Free German Trade Union Federation

The Free German Trade Union Federation (German: Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund or FDGB) was the sole national trade union centre of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) which existed from 1946 to 1990. As a mass organisation of the GDR, nominally representing all workers, the FDGB was a constituent member of the National Front. The leaders of the FDGB were also senior members of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).

Free German Trade Union Federation
Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund
PredecessorGeneral German Trade Union Federation
SuccessorGerman Trade Union Federation


Harry Tisch, FDGB chairman from 1975 to 1989.

The bureaucratic union apparatus was a basic component and tool of the SED’s power structure, constructed on the same strictly centralist hierarchical model as all other major GDR organizations.[citation needed]

The smallest unit was a Kollektiv, which nearly all workers in any organisation belonged to, including state leaders and party functionaries. They recommended trustworthy people as the lowest FDGB functionaries and voted for them in open-list ballots. The higher positions ranged from "Departmental Union Leader" (Abteilungsgewerkschaftsleiter, AGL) to Leader of the "Central BGL" (Betriebsgewerkschaftsleitung - Company Union Leadership in combines); they were normally full-time and held by SED members with a history of toeing the party line, or in some cases bloc party members. Their jobs, like those of the FDGB district leaders, were assured until they retired as long as they did not stray from party policy.[citation needed]

The chairman of the FDGB was Herbert Warnke until his death on March 26, 1975, when he was replaced by Harry Tisch, a member of the SED’s Politburo, who kept the post until the political turnaround in 1989.[citation needed]

FDGB's cruise ship MS "Fritz Heckert" in Helsinki (May 1961).



Name Term Party
Hans Jendretzky 1946 – 1948 SED
Herbert Warnke 1948 – 1975 SED
Harry Tisch 1975 – 1989 SED
Annelis Kimmel 1989 – 1990 SED
Helga Mausch 1990 NDPD

Officially, membership in the FDGB was voluntary, but unofficially it was hardly possible to develop a career without joining[citation needed]. In 1986, 98% of all workers and employees were organized in the FDGB, which had 9.6 million members. This meant that it was nominally one of the world’s largest trade unions. As well as improving members’ career chances, the FDGB also offered various "concessions[clarification needed]".[citation needed]


In the East German system, the FDGB was in charge of ideological control and conformity in companies, as well as social tasks such as hospital visits, presenting awards, giving gifts on special anniversaries, even extending as far as organizing health spas and the hard-to-get holiday bookings. The FDGB’s own holiday service was responsible for the latter.[citation needed]

Though formalized, the union held responsibility for setting work norms, through negotiating with management, protecting workers from management caprice, and enforcing GDR labor code and worker protections. There was a criticism that the union held too much power, e.g., it was a very lengthy and difficult process to fire a worker.

The single trade union was also very important as a source of new blood for the military. Using small benefits as an incentive, and if necessary gentle pressure, large numbers of workers and employees were recruited to what were known as "Combat Groups of the Working Class".[citation needed]


Georg-Waterstradt-Building, built c. 1952, at the trade union school

In spring 1946, the former ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau bei Berlin, which before Nazi rule had belonged to the Allgemeiner Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB) (Federation of German Trade Unions), was given to the FDGB to use as a training centre. After some restoration work, the school opened in 1947 under the name FDGB-Bundesschule "Theodor Leipart" (Theodor Leipart FDGB Trade Union School). In January 1952 it was given degree awarding status and renamed Gewerkschaftshochschule "Fritz Heckert" (Fritz Heckert Trade Union College). In the early 1950s the FDGB considerably increased the size of the school, constructing new buildings on the site, in addition to those of the former ADGB school. [1][2] The original part of the school, completed in 1930, was a project of the Bauhaus design school and in 2017 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau.[3]

Short term two and four week training courses and longer term study were offered, including collective bargaining, social and economic policy, youth and women’s issues, employment law, business administration, history of the labour movement, etc. After 1952 two year courses, and later, from 1956, three year bachelor degree-equivalent courses were also taught. From 1958 correspondence courses were also offered, and from 1959 courses were run for foreign trade unionists. Over 15,000 East German and 5,000 foreign trade unionists were trained by the FDGB school between 1947 and 1990.[2]

The college closed in September 1990 just before German reunification.[2]

The buildings have been used by the Internat des Bildungszentrums der Handwerkskammer Berlin (Berlin Chamber of Skilled Crafts training school) since 2007.[4]

German reunificationEdit

In May 1990, shortly before German reunification, the FDGB was dissolved. Many former members did not join the West German (now German) unions,[citation needed] some, due to the lightning privatization of the GDR, simply because they had lost their jobs.[citation needed]


