NAZIS AND UNIONS - Why Jenny George is right to warn us


In remembering the Holocaust (Stan Rubens, Age 16/4) we should always remember how it was able to happen. The racist Nazis also systematically deprived the German people of their rights and freedoms. Jenny George is right to warn us. How the Nazis built up their power until it was limitless, month by month, is listed below. Events show how rapidly freedom can be lost and a civilised country betrayed.

In democratic elections in July 1932 the Nazis became the largest party in the Parliament, with 230 out of 608 seats, elected in the hope they they could solve the economic crisis.

The year 1933 showed how fast events can move. When Hitler demanded and became Chancellor in January 1933, democracy still seemed safe. Army, police, press, Catholic Church, Social Democrats and trade unions still seemed independent and strong.

President Hindenburg had more power than the Chancellor and could dismiss him, the Cabinet of twelve had only three Nazis, and even with allies the NSDAP (Nazis) did not have a majority in the Reichstag. The army was loyal to Hindenburg and the police were still to some extent independent. The Press was regional rather than national, and only 2.5% were Nazi-controlled. The political opposition seemed strong and well organized, especially the Social Democrats. The Catholic Church controlled hearts and minds of a third of the population.

Both the Social Democrats and the Church had successfully resisted the attacks of the Kaiser’s state in the previous century and the trade unions had previously shown their strength when they were largely responsible for bringing down an earlier would-be dictator, Kapp, in 1919.

The Nazi party itself was inexperienced in everything to do with government, they were not united, and its leaders disagreed about aims.

Few people thought that anything more than a change of government had begun. Working class leaders started some demonstrations but these were quickly banned

27 February 1933. The burning of the Reichstag (Parliament). Whoever did it, the Nazis claimed that the arson was to be the signal for a left-wing uprising, and so Göring as head of the Prussian police used the incident to increase street control and harrassment of opponents, and to enrol large numbers of SA (Brownshirts), SS (Special Police) and Stalhelm (SteelHelmet) members as auxiliary police.

The emergency decree. Hitler persuaded Hindenburg to immediately issue an emergency decree, as he could do under Article 48 of the Constitution. This set aside normal civil liberties - personal liberty, free expression of opinion, freedom of the press, rights of assembly and association, and made permissible violations of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations and restrictions on property. It gave central authorities the right to exercise the powers of the organs of regional and local government and introduced the death penalty for a wide range of offences.

5 March 1933 Parliamentary Elections. The Nazis had access to unlimited government funds for their election campaign, which played on fear of civil war and Red revolution, and drove the Right and the Nationalists into their camp. They received 44% of the vote and their allies 7%. They were not sweepingly in control, but they could do what they wanted in taking their next steps.

13 March 1933. Goebbels established his position as Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. Göring already controlled police and defence.

24 March 1933. The Enabling Bill. gave unlimited power for four years.

31 March 1933. Dissolution of the local democratic institutions , replaced with central supervision over the regions. Nazis took over chief posts in the state administration.

Thousands of communists, socialists and Jews were put into concentration camps which were brutal and lawless.

2 May 1933. Dissolved the trade unions.

18 May 1933. Took over the cooperative societies. Workers’ clubs were banned or co-ordinated.

Within six months the National Socialists had crushed the largest and best-organized workers’ movement in the world. The psychological effect of this catastrophic defeat was all the greater for being unaccompanied even by a symbolic act of resistance. Such action might have been hopeless, but it would at least have enable the workers to feel that they had not gone down without a struggle.
(Peukert 103)

The Nazis made huge inroads into everyday workingclass culture in the housing estates and factories with ‘spontaneous‘ SA terror in mid- 1933 and extensive raids in working-class districts. (Peukert 104). The Social Democrats, trade union groups and Communists planned to continue working illegally from private bases in workingclass districts away from the public domain, as it had been possible to do during Bismarck’s 19th century anti-socialist legislation, but the SS, Gestapo and the police, often assisted by fire brigades and emergency services, would regularly seal off particular housing estates and comb through them house by house. This, plus the beatings, arbitrary arrests and spontaneous vengeance and vandalism by local SA groups which set up their own ‘private’ concentration camps, created an atmosphere of insecurity and helplessness even in working class strongholds that had seemed to be safe.

In this way workingclass solidarity was smashed. There was no possibility of being a resister operating ‘like fish in water’, because the water was being constantly trawled. (Peukert) The Gestapo built up its surveillance apparatus to make mass resistance possible. So people felt an ubiquitousness of persecution and insecurity ‘as if they lived in a city occupied by foreign troops.’

June 1933. Goebbel’s new ministry took over some key responsibilities .

22 June 1933. The Social Democrat party was banned.

7 July 1933. The elected Social Democrats were expelled

14 July 1933. Law for compulsory sterilisation for those considered unfit.

15 July 1933. All political parties banned except the Nazis.

In July 1933. Concentration camps systematised.

By October 1933 the press was under control. New laws destroyed editorial and journalists’ independence and expression of personal comment. The film industries were later taken over one by one.

November 1933. General elections for a single-party parliament. The foundation for the Nuremberg race laws was established


20 January 1934. ‘Regulation of National Labor’ broke the power of all organised labor within workplaces.

30 January 1934. The local governments were dissolved without provision for re-election. Local commissioners were henceforth appointed by Reich ministers to whom they were responsible.

February 1934. The Upper House of Parliament was dissolved.

5 May 1934 the German Protestant Church's ‘confessing synod’ made the ‘Barmen Theological Declaration’ against the totalitarian state. In 1934 the Catholic Bishop Galen of Munster preached against the Nazi attacks on Christianity in a sermon widely disseminated.

30 June 1934. The ‘Night of the Long Knives'. The massacre included several prominent non-Nazis including the leader of Catholic action and two army generals, and got rid of the socialist revolutionaries within the Nazi party. People inside and outside Germany who were shocked nevertheless tolerated the bloody purge because they now hoped the worst was over. It was not. Yet it was not until August 1934 that Hitler became Der Führer as well as Chancellor, and a plebiscite of the German people formally ratified his dictatorship.

The Germans had had a thoroughly decent President in Hindenburg. Most Germans did not mind a spot of union-bashing and suppression of minority rights. One evil led on to another.

Niemöller warned later that when the democratic rights of others are attacked, we should not look aside, because ‘It’s not me’.

Unions should ensure that there are no workplace dictatorships either by employers or workers; this is true reform. Given the history of the waterfront,(which many, like Neil Farrar, the AGE,16/4 only partly know) giving employers back a free hand to oppress is not. To try to destroy unions is going further still.

Lest we forget what Australians fought for and fought against.

The sources for Nazis and Unions are: (Source:Email from Valerie Yule)

The famous quote from Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

(Niemöller was a submarine commander in WW1 and a Lutheran pastor. He would have served in WW2 although he was outspoken against Hitler. He was imprisoned for this for seven years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. The verses are reprinted in ‘Poem for the Day’ 366 poems for every day of the year worth learning by heart, ed.Nicholas Albery, and on sale in the New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, Carlton - free plug.)

(Source: Valerie Yule)


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