workers have the desire to unionize themselves. Only a dedicated core still participates in the celebrations on May 1st, still waving red flags. Trade unions are now only a shadow of their former selves. Their wage and collective bargaining clout has shrunk. Collective bargaining agreements apply to increasingly fewer workers and entrepreneurs. Only in the public sector are they still strong. Their influence on politics has declined. They are increasingly dependent on the (emergency) assistance of politics. Trade unions have become a welfare case. Here in Germany Andrea Nahles, the unionist Federal Minister of Labor, energetically offers assistance. This comes at a price: free collective bargaining is becoming increasingly politicized.