"We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions." --Adolf Hitler
In this excerpt from his memoirs General Leon Degrelle, former leader of the Belgian contingent of the Waffen-SS, describes how Adolf Hitler gained the enthusiastic support of the working people of Germany.
One of the first labor reforms to benefit the German workers was the establishment of annual paid vacation. The Socialist French Popular Front, in 1936, would make a show of having invented the concept of paid vacation, and stingily at that, only one week per year. But Adolf Hitler originated the idea, and two or three times as generously, from the first month of his coming to power in 1933.
Every factory employee from then on would have the legal right to a paid vacation. Until then, in Germany paid holidays where they applied at all did not exceed four or five days, and nearly half the younger workers had no leave entitlement at all. Hitler, on the other hand, favored the younger workers. Vacations were not handed out blindly, and the youngest workers were granted time off more generously. It was a humane action; a young person has more need of rest and fresh air for the development of his strength and vigor just coming into maturity. Basic vacation time was twelve days, and then from age 25 on it went up to 18 days. After ten years with the company, workers got 21 days, three times what the French socialists would grant the workers of their country in 1936.
…. The work day itself had been reduced to a tolerable norm of eight hours, since the forty-hour week as well, in Europe, was first initiated by Hitler. And beyond that legal limit, each additional hour had to be paid at a considerably increased rate. As another innovation, work breaks were made longer; two hours every day in order to let the worker relax and to make use of the playing fields that the large industries were required to provide.
… workers' rights to job security were non-existent. Hitler saw to it that those rights were strictly spelled out. The employer had to announce any dismissal four weeks in advance. The employee then had a period of up to two months in which to lodge a protest. The dismissal could also be annulled by the Honor of Work Tribunal. What was the Honor of Work Tribunal? Also called the Tribunal of Social Honor, it was the third of the three great elements or layers of protection and defense that were to the benefit of every German worker. The first was the Council of Trust. The second was the Labor Commission.
The Council of Trust was charged with attending to the establishment and the development of a real community spirit between management and labor. "In any business enterprise", the Reich law stated, "the employer and head of the enterprise, the employees and workers, personnel of the enterprise, shall work jointly towards the goal of the enterprise and the common good of the nation."
Neither would any longer be the victim of the other-not the worker facing the arbitrariness of the employer nor the employer facing the blackmail of strikes for political purposes. Article 35 of the Reich labor law stated that: "Every member of an Aryan enterprise community shall assume the responsibilities required by his position in the said common enterprise." In other words, at the head of the company or the enterprise would be a living, breathing executive in charge, not a moneybags with unconditional power. "The interest of the community may require that an incapable or unworthy employer be relieved of his duties"
The employer would no longer be inaccessible and all-powerful, authoritatively determining the conditions of hiring and firing his staff. He, too, would be subject to the workshop regulations, which he would have to respect, exactly as the least of his employees. The law conferred honor and responsibility on the employer only insofar as he merited it.
Every business enterprise of 20 or more persons was to have its "Council of Trust". The two to ten members of this council would be chosen from among the staff by the head of the enterprise. The ordinance of application of 10 March 1934 of the above law further stated: "The staff shall be called upon to decide for or against the established list in a secret vote, and all salaried employees, including apprentices of 21 years of age or older, will take part in the vote. Voting shall be done by putting a number before the names of the candidates in order of preference, or by striking out certain names.
In contrast to the business councils of the preceding régime, the Council of Trust was no longer an instrument of class, but one of teamwork of the classes, composed of delegates of the staff as well as the head of the enterprise. The one could no longer act without the other. Compelled to coordinate their interests, though formerly rivals, they would now cooperate to establish by mutual consent the regulations which were to determine working conditions.
The second agency that would ensure the orderly development of the new German social system was the institution of the "Workers' Commissioners". They would essentially be conciliators and arbitrators. When gears were grinding, they were the ones who would have to apply the grease. They would see to it that the Councils of trust were functioning harmoniously to ensure that regulations of a given business enterprise were being carried out to the letter.
To ensure still further the objectivity of their arbitration decisions, a third agency was superimposed on the Councils of Trust and the 13 Commissioners, the Tribunal of Social Honor.
Thus from 1933 on, the German worker had a system of justice at his disposal that was created especially for him and would adjudicate all grave infractions of the social duties based on the idea of the Aryan enterprise community. Examples of these violations of social honor are cases where the employer, abusing his power, displayed ill will towards his staff or impugned the honor of his subordinates, cases where staff members threatened work harmony by spiteful agitation; the publication by members of the Council of confidential information regarding the enterprise which they became cognizant of in the course of discharging their duties. Thirteen "Tribunes of Social Honor" were established, corresponding with the thirteen commissions.
The presiding judge was not a fanatic; he was a career judge who rose above disputes. Meanwhile the enterprise involved was not left out of the proceedings; the judge was seconded by two assistant judges, one representing the management, another a member of the Council of Trust.
This was only the end of 1933, and already the first effects could be felt. The factories and shops large and small were reformed or transformed in conformity with the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene; the interior areas, so often dilapidated, opened to light; playing fields constructed; rest areas made available where one could converse at one's ease and relax during rest periods; employee cafeterias; proper dressing rooms.
With time, that is to say in three years, those achievements would take on dimensions never before imagined; more than 2,000 factories refitted and beautified; 23,000 work premises modernized; 800 buildings designed exclusively for meetings; 1,200 playing fields; 13,000 sanitary facilities with running water; 17,000 cafeterias. Eight hundred departmental inspectors and 17,300 local inspectors would foster and closely and continuously supervise these renovations and installations.
The large industrial establishments moreover had been given the obligation of preparing areas not only suitable for sports activities of all minds, but provided with swimming pools as well. Germany had come a long way from the sinks for washing one's face and the dead tired workers, grown old before their time, crammed into squalid courtyards during work breaks.
That this transformation of the working class smacked of authoritarianism? That's exactly right. But the German people were sick and tired of socialism and anarchy. To feel commanded didn't bother them a bit. In fact, people have always liked having a strong man guide them. One thing for certain is that the turn of mind of the working class, which was still almost two-thirds non-National Socialist in 1933, had completely changed.
Hitler could already go into factories-something no man of the so-called Right before him would have risked doing-and hold forth to the mob of workers, tens of thousands of them at a time, as in the Siemens works. "In contrast to the von Papens and other country gentlemen," he might tell them, "In my youth I was a worker like you. And in my heart of hearts, I have remained what I was then." In the course of his twelve years in power, no incident ever occurred at any factory Adolf Hitler ever visited. When Hitler was among the people, he was at home, and he was received like the member of the family who had been most successful.