When German trade unionists meet every four years for a big takeover, they call it the Labor Parliament. This wonderful title is considered bold, because the German Trade Union Congress (DGB) sometimes drags itself into bits. But this week, the DGB has achieved something remarkable, because with Yasmine Fahimi it has elected a woman at the top for the first time. Anyone looking around the German economy will immediately realize the importance.
There is no woman under the leadership of any of the four major business organisations. There are two female directors in 40 DAX companies, stake: five per cent. There are now three women on the DGB board of directors, quota: 75 percent. Of course, the umbrella organization could have elected a president for eight individual trade unions earlier. But he’s doing it at least now, while entrepreneurs are only talking about equality. If Christian Benner also moves to the top of IG Metall next year, the difference in the corporate world will be huge.
Of course, the importance of Yasmine Fahimi’s choice does not end with being a woman. That would be bad. It depends on the qualifications, so that the employees of Germany have something of this character. And just as this question should be asked of many male leadership nails, it can also be asked here: Can Fahimi do that? We’ll only really know in a few years. What is clear, however, is that she has worked on relevant issues and has experience with politics – and momentum.
It was already visible when the 54-year-old stormed the DGB podium in white sneakers on Monday. Fahimi speaks more clearly and interactively than some of the males before him. This is badly needed. In order to offer workers more in business and politics, unions must stop shrinking.
In order to attract members, they have to inspire more. And in doing so, he targeted young people and women in general, who still couldn’t do enough. While the female employment rate has risen from 57 to 72 percent in 30 years, their share of union membership has remained steady at a third.
Politicians must ensure that corporate power does not continue to grow at the expense of trade unions
It is not at all that labor organizations achieve little. Anyone with a union-negotiated wage earns much more than without it. Also, because unions were pushing to support labor for a short time, the Corona crisis passed without mass layoffs. They just sell such successes poorly.
To be fair, it is also change that weakens labor organisations. Corporate power grew. Global competition makes unionists as vulnerable to extortion as the increased technical possibilities of replacing people with machines. New jobs are increasingly being created by service providers, some of which are brutally excluding employee representatives.
Responding to this in the interest of workers is not easy for unions. They deserve more political help. The federal government can declare collective wages generally binding. And punish managers when subverting job boards – only every tenth company has such a body.
Opportunities for political support are increasing because a member of the Social Democratic Party now holds the chancellor’s office. And because the new DGB chief Fahimi has a strong network in politics. In order to truly achieve more for workers, unions need to do more work on themselves. During the DGB leadership hunt, they harmed several candidates – and eventually Fahimi too. Verdi’s trade union in particular must be in control.
Workers want strong support. Corona drains them, they are affected by inflation, and they worry about digital and environmental change that threatens jobs. Being there for the workers is a major task for unions at the moment. But you can also completely spoil such a task.