State elections

Left Unites to Fight Elections

Sigmar Gabriel is wooing Germany's unions again.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Social Democrats may be returning to their labor roots and mending ties with Germany’s trade union movement, in a bid to win back their traditional base.

  • Facts


    • Labor Minister Andrea Nahles has close ties to trade unions.
    • Sigmar Gabriel has pushed for policies that trade unions support.
    • Germany will hold a set of state elections on 13 March.
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Germany’s biggest single trade union, IG Metall, does not tend to openly support one political side or another. Like the other members of the German Trade Union Association it sees itself as a united trade union, independent of party politics.

But a quick glance at the party manifestos for the state elections in Baden-Württemberg makes it clear which party is a perfect fit. IG Metall’s aims match all the policies of the center left Social Democratic Party (SPD), currently the junior partner in Germany’s left-right grand coalition.

You couldn’t really call it “the resurgence of an old romance,” declared IG Metall regional manager Roman Zitzelsberger. But in issues which affect employees there was more common ground, “now that the SPD no longer sees itself as a better version of the Conservative or Liberal party.”

The relationship between the  Social Democrats and the trade unions had sustained long-term damage, following the painful labor marker reforms that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder implemented while in power in the 1990s. But now both institutions are pursuing joint interests: for the minimum wage, against part-time working contracts and further cuts in state pension levels.

And trade union bosses are coming out more openly in favor of the Social Democrats. For example, Michaela Rosenberger of the gastronomy trade union NGG and Robert Feiger of the construction workers union have just joined the party.

“Ever since the 2013 party conference in Leipzig we have had a more relaxed relationship,” said Reiner Hoffmann, the head of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB). “The SPD had realized that Mr. Schröder’s agenda 2010 had led to massive distortions on the labor market and expansion of the low-wage sector.”

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