Stanley Plastrik Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Henry Judd

Ruhr Strikes See German Labor Revival

(14 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 15, 14 April 1947, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In a series of powerful and impressive demonstrations, the German working class, headed by the courageous miners of the Ruhr coal mines, has announced, in effect, to its imperialist oppressors that henceforth it intends to intervene militantly in the social and economy problems of Germany. Beyond any question, the strikes and demonstrations in the Ruhr and British zones mark the greatest step forward yet taken in the revival of what was at one period Europe’s most capable, best organized and most advanced working class – the workers of Germany.

Given the state of Europe as it is today, nothing more significant and more hopeful from a working class viewpoint could be imagined than the aggressiveness, the militancy and the solid class solidarity displayed in last week’s demonstrations, spearheaded by the coal miners. If the occupying forces were not aware of it before, they are now – a new factor is appearing on the scene, the slowly but steadily reviving German working class. In this sense, the class action of the Ruhr workers will, in the long run, have far greater historic meaning than all the doings of the Big Four scoundrels seated about Moscow’s conference table. The German proletariat is beginning to reassert itself!

The forces behind this new-found militancy of the Ruhr workers are simple enough, illustrating again the fact that economic recovery and progress – no matter how slight – is, and will be, the essential factor behind the revival of the German proletariat. The Ruhr miners, most important sector of workers in Germany from the point of view of the occupying powers, occupy a comparatively privileged position in that country. As heavy workers, their food rations have been the highest, and so dire is the need for coal that all sorts of minor privileges (better housing, extra tobacco and clothing rations, etc.) have been extended to them. Their union was the first to recover and reorganize itself, so that today it is 300,000 strong – unquestionably the most powerful union in post-Hitler Germany. Stimulated by a recovery sufficiently strong enough to rouse them out of a state of apathetic demoralization, the miners have been able to take the lead and to reassert their existence again as a working class force within the nation.

Conditions of Miners

The official food ration for a Ruhr miner is 4,000 calories per day, needed for his heavy and difficult work in the mines, but he has been receiving closer to 3,000. Since the miner’s family does not get any extra rations (only the miner himself), he has naturally shared, his food with his wife and children, thus reducing his ACTUAL food consumption to far below 3,000. (The British have sought to prevent this sharing of food, as if a miner could be expected to eat heartily while his family tries to get by on the 1,000 to 1,500 calory diet doled out to them in the British zone.) Furthermore, there is considerable illness (tuberculosis, respiratory diseases) among the miners, due to working conditions, lack of proper housing and lack of heating at home. Then, a reactionary German official, with a pro-Nazi political record, by the name of Hans Schlange-Schoeningen has been put into office as deputy administrator of food and agriculture by the British, who refuse to remove him. These are the immediate causes of the demonstrations. The miners were, according to a New York Times correspondent, growing “sullen and ... losing any illusions that any of them may ever have had about the delights of democracy.” They decided to act.

After preliminary meetings and deputations who visited the military government officials, lasting over a period of two weeks, 300,000 Ruhr miners last week held a one-day work stoppage. The entire Ruhr valley shut down in a great display of proletarian solidarity. Not only did the miners participate in these demonstrations, but other workers from various factories joined in. Even the office workers in the mines (for the most part members of the Christian Democratic Party) supported the strike and adopted resolutions for a 20 per cent wage increase. In the city of Bielefeld, 600 factories were shut as workers paraded through the streets. Industrial workers in Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Köln, Remscheid, etc. (all Ruhr or near-Ruhr industrial cities) staged hunger demonstrations in the streets, before Allied military headquarters and before bureaus of German food officials. In 26 cities, 150,000 workers were reported at demonstrations. Ten thousand workers in the former Krupp factories in Essen staged a sympathy walkout with the coal miners. The examples of sympathy strikes were numerous.

Although all political parties gave their support to the strikers, grudgingly in the case of the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, it is clear this was not a Stalinist-led movement. Support was given by the political parties because elections are approaching, but this does not nullify the basic fact that this movement was a genuine popular movement, springing from the workers themselves, and led by their union delegates and leaders. The 500 miners’ representatives who voted the one-day strike by almost unanimous vote were expressing the sentiments of, the 300,000 union miners they represented. These men led the demonstrations, formed the various delegations and ran the strike. The Stalinists, naturally, are anxious to utilize the miners’ militancy for their own reactionary political purposes; but in no sense was this their movement.

The British occupation officials are attempting to shift the blame for the food situation to the doors of their appointed German officials, whom they charge with inefficient distribution. They likewise threaten the miners with loss of their alleged “privileges” and say they will pay for the loss of 500,000 tons of coal that might have been mined if not for the stoppage. Since everyone knows where responsibility lies, these hypocritical efforts will have little success. The British are running the Ruhr, with American advice; they are responsible for the entire setup. Their Quisling stooges in the administration cannot be blamed for the failure of food, clothing and vital commodities to arrive. Nor can they be blamed for the hundreds of shutdown factories, or the hundreds of thousands of unemployed in the area. At worst, these petty German Quislings engage in black marketing and make things easier for the many Nazis still running around free, thanks to the British.

The Ruhr workers have delivered a sharp warning to the foreign imperialist powers in possession of their country. They have flexed their muscles and shown again – for the first time since Hitler – the potential power of the German working class. Last week’s demonstrations mark the revival of this proletariat and should be hailed by the labor movement the world over.

Plastrik (Judd/Stanley) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 5 December 2021