Social Groups (1)
The Industrial Worker

We all know that there are layers - strata - in society, and these layers determine our position in society. The same is true of all societies. There’s always a leader - or some group which leads, and even inside that group there is usually someone who is more respected than the others and they are the actual leader.

It’s also true that your friendship groups are organised the same way. Some groups of friends have a main person, who always seems to lead the group or someone everyone listens to.

In Nazi Germany of course, Hitler was at the top of society. But under his leadership, there were still the strata which existed before (and after) Hitler.

We’ll look more at certain groups within Germany, which include members of different layers of ‘society’.

The first one is The Industrial Worker.

In the booklet, if you have seen it online, you will notice that at the beginning of each group name there is a question: in this case it says “Question: did workers benefit under National Socialism?” And then there’s a base answer to the question.

What is the base answer to that question?
The base answer is yes and no - workers became a cohesive group but they lost the right to self-determination.

What does ‘cohesive’ mean?
Joining together as one unit.

What is ‘self-determination’?
in this context, the ability to decide what work you do, how you spend your time and the right to negotiate your own wage or salary.

The main idea of the Nazis was to get workers working together, not at the same job of course but ‘in harmony’ and creating a strong and reliable supply chain of goods and services - and crucially, spare or new parts for the things they made.

You can see that it’s about ‘togetherness’. Making German people feel strongly part of the whole Germany.

Before the Nazis took power, the workers in factories around the country had what are called ‘Trades Unions’. These are groups of workers, usually from one industry, which create an organisation which looks after the workers in that industry. For example, in the car making industry, the bosses might try to increase hours worked but reduce salaries.

If there were no unions, the bosses could simply do that and say - “well, you work for these new conditions or get out!” But with a union, which most people joined, if the bosses tried that, the Union bosses would go to them and say - “Stop - you cannot do that. If you try to do that, we will call for a ’strike’ - production will stop, the workers will stand outside your factory and not let anyone else in.”

In this way, a Trades Union protects the workers against bosses who only care about making money, and could not care less about the workers, or how safe factories are, or giving toilet breaks or lunch or tea breaks. The Trades Unions protect workers against unfair bosses.

When the Nazis came into power, they moved quickly to do what?
They joined all the separate trades unions into one amalgamated union called The Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAP - German Workers Party).

People were still not forced to join, but if you didn’t, you had no protection from bad bosses - and of course, if you dared not to join, you were almost going against Hitler. No one wanted to do that, because Hitler was a very popular man.

The benefits of the DAP were not just about money; but allowed workers and bosses to deal harshly against those who were lazy, or those who went on strike (not working at all) or those who didn’t turn up for work. The DAP could sort out those people, so everyone worked well and pretty much enjoyed their work.

The DAP create training schemes and apprenticeships for young workers, or re-training for older workers, increasing their skills to suit new methods of production. 

What’s ‘an apprenticeship’?
An apprenticeship is a training programme for giving someone manual skills to perform a skilled job, such as a mechanical engineer, or a draughtsman. Over a period of years, the worker acquires the skills needed to do a complicated, skilled job.

The DAP was even able to insist that the rent workers paid for their housing was fair, and didn’t rise whenever the landlord wanted it to.

Not only those good things, but the DAP also had a section called the Beauty of Labour. This section provided clean workplaces (using cleaners, which the bosses might not pay for), meals for workers who otherwise did not have them, places for exercise (gyms, or rooms to work out etc) and even beauty parlours (hairdressers and manicures for the ladies).

Another part of the DAP was the Strength through Joy programme. This was a set of activities, ranging from lectures to tours, holidays, camping, trips - all designed to encourage health and well-being. Most of the facilities were either free or very low cost.

When the Nazis took power, there were only 2.3 million members of the DAP - when war started in 1939, there were 10.3 million.

Was all this for free?
No. Everyone had to pay a weekly or monthly amount so they could use the benefits. Even today, where there is good protection for workers (in factories, shops, offices and even schools), you must pay fees to join and that allows you to get the benefits.

However, the benefits were often worth far more than the small fee you paid.

Here are two propaganda posters about the DAP section - the KdF (Strength through joy):

What do you notice about them?

Yes, they feature VW cars. VW was a car company created by the Nazis. In 1937 Adolf Hitler sanctioned the creation of a car company to produce cars for the normal people.

Not only that, but do you know who the designer was?
Ferdinand Porsche. Nazi.

The two Nazi propaganda posters advertise the benefits of saving for ‘Your own KdF car’. Workers enthusiastically paid millions of marks to the scheme but mass production of the Volkswagen, planned for 1939, was stopped until after the war ... and everyone lost their money.

For this social group, then, was it all good?
It sounds like it, but actually there were downsides too.

Wages or salaries, which had fallen really quite low because of the worldwide depression in the 1920s, didn’t reach 1929 levels again until 1938.

The contributions for some industries were quite high for the DAP, which also needed insurance and tax payments.

The biggest gains were made by the people who worked in the armaments industry.

Why was this?
Because Hitler was creating a large army, navy and air force, and those are the things that the armaments industry made. So those people were more valuable in the economy.

In other industries, such as consumer goods, wages didn’t really get much better.

What is a ‘consumer good’?
Goods such as fridges, ovens, cookers, household products.

As the German economy was geared towards producing military equipment, resources were sent to the armaments factories first, and this left consumer goods often without the resources (steel, gases, metals, plastics) to make their products.

The hours people had to work increased too. In 1933, the number of hours people were supposed to work were 43 over each week. That’s called a ‘working week’. By the time war broke out, that had increased to 47 hours each week.

That’s only 4 hours, but it was a minimum, not a maximum. Many people were expected to work many more hours, usually for little extra money or no extra at all. As the demands of the military grew, people were more or less forced to work many more hours than those for which they were paid.

But they were willing to do it! It was for Germany, for Hitler, for the Reich and make Germany and the Aryans the strongest and best on earth.

Overall, for workers, the statistics showed that unemployment figures fell very much. Which in a modern society would be great! In Nazi Germany though, it was because women and Jews were no longer considered part of the employable population, so whether or not they had jobs, they were not counted.

Also, the Nazis introduced conscription.

What is conscription?
It is the system where people are forced to join one of the armed forces - the army, navy or Air Force. Just like in Thailand when the boys have to pick a card. Red - you’re in, black, you’re not in.

The Germans didn’t really get a choice - their could volunteer to join the Labour Service, or get forced into the army, navy or air force.

So although the figures of available people fell, and the numbers of those without work fell, it was because lots of people were no longer counted in the whole, which makes the percentage of unemployed much less.


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