Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

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The Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB) was a confederation of German trade unions in Germany founded during the Weimar Republic. It was founded in 1919 and was initially powerful enough to organize a general strike in 1920 against a right-wing coup d'état. After the 1929 Wall Street crash, the ensuing global financial crisis caused widespread unemployment. The ADGB suffered a dramatic loss of membership, both from unemployment and political squabbles. By the time the Nazis seized control of the government, ADGB's leadership had distanced itself from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and was openly cooperating with Nazis in an attempt to keep the organization alive. Nonetheless, on May 2, 1933, the SA and SS stormed the offices of the ADGB and its member trade unions, seized their assets and arrested their leaders, crushing the organization.


The ADGB was founded on July 5, 1919[1] in Nuremberg after the first postwar congress of free trade unions. The ADGB was founded as the new umbrella organization to succeed the Generalkommission der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands (General Commission of German Trade Unions). Carl Legien was elected as the first chairman.[1]

It was an amalgamation of 52 German trade unions and was affiliated with the Allgemeiner freier Angestelltenbund (Federation of General Unaffiliated Employees) and the Allgemeiner Deutscher Beamtenbund (Federation of General German Civil Servants).[2] The adjective "Allgemeiner" ("general")[note 1] was added to the name because in March 1919, the Christian and liberal trade unions had already founded umbrella organizations called the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund.

An influential mass organization under Legien's leadership, it organized a general strike in 1920 to counter the right-wing Kapp Putsch. Roughly 12 million workers took part,[3] halting all production, transportation, mining and public services and, as The New York Times wrote, "giving the Kapp régime its death blow".[4]

The free trade unions were not politically neutral; rather, they saw themselves as the economic arm of the socialist labor movement. Next to the free trade unions, were the Christian trade unions and the liberal unions. Neither were ever able to reach the membership numbers of the free trade unions. In 1920, the unions of the ADGB had over 8 million members, but the international financial crisis at the end of the decade caused high unemployment, leading to a substantial drop in the membership of member unions.[2] By the end of 1932, there were an estimated 3.5 million members.[2]

Despite the split in the SPD during World War I, the free trade unions continued to remain close to the SPD, the largest working class political party. Together, the SPD and the ADGB fought for the introduction unemployment benefits and a legally mandated eight-hour workday, which was gutted by regulations established in 1923. At the end of 1931, they united with the Reichsbanner and workers' sport clubs to form the Iron Front against the growing threat of the Nazi Party.[5]

At first, ADGB unions were open to members of other working class political parties including the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). This changed in 1929, when the KPD, under pressure from the Soviet Union, began to run competing candidates at factory works council elections. The Revolutionäre Gewerkschafts Opposition (RGO), was founded in December 1929 as a communist opposition labor organization, hoping to draw left-wing unionists away from the ADGB.,[6] which led to the expulsion of many communists from the ADGB. By March 1932, the RGO had about 200,000 members.

After the Nazis seized power in March 1933, the trade union leadership tried to save their organizations by pandering to the Nazi Party and in April 1933, offered "to put themselves in service to the new state". At the same time, ADGB chairman Theodor Leipart, began to distance himself from the SPD and declared the ADGB to be politically neutral.[7][8] This policy resulted in the call by the national board to partake in "National Labor Day", the Nazi version of International Workers' Day, (also called "May Day"), a left-wing celebration of labor, and led to a break with the International Federation of Trade Unions.[8] Even as the Nazis were planning to storm union offices,[9] ADGB leaders met with leaders of the Christian and liberal labor organization for talks about a merger in the hopes of forestalling a prohibition of organized labor.[7]

These efforts failed to prevent the free trade unions from a nationwide surprise attack the day after May Day, just two months later. On May 2, 1933, all ADGB member union were stormed, their offices occupied and assets seized[7] by the SA, SS[10] and the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization. Officials were put in "protective custody"[7] and many trade unionists were maltreated. In Duisburg, four trade union officials were brutally murdered.[10]

