Peter Petroff July 1934

German Labour under the Slavery Act

Source: Labour, July 1934, p. 262;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Nazis declare they are out to “abolish class struggle.”

Their method is simple enough. They destroyed the Trade Unions and other working class organisations, depriving the workers of all means for the defence of their interests while increasing the power of the Employers’ Associations.

It is true, the Trade Unions were not dissolved – they were “taken over.”

Dissolved Unions might have continued a precarious underground existence retaining their most loyal and courageous members.

Instead, the Unions were “nazified.” The elected leaders were arrested and replaced by brown bandits appointed from above in accordance with the “principle of leadership” recruited chiefly from ex-non-commissioned officers or declassed intellectuals.

The members found themselves caught in a trap. They were deprived of all their rights but compelled to continue paying their contributions for the maintenance of their brown oppressors.

These “nazified” Unions have become organs of oppression of the working class. Problems of wages or conditions of labour are no longer within their domain. Their chief business is to keep the workers docile, to occupy and control them during their spare time in order to prevent them from getting “mischievous” ideas into their heads. They are a mere copy of the “Dopolavoro” (“after work”) organisation in Italy.

The Employers’ Associations on the other hand have been strengthened. Under the leadership of the magnates of capital all employers have to join these associations and to abide by their ruling. Here the “principle of leadership” has quite a different appearance: the employers actually retain their own leaders who, after being appointed from above, require a vote of confidence. All their rights and property remain free from interference by the state.

After such a genial transformation of the two hostile camps, the lion and the lamb were harnessed together before a newly invented Nazi vehicle called the “Labour Front,” the reins being given into the hands of the hopeless drunkard Dr. Ley.

Having destroyed the Trade Unions and reduced the workers to slavery conditions the Nazis have now legalised the enslavement of the workers by their notorious “Law for the Regulation of National Labour” of January 20, 1934, and the subsequent decrees. This law is already generally known in Germany as the “Slavery Act.”

It proclaims the employer as the “leader” of the enterprise (clause 1) and empowers him to decide “on all matters of the enterprise” – wages and conditions of labour – for his “followers” – the workers – who “have to observe towards him the loyalty arising out of the fellowship of the enterprise.”

Fearing that the employers might fix the wages too high and might, following the old habit from the Trade Union epoch, determine rates of wages for definite categories of workers, the Nazi legislators urge the fixing of a sufficiently low minimum wage to leave scope for special favours for individual workers.

In replacing the Trade Union rate by a peculiar individual bonus system, the Nazis hope to destroy the feeling or solidarity amongst the workers and give the employer arbitrary powers.

The freely elected “shop committees” which, under the Republic had statutory powers, have entirely disappeared.

Under the Slavery Act they are now being replaced by peculiar “Confidence Councils.” The lists of candidates for these “councils” are made up by the employer in conjunction with the leader of the Nazi group of the enterprise. In case of disagreement between the two the Council may be appointed by a special official of the Nazi Ministry of Labour called “Treuhaender der Arbeit” (Trustee of Labour). Otherwise they are “elected” by secret ballot.

Eligible for such a council are only persons over 25 years of age who are members of the “Labour Front” and “may be trusted to be loyal supporters of the national state.” If the workers reject these candidates the members of the “Confidence Council” may be appointed by the Nazi official.

In enterprises where there is no Nazi group no election can take place.

The most important functions, of these “Confidence Councils” are the furtherance of “mutual confidence” in the factory and the prevention of conflicts.

They have the right to appeal to the Nazi “Trustee of Labour” against decisions of the employer regarding working conditions and wages.

However, persistent complaints may be punished. Attempts to “create discontent” amongst the workers of a factory – the “followers” of the employer – is also a punishable offence.

Such offences come under the jurisdiction of special “Courts of Honour” consisting of Nazi judge, an employer and a member of a confidence council, and may be punished by reproof, fines, dismissal, etc.

This Slavery Act supersedes the greater part of the republican legislation for the protection of labour. It is really a Nazi charter against labour.

No wonder, therefore, that the actual wages are constantly being reduced as may be seen from the decrease in the revenue derived from the wage tax.

Women and youths are being turned out of factories and offices and driven to actual slavery into “labour service” camps or as “agricultural assistants” handed over to junkers or rich peasants for exploitation. After six months of such an existence they lose their rights to unemployment benefit.

There is now general tendency to revive feudalism and serfdom in rural Germany.

General Schleicher’s cherished plan to create in Germany a strong and militant peasantry upon whom the government could rely in war and civil strife has been borrowed by the Nazis, vulgarised and squeezed into a garment of the middle ages.

Amongst the agricultural population of Germany they are building up caste of pure aryan “hereditary peasants” whose estates (with an acreage of 7.5 to 125 hectares) can neither be sold nor divided. Only one son can inherit the father’s estate as a whole.

Their privileges as their duties are of a peculiar type.

Militarised from their youth, always at the disposal of the government for external and internal warfare, they form a military caste with special political and even judicial functions in their localities.

Thus, an army of 500,000 to 1,000,000 cossacks is to be created on the lines once so successfully practised by the tsars of Russia.

To these cossacks intelligent urban women hitherto working in offices, shops or factories as well as sons and daughters of Socialism and Communists now leaving school are to be handed over for exploitation and “education,” in the true Nazi spirit.

The junkers’ estates remain intact and will be supplied with cheap labour by the introduction of a kind of refashioned serfdom in the villages.

In all their legislation the Nazis have, however, forgotten one thing, – we are living in 1934 not in 1634.