The following unions were affiliated to the FDGB:

Union Abbreviation Formed Left Fate Membership (1964)[5]
German Postal Union DPG 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Industrial Union of Chemicals, Glass and Ceramics IG CGK 1946 1990 Merged into Chemical, Paper and Ceramic Union 130,365
Industrial Union of Clothing IG Bekleidung 1946 1950 Merged into IG TBL N/A
Industrial Union of Construction IG Bau 1946 1950 Merged into IG Bau-Holz N/A
Industrial Union of Construction and Wood IG Bau-Holz 1950 1990 Dissolved ?
Industrial Union of Energy IG Energie 1949 1958 Merged into IG EPT N/A
Industrial Union of Energy, Post and Transport IG EPT 1958 1963 Split into IG PF, IG TuN, IG Bergbau-Energie N/A
Industrial Union of Food, Luxuries and Hospitality IG NGG 1946 1958 Merged into Gew. Handel N/A
Industrial Union of Leather IG Leder 1946 1950 Merged into IG TBL N/A
Industrial Union of the Local Economy IG ÖW 1955 1958 Dissolved N/A
Industrial Union of Metal IG Metall 1946 1990 Dissolved 1,000,000
Industrial Union of Metallurgy IG Metallurgie 1951 1958 Merged into IG Metall N/A
Industrial Union of Mining and Energy IG Bergbau-Energie 1946 1990 Dissolved 375,000
Industrial Union of Post and Telecommunications IG PF 1946 1958 Merged into IG EPT N/A
Industrial Union of Printing and Paper IG DuP 1946 1990 Dissolved ?
Industrial Union of Railways IG Eisenbahn 1946 1963 Merged into IG TuN N/A
Industrial Union of Textiles IG Textil 1946 1950 Merged into IG TBL N/A
Industrial Union of Textiles, Clothing and Leather IG TBL 1950 1990 Dissolved 650,000
Industrial Union of Trade and Transport IG Handel und Transport 1946 1949 Split into Gew. Handel and IG Transport N/A
Industrial Union of Transport IG Transport 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Industrial Union of Transport and Communication IG TuN 1963 1990 Split into GdE, IG Transport and DPG 600,000
Industrial Union of Wood IG Holz 1946 1950 Merged into IG Bau-Holz N/A
Union of Academic Research Gew. W 1953 1990 Dissolved ?
Union of Administration, Banking and Finance VBV 1946 1958 Merged into Sta-Ge-Fi N/A
Union of Army Members GdAA 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Union of Art Gew. Kunst 1949 1990 Merged into Media Union 60,000
Union of Art and Literature Gew. Kunst und Schrifttum 1945 1950 Dissolved N/A
Union of Civilian Workers of the NVA 1973 1990 Dissolved N/A
Union of Education and Training UuE 1946 1990 Dissolved 280,000
Union of Employees GdA 1946 1949 Split into Gew. Handel and VBV N/A
Union of Employees of State Organs and the Communal Economy MSK 1961 1990 Dissolved 500,000
Union of the German Press 1950 1953 Disaffiliated N/A
Union of Government Administration, Healthcare and Finance Sta-Ge-Fi 1958 1961 Split into Gew. Gusundheitswesen and MSK N/A
Union of Healthcare Gew. Gesundheitswesen 1949 1958 Merged into Sta-Ge-Fi N/A
Union of Healthcare Gew. Gesundheitswesen 1961 1990 Dissolved 250,000
Union of Land, Food and Forests Gew. Land, Nahrungsgüter und Forst 1946 1990 Dissolved 315,578
Union of the Police GdVP 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Union of Railway Workers GdE 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Union of Trade Gew. Handel 1949 1990 Dissolved 800,000
Union of Transport IG Transport 1949 1958 Merged into IG EPT N/A
Union of Transport IG Transport 1990 1990 Dissolved N/A
Wismut Industrial Union IG W 1950 1990 Merged into Union of Mining and Energy ?

External linksEdit

  Media related to Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ Richter, Wolfgang (12 April 2002) Fünftes Leben für Bauhaus-Denkmal in Neues Deutschland. Retrieved 25 April 2019
  2. ^ a b c History. Bauhaus trade union school. Retrieved 23 November 2018
  3. ^ "Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau". UNESCO. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  4. ^ Internat der Handwerkskammer Berlin in Bernau Archived 2016-11-05 at the Wayback Machine (Photos with German text). Retrieved 21 October 2016
  5. ^ Wirtz, W. Willard (1965). Directory of Labor Organizations, Europe. Washington DC: United States Bureau of International Labor Affairs. pp. 11.1–11.7.