July 16, 2011
Did Nazi Germany Actually Support Labor Unions?

A conservative acquaintance of mine chose this morning to throw Nazi Germany into the mix, insinuating that Hitler was in favor of unions. Now, if there is one thing I’m pretty good at, it’s research. So, I went cruising around Ryan O’Neil’s Arapnet, and I found the following little tidbit:

Prior to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, worker protests had spread all across Germany in response to the Great Depression. During his drive to power, Hitler exploited this social unrest by promising workers to strengthen their labor unions and increase their standard of living. But these were empty promises; privately, he was reassuring wealthy German businessmen that he would crack down on labor once he achieved power. Historian William Shirer describes the Nazi’s dual strategy:

“The party had to play both sides of the tracks. It had to allow [Nazi officials] Strasser, Goebbels and the crank Feder to beguile the masses with the cry that the National Socialists were truly ‘socialists’ and against the money barons. On the other hand, money to keep the party going had to be wheedled out of those who had an ample supply of it.” (2)


Once in power, Hitler showed his true colors by promptly breaking all his promises to workers. The Nazis abolished trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike. An organization called the “Labor Front” replaced the old trade unions, but it was an instrument of the Nazi party and did not represent workers. According to the law that created it, “Its task is to see that every individual should be able… to perform the maximum of work.” Workers would indeed greatly boost their productivity under Nazi rule. But they also became exploited. Between 1932 and 1936, workers wages fell, from 20.4 to 19.5 cents an hour for skilled labor, and from 16.1 to 13 cents an hour for unskilled labor. (3) Yet workers did not protest. This was partly because the Nazis had restored order to the economy, but an even bigger reason was that the Nazis would have cracked down on any protest.

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