Hitler’s Battle Against Free Labor: Part Two of Justice Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Two days ago I wrote about the opening of the Major War Criminal Trial at Nuremberg. United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, serving as the Chief Prosecutor for the American team delivered one of the most compelling opening statements in legal history. It is one of the most powerful opening statements in legal history, and helped lay the foundations of international law.

I think that it is a story worth of telling in Jackson’s own words. I have been reading the nine-volume transcript of the trial in between my other reading because it is a wealth of information regarding Hitler’s Nazi regime that too few people today are familiar with or even care about. It happened long ago, the participants, perpetrators, bystanders, and victims are dying off every day. Soon there will be no one alive who lived through those times to sound the warning from history, even as authoritarian regimes take power in nations which either cooperated with, or were the victims of Hitler’s legions and racial policies of occupation.

Likewise, new strains of the old American plague of often violent, and sometimes state supported racism, and anti-Semitism raises its ugly specter throughout the United States. Likewise organized labor is under continuous attack by the Trump Administration, as well as states where the GOP controls state governments.

Tonight I am continuing to post the transcripts from Jackson’s opening statement. This section deals with Justice Jackson’s description of the Nazi battles against Labor Unions. Saturday I will post Jackson’s description of the Nazi war against the Churches before moving on the the War against the Jews, and the Nazi crimes in the prosecution of the war.

The war against Labor, which included the political parties associated with it, the Social Democrats and the German Communists were key to completing the Nazi seizure of power and Gleichschaltung (coordination) of all aspects of life in the Nazi State. The Communist Party of Germany had already been suppressed, its leaders banned from the Reichstag, with many taken to Dachau. The Social Democrats would be he last party to resist the Nazi takeover as all other parties had already dissolved themselves prior to the assault on the Labor Unions.

The Nazis fully understood the power of the German Labor movement. It was a general strike by Unions which defeated the Kapp Putsch in 1922. The Nazis would not allow the Unions to stand in their way.

Trade Union leaders were deceived by the words of Hitler. Hitler flew these leaders from all over Germany to take party in a celebration of Labor at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. Hitler told the leaders and the gathered workers:

“You will see how untrue and unjust is the statement that the revolution is directed against the German workers. On the contrary.” Later in his speech to more than 100,000 workers at the airfield Hitler pronounced the motto, “Honor work and respect the worker!” and promised that May Day would be celebrated in honor of German labor “throughout the centuries.” (William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich)

The next day the offices of the Unions were taken over, their funds confiscated, leaders arrested and sent to Concentration Camps, and the Unions themselves dissolved. Two weeks later, the right to collective bargaining was eliminated. Let’s actions against free labor and free labor unions opened the way to slave labor in Germany and areas that it occupied. Working Jews, German anti-Nazis, and foreigners to death was a part of the Nazi economic calculus.


Robert Ley, Reich Leader of the German Labor Front

The defendant Ley between 1932-1945 was: a member of the Nazi Party, Reichsleiter, Nazi Party Organisation Manager, member of the Reichstag, leader of the German Labour Front, a General in the S.A., and Joint Organiser of the Central Inspection for the Care of Foreign Workers. The defendant Ley used the foregoing positions, his personal influence and his intimate connection with the Fuehrer in such a manner that: he promoted the accession to power of the Nazi conspirators and the consolidation of their control over Germany as set forth in Count One of the Indictment; he promoted the preparation for war set forth in Count One of the Indictment; he authorised, directed and participated in the War Crimes set forth in Count Three of the Indictment, and in the Crimes against Humanity set forth in Count Four of the Indictment, including particularly the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity relating to the abuse of human beings for labour in the conduct of the aggressive wars.

Continuation of Jackson’s Opening Statement

When Hitler came to power there were in Germany three groups of trade unions. The General German Trade Union Confederation (A.D.G.B.) with twenty-eight affiliated unions, and the General Independent Employees Confederation (A.F.A.) with thirteen federated unions together numbered more than 4,500,000 members. The Christian Trade Union had over 1,250,000 members.

