Voluntarism, Corporatism and Path Dependency: The Metalworkers’ Unions Amalgamated Engineering Union and IG Metall and their Place in the History of British and German Industrial Relations

Research paper by Hoffrogge R.

Indexed on: 04 Dec '20Published on: 15 Jun '19Published in: German history : the journal of the German History Society


Germany and Britain have served as models of either corporatist or voluntarist industrial relations. The more recent typology of ‘varieties of capitalism’ then identified Britain as a model case of a ‘liberal market economy’ while Germany was portrayed as a (state) ‘co-ordinated market economy’. The mainstream of German-language labour history also tells this success story. Some research on the evolution of co-determination has portrayed its subject as a long-standing trait of German capitalism, with predecessors dating back as far as 1848. With its focus on the history of two key trade unions in core industries of Britain and Germany, the British metalworkers’ union the Amalgamated Society of Engineers / Amalgamated Engineering Union and the German Metal Workers’ Union / IG Metall, this article questions both exceptionalism and continuity. It argues that a path dependency exists in the structure of both unions and the industrial relations around them—but that this never came close to a linear evolution of voluntarism or corporatism. On closer examination, the history of both unions includes localist as well as centralist practices. From the 1890s both unions were part of collective bargaining with strong employers’ associations; especially after 1945 both were open to corporatist compromises. For West Germany only, such a compromise was found in the early 1950s, and not before, while in Britain that same compromise was attempted but failed during the crucial years between 1965 and 1979. Therefore, to quote Stefan Berger, this article argues that ‘similarities between the British and the German labour movements have been underestimated’.