This major work by the late Sabine Rudischhauser-Jung was published shortly before she died on 27 June 2017 at the age of just fifty-six. In the announcement of her death, her husband Wolfgang referred to her determination to finish her research, despite being ill for the past five years. He expressed the hope that her publications in general, and this latest achievement in particular, would be appreciated in references and reviews after her death. I met Sabine only once, at a conference where she presented a highly interesting paper on tariff negotiations in the putting-out textile industry of the French Cambrésis region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That paper is now part of this book and is characteristic of the way she approached the legal history of collectively agreed tariffs on wages and working conditions. Throughout the book she insists on the importance of social practices of negotiating by workers and employers in industries, which preceded law making and the legal recognition of these practices. Because of this approach, her book, although primarily reconstructing debates on legal aspects of collective bargaining in Germany and France, is also relevant for social historians and social scientists interested in the history of industrial relations.
In a lecture given before the General Council of the First International in 1865, later to be published as Value, Price and Profit, Karl Marx valued trade unions as waging “unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market”. He did not mention truces or peace agreements as objectives to be negotiated during these “guerrilla fights” to temporarily regulate wage relationships. It was only later that the British couple Sidney and Beatrice Webb developed a theory of trade unionism as an instrument of “collective bargaining” (a term they invented themselves). In their major work Industrial Democracy (1897), based on a thorough historical analysis of British union practices, the Webbs argued that trade unions aim to negotiate a standard rate of pay and other working conditions with the employers to enforce a “common rule”. According to the Webbs, the unions’ prime concern was standardization to prevent competition among workers over wages.
In France, opinions on collective agreements were heavily influenced by this approach. It inspired, among others, the founding father of social and economic history in France, François Simiand, who belonged to a group of reformists known as Socialistes normaliens centred on the future director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Albert Thomas. Rudischhauser argues that the orientation on the British model by these and other French social reformers prevented a broader debate on the legal regulation of collective agreements by the state.
In Germany, there was consensus among liberal reformers, notably Lujo Brentano, that enforcing general rules on wages and working conditions was advantageous to workers as well as employers, because it prevented competition over wages by marginal firms (in German Schmutzkonkurrenz) and thereby stabilized product markets. These reformers were in favour of legalizing collective agreements because that would result in more peaceful industrial relations. Rejecting this Friedenschwärmerei (“craving for peace”), some German social democrats opposed collective agreements, or at least legal regulation by the state; leading German trade unionists concluded, however, that collective agreements, including recognition by the state, would enable the unions to gain strength for a new round of struggles and negotiations.
Rudischhauser shows that, in Germany, ideas and debates on the legal aspects of collective agreements were much more intense than in France, mainly because social reformers in Germany were organized in Strukturen sozialreformatorischen Handelns (“structures to practice social reform”). There were influential platforms, such as the Verein für Socialpolitik, which were firmly based on the so-called Historical School in academic social science. In France, such a well-organized and coherent “school” of social reform was lacking, and debates remained abstract and separated from practice, both of industrial relations and of law making. Nevertheless, in both countries, national laws were enacted in almost the same years (1918 and 1919). In Germany, they were a consequence of the 1918 Revolution: under pressure from the revolution, employers were now prepared to recognize trade unions as negotiating partners. On 23 December 1918, a law was issued to make collective agreements negotiated in a specific branch universally binding on all employers and workers in that branch. In France, a similar law was issued on 15 March 1919, also as a consequence of the changing political situation after the war.
The starting point of Rudischhauser’s comparative research is the widespread idea that the development of collective bargaining in France lagged far behind compared with other industrial nations, especially Germany. As she convincingly makes clear, this was so only in appearance. By careful research into the practice in different industries in both countries, she shows that negotiating collectively over wages and tariffs was as common in France as in Germany, resulting in elaborate agreements from an early date. This is illustrated by French cases such as the contract negotiations in the putting-out textile industry in the Cambrésis, mentioned above, in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. This followed a major strike in 1905, culminating in a general agreement, which paralleled the system of industrial relations in the Solingen putting-out industry in metal wares in Germany. Thorough comparative analyses of industrial relations and tariff negotiations in the building industries of Lyon and Munich in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also make clear that France did not lag Germany in this respect.
The cases studied by Rudischhauser show that trade unions took on the task of regulating labour markets in the industries in which they operated, regardless of theories and debates on this issue by economists and social reformers. These debates centred around the question of whether a trade union could negotiate agreements on behalf of its members only, or for all workers in a specific industry. As long as there were no legal rules, trade unions had to enforce agreements themselves, on both unwilling workers and employers. The practice of trade unionism showed that unions were perfectly able to do so, but only if they were prepared to engage in some form of “guerrilla warfare”. For liberal and other social reformers, law making was important to prevent this constant threat of social unrest, and to regulate industrial relations in a peaceful manner by legally obliging employers to comply with the agreements, even if they did not take part in negotiations or did not belong to an employers’ organization themselves.
Rudischhauser goes to great length in analysing judicial debates on this and many other legal aspects of collective agreements. This is all worthwhile and informative, and helps us to better understand the role of law making and the state in shaping industrial relations. Her juridical approach is also a pitfall, however, as it denies her a view on the broader social development and state formation of which law making is a part. State regulation of industrial relations is closely connected to a more general process of nationalization of labour markets and social intervention by the state, which culminated in and after World War I. A broader social perspective on the changing role of the state in this period would have made this otherwise impressive book even more complete.