The working people of Germany, like the working people of other nations, had little to gain personally by war. While labour is usually brought around to the support of the nation at war, labour by and large is a pacific, though by no means a pacifist force in the world. The working people of Germany had not forgotten in 1933 how heavy the yoke of the war lord can be. It was the working men who had joined with the sailors and soldiers in the revolt of 1918 to the First World War. The Nazis had neither forgiven nor forgotten. The Nazi programme required that this part of the German population not only be stripped of power to resist diversion of its scanty comforts to armament, but also be wheedled or whipped into new and unheard-of sacrifices as a part of the Nazi war preparation. Labour must be cowed, and that meant its organisations and means of cohesion and defence must be destroyed.

The purpose to regiment labour for the Nazi Party was avowed by Ley in a speech to workers on 2nd May, I933, as follows:-

“You may say what else do you want, you have the absolute power. True we have the power, but we do not have the whole people, we do not have you workers 100 per cent, and it is you whom we want; we will not let you be until you stand with us in complete, genuine acknowledgement.” (614-PS)

The first Nazi attack was upon the two larger unions. On 21st April, 1933, an order, not even in the name of the Government, but of the Nazi Party, was issued by the conspirator Robert Ley as “Chief of Staff of the political Organisation of the N.S.D.A.P” applicable to the Trade Union Confederation and the Independent Employees Confederation. It directed seizure of their properties and arrest of their principal leaders. The Party order directed Party organs which we here denounce as criminal associations, the S.A. and S.S., “to be employed for the occupation of the trade union properties, and for the taking into custody of personalities who come into question.” And it directed the taking into “protective custody” of all chairmen and district secretaries and union and branch directors of the labour bank. (392-PS)

These orders were carried out on 2nd May, 1933. All funds of the labour unions, including pension and benefit funds, were seized. Union leaders were sent to concentration camps. A few days later, on 10th May, 1933, Hitler appointed Ley leader of the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which succeeded to the confiscated union funds. The German Labour Front, a Nazi controlled labour bureau, was set up under Ley to teach the Nazi philosophy to German workers and to weed out from industrial employment all who were backward in their lessons. (940-PS) “Factory Troops” were organised as an “ideological shock squad within the factory” (1817-PS). The Party order provided that “outside of the German Labour Front, no other Organisation (whether of workers or of employees) is to exist.” On 24th June, 1933, the remaining Christian Trade Unions were seized, pursuant to an order of the Nazi Party, signed by Ley.

On 19th May, 1933, this time by a Government decree, it was provided that “trustees” of labour, appointed by Hitler, should regulate the conditions of all labour contracts, replacing the former process of collective bargaining (405-PS). On 30th November, 1934, a decree “regulating national labour” introduced the Fuehrer principle into industrial relations. It provided that the owners of enterprises should be the “Fuehrers” and the workers should be the followers. The enterprise-fuehrers should “make decisions for employees and labourers in all matters concerning the enterprise” (1861-PS). It was by such bait that the great German industrialists were induced to support the Nazi cause, to their own ultimate ruin.

Not only did the Nazis dominate and regiment German labour, but they forced the youth into the ranks of the labouring people they had thus led into chains. Under a compulsory labour service decree on 26th June, 1935, young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 were conscripted for labour (1654-PS). Thus was the purpose to subjugate German labour accomplished.

In the words of Ley, the accomplishment consisted “in eliminating the association character of the trade union and employees’ associations, and in its place we have substituted the conception ‘soldiers of work’.” The productive manpower of the German nation was in Nazi control. By these steps the defendants won the battle to liquidate labour unions as potential opposition and were enabled to impose upon the working class the burdens of preparing for aggressive warfare.

Robert Ley, the field marshal of this battle against labour, answered our indictment with suicide. Apparently he knew no better answer.

This still matters. For many years in the United States and Western Europe Labor Unions have been under attack and despite the good that they have done for all workers have been denuded of much of their social, economic, and political power. At one time Unions were a bulwark against the unbridled thirst for political and economic of massive multinational corporations.

Nuremberg reminds us of what happens when free Labor Unions are destroyed. Eventually, Government and industries unite to ensure workers receive less and less compensation for doing more and more, until they are working until their dying day in order to eat and pay for their housing. Likewise, it can get much worse.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+

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Filed under germany, History, holocaust, labor, laws and legislation, nazi germany, News and current events, war crimes

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