Reading time: minutes

Federal Republic of Germany: Trade Unions and Antiracism

Labor struggles have a long tradition in Germany. Over time, they have not only focused on the demand for better working conditions, but have also been linked - albeit in a rather shy form at the beginning - to the anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle. Within the trade union political education programs, right-wing agitation was increasingly countered with a realistic picture of asylum and migration policy after the "Summer of Migration" in 2015.

Germany against racism

Labour Struggles in Germany: Achievements and Current Situation

An important trigger for labor disputes is collective bargaining between employers and unions. Unions often demand higher wages and better working conditions, while employers try to keep costs low. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, strikes or other collective action may take place. Labor disputes in Germany can take various forms, including strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, factory occupations, and other forms of civil disobedience. In some cases, labor struggles can also turn violent, but this is rare.


Workers against the right
In recent years, workers in Germany have successfully fought for the introduction of a legal minimum wage. This can help to reduce wage dumping and precarious employment. Trade unions have also successfully fought for the reduction of working hours in the past, especially in the public sector. For example, the working week for teachers was reduced from 42 to 40 hours. Working conditions in the retail sector have also been improved through labor struggles, with the introduction of collectively agreed regulations for working hours, overtime and Sunday work. Workers have also fought for job security. At Deutsche Telekom, for example, a ban on dismissals for operational reasons was agreed.

Striking in the public sector and in public transportation

In the collective bargaining in 2023, the inadequate offers of the employers caused great unrest among the workers. In March, one of the biggest strikes in recent years took place. The service company Ver.di and the railroad and transport union (EVG) called a total of around 350,000 employees in various sectors across Germany to a 24-hour warning strike. The strike affected the entire transport sector, including public transport, rail, airports, ports and locks. More than 30,000 employees took part in strike action at 350 locations.


What Are the Demands of the Unions?

► The EVG is demanding wage increases totaling twelve percent for a period of one year, but at least 650 euros as a "social component." More than 50 rallies were held throughout Germany during the day.

► In Potsdam, the Ver.di union entered collective bargaining for around 2.4 million public sector employees. The union is demanding 10.5 percent. The employers are offering a total wage increase of five percent for a period of 27 months and a tax-free one-off payment of 2,500 euros to compensate for inflation. The workers' indignation spreads and leads to further protests.


What Happens Now?

Employers have a tool called arbitration. A procedure that has been agreed since 2011 and is still being negotiated to achieve a result. During conciliation, there is a peace obligation. However, this does not begin until three days after negotiations have failed. Strikes are to be expected during this period.

Uniting struggles, strengthening the class strugle

Trade Unions and Antiracism

The trade unions' restraint grew as the openly fascist wing of the AfD grew stronger. After a young man of color, died in a fight with an Iraqi refugee in Chemnitz in August 2018, right-wing thugs organized hunts and attacks on migrants. Large parts of the AfD leadership demonstrated with violence-prone Neonazis. They showed they have the same goal: To use violence to create an ethnically and culturally cleansed Germany. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer legitimized the violence by saying migration was the "mother of all problems." Many media outlets joined in the agitation. The police did nothing against the racist attacks.


With the AfD, a fascist party established itself
With the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a fascist party has established itself that radiates far into the political center. It has a strong national-social wing and also has an impact on wage earners and the unemployed, including quite a few trade union members. The AfD defends fossil-fuel industrial capitalism and agitates against a " stateless big capital" that transfers profits abroad "at the expense of the German worker."  

Facts not Populism

Another obstacle to an offensive counter-mobilization in the trade unions was the AfD's self-dramatization as the "party of the little people," due to the above-average approval by workers, the unemployed, and trade union members for the party in the 2016 and 2017 state and federal elections. After the so-called summer of migration in 2015 (when the Federal Republic of Germany took in almost one million people seeking protection from the war-torn and crisis-ridden countries of the Middle East), the political education program of the trade unions intensified its efforts to counter the agitation from the right with a realistic view of the causes of flight and migration. With the seminar series "Facts not Populism" on asylum and migration policy, for example, ver.di is primarily targeting trainees and young employees.



The #Unteilbar alliance was formed
The #Unteilbar alliance was formed. On October 13, 2018, more than 240,000 people demonstrated in Berlin for an open and solidary society in which the social question, the struggle for good education and work, and the right to flee are not played off against each other. Social cuts and racism are separate problems but also linked.

