The Süßmuth Glassworks in West Germany, 1969-1996
Associated PhD project
Part of the project "Moral Economies? Workers’ Self-Management of Industrial Enterprises in Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s", funded by the German ‚Stiftung Bildung und Wissenschaft’
In 1970, the glass factory Süßmuth in the North Hessian town of Immenhausen was taken over by its workers. It was the first enterprise under workers’ control in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The employer and the workers thereby managed to avert the impending bankruptcy of the enterprise and to ensure the survival of the firm for another two decades. This doctoral thesis focusses on the processes of turning the conventional firm into a ‘producer cooperative’. It focuses on a wide range of actors within the enterprise (male and female workers, unskilled labourers, migrants, old and new entrepreneurs, managers and expert advisors) and without (the unions, local and regional authorities, the banks and glass manufacturers’ associations), on their interests and policies as well as on the conflicts and negotiation processes involved. What changes at the level of management, social relations, production procedures and products were introduced after the worker takeover? Which problems occurred during these processes? And how can they be distinguished from the earlier economic, social and managerial problems, in the days of the conventional firm?
The micro-historical case study investigates perceptions of the ‘crisis of capitalism’ in one of the traditional industrial branches in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s: the glassware industry. It enquires into the successes or failures of new forms of economic democracy and the specific strategies developed by the workers as a collective and their allies by means of self-managing their own enterprise. Why, for example, were the democratic structures soon abandoned again in favour of more hierarchical forms of decision making? The comparison of the Süßmuth glassworks with the cases of several conventional glass factories, which were not under workers’ control, allows us to distinguish between various strategies of crisis management and to assess the impact of democratic self-management on the economic and social performance of the enterprise.
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
Email: mende [at] zzf-potsdam.de