Angela Merkel’s visit to the UK parliament last week left me puzzling as to the source of German economic success. Is it because they are more naturally efficient than we are, or is there something institutional, something they do that we don’t?
I read a couple of articles which answered that question for me. One of them was about the Union of Auto Workers in the United States who recently lost a ballot to organise the workforce in Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant.
How do you imagine the management of Volkswagen reacted to the news? Had it been a British or an American company, it would almost certainly have celebrated the decision. Volkswagen, on the other hand, have threatened to close the plant if it is not unionised and have encouraged the union to challenge the decision in the courts.
Volkswagen consider a unionised workforce a necessary part of good industrial relations.
The other article was about work practices in Amazon warehouses, which, as you may know, are fairly brutal. Staff are made to wear GPS tags and their productivity rate is constantly being pushed to almost unmanageable levels. Failure to keep up can result in summary dismissal.
Again, the British and American workforces are not unionised, whereas the German workforce is. Consequently working conditions are better in Germany than they are here, while the workers are represented at management level through statutory works councils.
Not only that, but the Trade Union movement as a whole is represented in the German parliament by the Social Democratic Party, which, unlike the British Labour Party, has maintained its link to organised labour.
Are we beginning to see a difference between our two countries now?
In Germany workers are included in the political process. They have representation in parliament. They have a voice in the workplace. They are well paid and have better working conditions.
British workers, on the other hand, are constantly being undermined. We have no representation in parliament, and no voice in the workplace.
The efficiency of German workers has got nothing to do with some mythical national characteristic. It has everything to do with good working practice.
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