General German Trade Union Federation

The General German Trade Union Federation (German: 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, the 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.

General German Trade Union Federation
Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund
PredecessorGeneral Commission of German Trade Unions
SuccessorGerman Trade Union Confederation (W Germany)
Free German Trade Union Federation (E Germany)
Founded5 July 1919 (1919-07-05)
DissolvedMay 2, 1933 (1933-05-02)
Headquarters6 Inselstraße, Berlin
  • Germany
7,890,102 (1920)[1]


The ADGB was founded on July 5, 1919[2] in Nuremberg after the first postwar congress of free trade unions. The ADGB was founded as the new umbrella organization to succeed the General Commission of German Trade Unions (Generalkommission der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands). Carl Legien was elected as the first chairman.[2]

It was an amalgamation of 52 German trade unions and was affiliated with the General Federation of Free Employees (AfA-Bund) and the General German Civil Service Federation (Allgemeiner Deutscher Beamtenbund).[3] 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,[4] halting all production, transportation, mining and public services and, as The New York Times wrote, "giving the Kapp régime its death blow".[5]

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.[3] By the end of 1932, there were an estimated 3.5 million members.[3]

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.[6]

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.,[7] which led to the expulsion of many communists from the ADGB. By March 1932, the RGO had about 200,000 members.

The evening of the day Hitler was declared to be the new chancellor by president Hindenburg, January 30, Walter Ulbricht of the communist party delivered a renewed proposal for a joint call for a general strike, similar to the successful strike against the Kapp Putsch of 1920, to the ADGB general union. [8] The trade unions and SPD declined the offer and issued, opposing it, leavlets, posters and articles calling workers to ignore all calls for a strike issued solely by the communist party during February and March 1933. [9] [10]

SA troops occupy the trade union building in what is now Engeldamm (Berlin), 2 May 1933

After the Nazis seized power in the election of 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.[11][12] 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.[12] Even as the Nazis were planning to storm union offices,[13] 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.[11]

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[11] by the SA, SS[14] and the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization. Officials were put in "protective custody"[11] and many trade unionists were maltreated. In Duisburg, four trade union officials were brutally murdered.[14]

Non-profit entitiesEdit

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.[15]

ADGB school after the warEdit

Foreign trainees at the trade union school in 1986.

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.[16] 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.[15]

The original complex was designed by the newly appointed director of the Bauhaus School, Hannes Meyer and his colleague Hans Wittwer. The design followed its architects' . 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.[17]

The complex was restored to its former glory following a Europe-wide competition for the contract.[15] The Berlin Chamber of Crafts paid a portion of the costs and has used it as a training school since 2007.[15][18] In 2008 the restoration project won the architects, Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten, the World Monuments Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize.[15] In July 2017 the former ADGB Trade Union School was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau.[19]


The following unions held membership of the federation:

Union Abbreviation Affiliated Left Reason for leaving Membership (1920)[20] Membership (1928)[21]
Central Union of Asphalters and Roof Felters of Germany 1919 1924 Merged into DBB 2,093 N/A
Central Union of Bakers and Confectioners 1919 1927 Merged into VNG 65,077 N/A
Central Union of Butchers 1919 1927 Merged into VNG 24,473 N/A
Central Union of Carpenters and Kindred Trades of Germany 1919 1933 Banned 87,024 107,354
Central Union of Chimney Sweeps 1919 1933 Banned 3,380 2,980
Central Union of Employees ZdA 1919 1921 Transferred to AfA-Bund 363,521 N/A
Central Union of Glassworkers 1919 1926 Merged into VFD 62,245 N/A
Central Union of Glaziers and Related Professionals 1919 1922 Merged into DBB 4,185 N/A
Central Union of Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe Employees ZVHRC 1920 1933 Banned N/A 27,153
Central Union of Machinists and Stokers VMH 1919 1933 Banned 100,287 48,568
Central Union of Potters 1919 1922 Merged into DBB 11,391 N/A
Central Union of Roofers 1919 1931 Merged into DBB 10,970 10,843
Central Union of Ship Builders of Germany 1919 1924 Merged into DMV 4,966 N/A
Central Union of Shoemakers of Germany ZVdSch 1919 1933 Banned 90,008 78,834
Central Union of Stone Workers of Germany 1919 1933 Banned 45,476 68,033
Factory Workers Union of Germany VFD 1919 1933 Banned 646,931 457,657
Film Union 1919 1930 Merged into GV 9,923 1,300
General Union of Public Sector and Transport Workers GV 1930 1933 Banned N/A N/A
General Milking Union of Germany 1919 1933 Banned 10,000 11,456
German Agricultural Workers' Union DLV 1919 1933 Banned 624,935 151,273
German Clothing Workers' Union DBAV 1919 1933 Banned 133,470 77,884
German Construction Workers' Union DBV 1919 1922 Merged into DBB 465,744 N/A
German Furriers' Union 1919 1923 Merged into DBAV 9,977 N/A
German Hat Workers' Union DHAV 1919 1933 Banned 23,132 18,509
German Leather Workers' Union 1919 1933 Banned 35,339 37,855
German Metal Workers' Union DMV 1919 1933 Banned 1,632,670 884,027
German Musicians' Union DeMuV 1919 1933 Banned 47,199 23,055
German Painters' Union 1919 1933 Banned 54,278 58,775
German Polishers' Union 1919 1922 Transferred to AfA-Bund 10,210 N/A
German Railway Union DEV 1919 1925 Merged into EdED 503,125 N/A
German Textile Workers' Union DTAV 1919 1933 Banned 535,369 306,137
German Tobacco Workers' Union 1919 1933 Banned 110,964 75,501
German Transport Workers' Union DTV 1919 1929 Merged into GV 585,942 368,052
German Union of Building Trades DBB 1923 1933 Banned N/A 435,156
German Union of Saddlers, Upholsterers and Portfolio Makers STP 1920 1933 Banned 38,153 30,614
German Wood Workers' Union DHV 1919 1933 Banned 378,957 306,660
German Xylographers' Union 1919 1921 Merged into VDLS N/A N/A
International Artists' Lodge IAL 1920 1921 Transferred to AfA-Bund 7,531 N/A
Music Engravers' Assistants' Union 1919 1920 Merged into VDLS N/A N/A
Union of Bookbinders and Paper Workers of Germany VBPD 1919 1933 Banned 81,557 55,128
Union of Brewery and Mill Workers 1919 1927 Merged into VNG 73,286 N/A
Union of Cooks 1920 1920 Merged into ZVHRC 6,200 N/A
Union of Coopers, Cellar Managers, and Helpers in Germany 1919 1927 Merged into VNG 12,955 N/A
Union of Coppersmiths of Germany 1919 1933 Banned 6,877 7,024
Union of Upholsterers of Germany 1919 1920 Merged into STP N/A N/A
Union of Domestic Workers of Germany 1919 1923 Merged into DTV 20,014 N/A
Union of Food and Drink Workers VNG 1927 1933 Banned N/A 159,636
Union of Gardeners and Nursery Workers 1919 1929 Merged into GV 23,143 10,518
Union of German Book Printers VDDB 1919 1933 Banned 74,000 82,767
Union of German Professional Firefighters VDB 1921 1929 Merged into GV N/A 7,740
Union of German Restaurant Workers 1919 1920 Merged into ZVHRC 63,243 N/A
Union of Graphic Assistants of Germany VGHA 1919 1933 Banned 39,505 40,691
Union of Hairdressers and Assistants 1919 1931 Merged into GV 10,049 4,057
Union of Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe Employees 1919 1920 Merged into ZVHRC 18,000 N/A
Union of Lithographers and Lithographic Printers VDLS 1919 1933 Banned 19,110 23,719
Union of Miners of Germany 1919 1933 Banned 467,339 196,049
Union of Municipal and State Workers VGS 1919 1929 Merged into GV 297,950 243,968
Union of Porcelain and Related Workers of Germany 1919 1926 Merged into VFD 55,547 N/A
Union of Saddlers and Portfolio Makers 1919 1920 Merged into STP N/A N/A
Union of Stone Setters, Pavers and Kindred Trades 1919 1924 Merged into Stone Workers 11,194 N/A
United Union of German Railway Workers EdED 1925 1933 Banned N/A 240,913

See alsoEdit


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


  1. ^ Lawrence, Andrew (2014). Employer and Worker Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 150. ISBN 1107071755.
  2. ^ a b 1919 Chronology German Historical Museum. Retrieved August 5, 2011 (in German)
  3. ^ a b c "Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund" German Historical Museum. Retrieved August 8, 2011 (in German)
  4. ^ "Der Generalstreik 1920" German Historical Museum Retrieved August 6, 2011 (in German)
  5. ^ Carl Legien obituary (PDF) The New York Times (December 27, 1920). Retrieved August 6, 2011
  6. ^ 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)
  7. ^ "Die Revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsopposition" German History Museum. Retrieved August 8, 2011 (in German)
  8. ^ Heinz, Niemann, Die ignorierten Mahnrufe,
  9. ^ Klaus Kinner, Die verkannte Niederlage. Das Dilemma des deutschen Kommunismus 1933,
  10. ^ Hessischer Volksfreund vom 2.2.1933,
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ a b "Der Verrat der sozialdemokratischen ADGB-Führer" (PDF) ASK / VAB Hamburg-Altona, pp. 2–3. Retrieved August 7, 2011 (in German)
  13. ^ "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
  14. ^ a b "2. Mai 1933: Zerschlagung der freien Gewerkschaften" Archived September 26, 2011, at (January 28, 2003). Retrieved August 6, 2011 (in German)
  15. ^ a b c d e David Sokol, "An Architectural Gem in Germany is Reborn" Architectural Record (August 13, 2008). Retrieved August 6, 2011
  16. ^ History. Bauhaus trade union school. Available at: Archived November 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (Accessed: 23 October 2016)
  17. ^ ADGB Trade Union School on Architectuul. Retrieved January 7, 2013
  18. ^ Märkische Oderzeitung. Brandenburger Blätter, (April 25, 2008), p. 3 (in German)
  19. ^ "Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau". UNESCO. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  20. ^ "Das Achtmillioner der freien Gewerkschaften Deutschlands" (PDF). Gärtner-Zeitung. XXXI (29): 1. July 16, 1921. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  21. ^ Heyde, Ludwig (1931). Internationales Handwörterbuch des Gewerkschaftswesens. Berlin: ADGB. Retrieved May 27, 2020.

External linksEdit