Opposition and Open Door

This awareness was missing in the trade unions before. From now on, the independent racist character of the AfD party was more frequently emphasized as a threat and downgrading of the migrant members of the unions. As a helpful maxim for action, the trade unions have the slogan "Opposition and open door": Opposition against the right and fighting together against reactionary. It also means working together for solidarity-based solutions to social problems. This can have an effect at the trade union and workplace level in four core areas.


  • The Importance of Equal Rights for Common Struggles

    The often racist division of workers into core and border groups offers starting points for addressing the principle of equal rights, such as the right to vote for all regardless of citizenship, as a strengthening of the whole working class.
  • Anti-racist Education

    Unions should do more to push back the division between "us" and "them." A historical understanding of racism is needed. Lack of language courses and residence rights show that the ruling class has long been uninterested in integration policies.
  • Shifting the Debate

    The right opposes the deterioration of working conditions and social insecurity with an "us versus them" approach. Against this, trade unions must be strengthened as the protective power of all wage earners - employees, the unemployed, precarious workers, migrants, etc.
  • Living and Anchoring Diversity

    The labor struggles of recent years show that the fixation on a white German skilled workforce has little to do with reality. Almost 22% of all IG Metall members, 500,000 people, have a migration background. This must also become more visible in committees and leadership positions.





Use and share!

Story-telling: Dario Azzellini , Illustration: Carina Crenshaw

This is a graphic story-telling inspired by the article "From Symbolism to Practice. German Unions Need to Support Anti-Racism in the Fight Against the Dangers of the Right"  by Romin Khan, which was published in the anthology "If Not Us, Who? Global workers against authoritarianism, fascism, and dictatorships"  (external link, opens in a new window) by Dario Azzellini.

This visual narrative is published under the terms of the Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0!  (external link, opens in a new window) Share, use or adapt this graphic narrative for your educational work. Don't forget to republish it under the same terms, giving credit to L!NX and the authors!

Continue to the next contributions of the series

France: Trade Unions, Social Movements and the Yellow Vests

With the neoliberal reforms that Macron has rapidly implemented, social dialogue between social movements, unions and the government has become more difficult and fragmented. The French trade union movement is split along political lines into several umbrella organizations, and the level of organization has stagnated. The yellow vests have not been able to decisively change Macron's course. But they have rearticulated positions critical of capitalism and class struggle, also taking migrant struggles into the equation.


Federal Republic of Germany: Trade Unions and Antiracism

Labor struggles have a long tradition in Germany. Over time, they have not only focused on the demand for better working conditions, but have also been linked - albeit in a rather shy form at the beginning - to the anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle. Within the trade union political education programs, right-wing agitation was increasingly countered with a realistic picture of asylum and migration policy after the "Summer of Migration" in 2015.


India: Strikes and Self-organization

Since 2014, a coalition led by the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, Party of the Indian People, has ruled under Narendra Modi. India competes as a location for manufacturing companies. To attract international private capital, layoffs and crackdowns on unions have been made easier, and state-owned enterprises (including railroads, telecommunications companies and airlines) are to be privatized. In this complex situation, not only traditional unions and federations are organizing, but informal and migrant workers are also becoming part of a movement facing a major socio-political challenge.


USA: Working class against repression and racism

During the Trump presidency, U.S. unions initially opposed the rise of authoritarianism only symbolically. Over time, they acted more decisively. Where union members became active in the workplace, they succeeded in slowing the trend toward authoritarianism and sometimes achieved significant successes.


Chile: "It's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years!"

In 2019, Chile was swept by the largest revolt in its history. The uprising fundamentally changed the political situation. The right-wing government under billionaire Sebastián Piñera responded with military repression. At the height of the protests, there was a massive general strike that paved the way for a constitutional referendum. After two years of work by the constitutional convention, the new draft constitution was rejected in a referendum.


Colombia: A Murderous "Democracy"

Colombia is considered the oldest democracy in Latin America. In fact, it is an authoritarian regime that has waged war against the population for over 100 years. How does the population resist? How do workers organize against injustice? Colombia: More than labor struggle!


This might also interest you