Test of Mettle

New Union Boss to Tackle VW Crisis

Joerg Hofmann new IG Metall boss source DPA alexandr heinl
Joerg Hofmann, IG Metall's new boss, leading the largest labor union in the world.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    German engineering union IG Metall is the largest union in the world and its new leader, Jörg Hofmann, will play an important role in VW’s crisis management.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Jörg Hofmann was elected as the new chairman of IG Metall on Tuesday, backed by 91.3 percent of the delegates at a meeting in Frankfurt.
    • Mr. Hofmann will replace Berthold Huber as a member of VW’s supervisory board.
    • IG Metall and VW’s works council on Tuesday issued a joint statement calling for a change in the company’s hierarchical management culture.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The world’s largest trade union, German engineering union IG Metall, has a new boss.

Jörg Hofmann, 59, was elected with a majority of 91.3 percent at a meeting in Frankfurt on Tuesday. He was deputy chairman to Detlef Wetzel, who has retired after two years in the job.

The teacher’s son, who studied economics and sociology at universities in Germany and France, doesn’t exactly may look like a tubthumping trade unionist.

But he will wield the kind of power that worker representatives in other countries, including Britain and the United States, can only dream of.

It comes through a handful of influential channels. First, through strong ties with the center-left Social Democrats, who are junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.  Then there is the collective bargaining system that enables the union with its 2.7 million members to set benchmark wage deals for Europe’s largest economy. And finally, Germany’s legally enshrined co-determination, which gives unions supervisory board seats in large companies.

German unions are also increasingly willing to resort to strike action to further their goals. Lufthansa pilots have gone on strike 13 times since May 2014, and train drivers caused widespread transport chaos with no less than nine strikes over a one-year period until a deal was reached in May.

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