The most important labor organization is the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, or DGB), which is the umbrella association of eight single trade unions for individual economic sectors, representing more than 6 million people as of 2014[update]. The largest single trade union is the IG Metall, which as of 2014[update] organizes about 2.3 million members in metal (including automobile and machine building), electronics, steel, textile, wood and synthetics industries.
Employees' representation in Germany has a binary structure: trade unions that set the framework for working conditions, such as collective wage agreements, for whole sectors or single companies, defining wage levels and working time on the one hand - and works councils ("Betriebsräte") that are elected by employees and represent their interests on company level. They shape and supervise the execution of the frameworks set by trade unions and laws in the company.
German industrial relations are characterized by a high degree of employee participation up to co-determination in companies' boards ("Aufsichtsrat"), where trade unionists and works councils elected by employees have full voting rights. Local trade union representants are democratically elected by union members and formally largely autonomous. Central boards of directors ("Vorstand") are elected by delegates.
Trade unions in Germany define themselves as being more than a "collective bargaining machine", but as important political player for social, economical and also environmental subjects, especially also for labor market policy and professional education.