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Workers, Collectivism and the Law

Grappling with Democracy

Laura Carlson

Workers, Collectivism and the Law offers a captivating historical account of worker democracy, from its beginnings in European guild systems to present-day labor unions, across the national legal systems of Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Analysing these legal systems in light of a Habermasian concept of participatory democracy, Laura Carlson identifies ways to strengthen individual employee voice in claims against employers.
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Chapter 4: Labor in Germany: rapid transformations

Laura Carlson


The guild system was nested in German society, with the Hansa guilds in cities and the craft guilds in the home towns providing social security at a time when Germany comprised more than one hundred sovereignties. This explains both the lateness of any questioning of their existence and the attempts to create structure after Napoleon through a reinstatement of the guilds. The social security provided by the guilds was a motivation in 1830s Prussia as to implementing state social welfare and led to such a broad acceptance of state intervention that it was adopted on the national level in the 1870s to counteract the radical worker movement. The Nazi destruction of all worker rights led to strong constitutional protections of worker rights and voice in the 1950 Basic Law, which have continued in the present day German labor law model comprising works councils, employee board representation, and trade unions.

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