In an interview, sociologist Klaus Dörre talks about dealing with right-wing groups in companies and the social challenges of ecological transformation.
Works councils in this country are more inclined to the left. But right-wing groups have long seized the opportunity to infiltrate worker representatives. This was also the case in the last works council elections. Interview with the sociologist Klaus Dörre from the University of Jena, who has been studying right-wing trends in the world of work for years.
At the end of May, elections to works councils were held in Germany. You analyzed the results of right-wing lists that compete with the unions. Where do the righteous appear and what are their successes?
I looked at the results of the Automobile Center lists and their branches, which had already run in previous elections, especially in Mercedes. They took part in the elections at the plants in Untertürkheim, Sindelfingen and Rastatt, but also at Porsche and BMW in Leipzig. These lists began with the statement that the transition to electromobility was a conspiracy of management boards and works councils. It’s not about the climate, it’s about building an internal combustion engine cheaper in Eastern Europe. For people in the center, being on the right means being behind an internal combustion engine.
How did they fare in this election?
There have been clear failures. Of the roughly 18,000 seats on the works councils, the center and its subsidiaries did not even win 25. At Porsche and BMW in Leipzig, right-wing extremists lost two-thirds of their votes. However, these bets are among the winners of e-mobility. They had their headquarters at the Mercedes plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, where 19,000 people work on internal combustion engines, but IG Metall has also grown and remained by far the strongest force. At the VW engine plant in Zwickau, the right-wing extremist “Alliance of Free Works Councils” won seats only because it had previously only competed with one individual candidate. His 20% voting share was not expressed in seats on works councils.
To the person
Klaus Dorre since 2005 he has been professor of sociology of work, economics and industry at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. Before he was
Managing Director of the Research Institute for Labor, Education, Participation at the Ruhr University in Bochum. In 2011-2021, Dörre was a spokesman for the Post-Growth Societies College of the German Research Foundation.
Overall, the list came out very poorly.
Yes. Set against the high expectations that they will teach the DGB unions a lesson, this is a major setback. But there is no reason to be clear. As is well known, the roots of the Zentrum Automobil run deep into the brutal right wing. The president of the center, Oliver Hilburger, was the lead singer of the right-wing rock band “Noie Values”, whose music has appeared in music videos of NSU confessors. Although all this is known, the center at the main plant in Stuttgart had 200 people on its list. The leader of the list at the Rastatt plant is a declared neo-Nazi. The center is so far to the right that even the AfD in Baden-Württemberg has issued a decision of non-compliance. This does not prevent Björn Höcke from promoting the center as an “alternative” in companies; the last federal party conference overturned the decision on non-compliance with Höcke’s recommendations by more than 60 percent of the vote. What was new in this year’s elections, however, was that the trade unions, in this case IG Metall, took an offensive stance against the right. Previously, their existence was hardly discussed. There were fears of an unnecessary reevaluation of right-wing extremists.
Does this mean that an offensive confrontation with right-wing competition is important?
Yes. The right ones emerge as guardians. But there is another phenomenon: these are trade unionists from IG Metall and other trade unions who turn out to be political representatives of the AfD at the time. This was the case, for example, in Jenoptik in Jena. This works council has since been voted down. It must also be seen: the radical right is now trying in the nursing profession, with staff in nurseries and clinics. This is a fire hazard.
Her research group at the University of Jena is studying the behavior of young workers in detail.
It turns out that the AfD is the most successful party among workers, especially in the eastern federal states. In Brandenburg, 44 percent of workers voted for the AfD in the last state election. In Lusatia, this percentage is even higher, because there the AfD scores points in the fight against the phasing out of lignite. In Thuringia, the AfD won 39 percent of workers in the last state election. The AfD lost significantly in the last federal election but remained stable among workers.
They come to the conclusion that these successes are possible because the democratic parties there are withdrawing.
That’s right. Basically, many workers, including skilled skilled workers, feel devalued. They no longer feel positively perceived by politics, they are no longer appreciated. This also applies to the western federal states. Many workers feel that the traditional parties no longer represent them and do not even go to the polls.
The SPD has long been considered a classic workers party.
But the Social Democrats then alienated their core clientele with their Agenda 2010 policies of so-called labor market reforms. In East Germany, the workers then went on a political wander, voted for the CDU, but also for the Left Party. Of course, you have experienced that nothing changes for the better for us. We stop at the foot of the mountain of justice. Our economic situation is not improving. This is where the law comes in. They promise people an improvement. Typical of this was the AfD slogan: complete the turning point. At the same time, it was an appeal to people who, as workers, feel devalued many times, as East Germans, and culturally with their ideas of a good life. This closes the ranks ideologically.
Coming back to the phenomenon of the withdrawal of democratic parties.
The SPD improved this somewhat in the recent federal election campaign. She learned a little. This was demonstrated by Olaf Scholz’s election campaign, which was based on the concept of respect. This had some effect and, like the gradual withdrawal from Hitz’s reforms, contributed to the success of the SPD.
For a long time in East Germany, the left was viewed as a workers’ party.
The Left Party has been hit particularly hard in the East. This is also because he has literally ignored part of the population. She signaled to them: You are right-wingers, we do not want you, it is not worth fighting for you. In the federal election, the Left Party fell to two percent among workers. Union workers no longer know what the Left Party stands for. The works councils say the party is too self-absorbed. They ask: why do we need such an event?
Do you still see an opportunity for the Left Party?
She could play a political role again if she was an advocate of the “sustainable development revolution”. In other words, it would have to address the issue of sustainability, but in a social and ecological way. He would have to deal with the social consequences of environmental sustainability. There is a huge social imbalance. The very issue of heating and energy costs will trigger a social earthquake. As leader of the Left Alliance in France, Mélenchon achieved political success not by ignoring the social consequences of ecological change, but by naming them.
What can be done to fill the political vacuum created by the withdrawal of the democratic parties?
Parties have to go back to where it hurts. A large part of the AfD electorate can still be reached and brought back into democratic discourse. For example, the chairman of the works council of VW Baunatal, Carsten Bätzold, insultingly mentions the consequences of the ecological transformation in the economy. He says yes, it will cost jobs in the auto industry. Politicians must tell people directly and list alternatives. It will also be shown then: The AfD has no solutions.
Interview: Claus-Jürgen Göpfert