Vanessa Barth, born 1969, lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where she works for IG Metall, the world’s largest free union. IG Metall is the union for the German metal, electronics, textile, wood, and plastics industries. It is a major trendsetter in national bargaining. One of Barth’s focus areas is the future development of digital work environments.
Toward Fair Digital Work: Perspectives from a German Labor Union
This talk will discuss work in progress by IG Metall, the largest German labor union. The talk will have three parts. First, it will introduce the legal and institutional framework for the German model of co-determination. Co-determination law provides elected workers’ councils with rights to information and consultation in managerial decisions, and reserves a fraction of supervisory board seats for elected representatives of workers. But the potential for worker power created by this law is typically only realized through union activism. Digital labor poses challenges for union practice, including the classification of workers as contractors (who have no co-determination rights), the “disappearance” of the employer in platform-based labor, and the disintegration of the single physical work site where workers can meet face-to-face. The second part of the talk will outline research, outreach, and system design efforts under way at IG Metall that hope to meet these challenges, including faircrowdwork.org, a platform rating site currently in public alpha. The talk will conclude with remarks on historical relations between cooperatives and the German labor movement.