Non-profit entities[edit]

The ADGB operated several non-profit companies. In 1924, a workers' bank was founded, the Bank der Deutschen Arbeit. On July 29, 1928, the cornerstone was laid for the Bundesschule des Allgemeinen Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes (ADGB Trade Union School) in Bernau bei Berlin, Brandenburg. The school operated for only three years, until the Nazis gained power, after which the Nazis used part of the school to train the SS.[11]

ADGB school after the war[edit]

After World War II, the school was used by occupying Russian military forces and from 1946 by the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB), an East German organisation.[12] Its existence was forgotten and the 12-acre site was not open to the public. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was it rediscovered. The East Germans had made significant renovations to the building to the extent that it was not recognized by architects looking for it after 1989.[11]

The original complex was designed by the newly appointed director of the Bauhaus School, Hannes Meyer and his colleague Hans Wittwer. The design incorporated the ideologies inherent to the Bauhaus and was completely functional in its outcome. The complex needed to house facilities to train and educate 120 people. The result was a Z-Shaped series of buildings that housed class-rooms, library, gymnasium and dining hall along with the insertion of a glass-blocked ceiling. Despite the extremely functional approach, materials were used in an expressive way including concrete, glass blocks and steel encasement windows.[13]

The complex was restored to its former glory following a Europe-wide competition for the contract.[11] The Berlin Chamber of Crafts paid a portion of the costs and has used it as a trade school[11] and hotel for journeymen since 2008.[14] In 2008 the restoration project won the architects, Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten, the first World Monuments Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize. It was the first time prize had been awarded.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The adjective "allgemeiner" is sometimes awkward to translate. In this case, it has the sense of "across-the-board".


  1. ^ a b 1919 Chronology German Historical Museum. Retrieved August 5, 2011 (in German)
  2. ^ a b c "Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund" German Historical Museum. Retrieved August 8, 2011 (in German)
  3. ^ "Der Generalstreik 1920" German Historical Museum Retrieved August 6, 2011 (in German)
  4. ^ Carl Legien obituary (PDF) The New York Times (December 27, 1920). Retrieved August 6, 2011
  5. ^ Andreas Linhardt, Die Technische Nothilfe in der Weimarer Republik Dissertation, Braunschweig University of Technology (2006), p. 667 ISBN 978-3-8334-4889-8. Retrieved August 6, 2011 (in German)
  6. ^ "Die Revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsopposition" German History Museum. Retrieved August 8, 2011 (in German)
  7. ^ a b c d "Prohibition of Free Trade-Unions: SA Members Seize the Union Office on Engelsufer in Berlin (May 2, 1933)" German History in Documents and Images. Retrieved August 7, 2011
  8. ^ a b "Der Verrat der sozialdemokratischen ADGB-Führer" (PDF) ASK / VAB Hamburg-Altona, pp. 2–3. Retrieved August 7, 2011 (in German)
  9. ^ "Circular from Dr. Robert Ley, Staff Chief of NSDAP Political Organizations, on the Action to "Coordinate" [Gleichschaltungaktion] the Free Trade Unions (April 21, 1933)" German History in Documents and Images. Retrieved August 8, 2011
  10. ^ a b "2. Mai 1933: Zerschlagung der freien Gewerkschaften" (January 28, 2003). Retrieved August 6, 2011 (in German)
  11. ^ a b c d e David Sokol, "An Architectural Gem in Germany is Reborn" Architectural Record (August 13, 2008). Retrieved August 6, 2011
  12. ^ History. Bauhaus trade union school. Available at: (Accessed: 23 October 2016)
  13. ^ ADGB Trade Union School on Architectuul. Retrieved January 7, 2013
  14. ^ Märkische Oderzeitung. Brandenburger Blätter, (April 25, 2008), p. 3 (in German)

External links[edit]