A binder containing the legal texts of the Volkswagen collective agreements [de] between Volkswagen and IG Metall
A binder containing the legal texts of the Volkswagen collective agreements [de] between Volkswagen and IG Metall

Volkswagen Group is headquartered in Germany with operations in 29 countries across its 120 plants. With 120,000 employees in Germany and 600,000 globally, it is one of the most well organized labour backed companies in the world. The role that Works Councils and IG Metall play is unique even within Germany. Workers at Volkswagen Group, including its mainstay marque (brand) Volkswagen (VW) have some of the strongest collective agreements. With the exception of the United States, all of its major locations are represented in the Global Works Council and local trade union bodies. VW Group has a strong tradition and practice of social partnership and co-determination rights globally.[1]

Transnational activity

VW Group operates 120 plants in 29 countries as of November 2021.[2] VW Group opened its first foreign plant in Brazil in 1953.[3] Transnational labor organizing started in the 1970s between German workers and workers at its foreign locations which were Belgium, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The German Works Council was particularly concerned with the political developments of Apartheid South Africa and the military dictatorship in Brazil.[4]: 20–21 

International Solidarity working group

The International Solidarity (InterSoli) working group of IG Metall Wolfsburg (German: Arbeitskreis Internationale Solidarität der IG Metall Wolfsburg) launched in 1982, with separate working groups focused on Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.[5]: 523  In February 1999, InterSoli launched the China working group. Three years later the Central and Eastern Europe working group was established in February 2002.[6]: 28 

InterSoli, in addition to the VW World Group Committee established in 1979 by the International Metal Workers' Federation,[note 1] facilitated global contact between Germany's trade union members and workers in foreign operations.[4]: 20–21 

European Works Council

With the acquisition of SEAT in 1986, VW had operations in 3 European states: Germany, Belgium and Spain. The German Group Works Council and foreign members of the Group set in motion the formation of a European Works Council structure. The first meeting was in 1990, with a signed agreement in 1992; a full two years prior to the European Works Council Directive (94/45/EC).[4]: 20–21 

Global Works Council

The Volkswagen Global Works Council (GWC) also known as the Volkswagen World Group Council, formed in 1998. It was the first Global Works Council of its kind at any company. The first president, and general secretary of the GWC was Klaus Volkert [de], then European–, Group– and General Works Council chair.[4] The preamble and provisions of the GWC were copied nearly verbatim from the VW European Works Council agreements, albeit with a different formula for representation. It consisted of 27 seats, 20 from Europe and 7 from other parts of the world.[4]: 22 

A general tension exists between the interests of the workers in the host country (Germany) and foreign member states of the European and Global Works Council, but workers in foreign states also gain strategic benefits from having close access to a well resourced trade union (IG Metall) and the Germany-based Works Council structures.[1]

VW World Group Council members (as of 1999)[4]: 22 
Country Number of members By marque
Germany 11 8 Volkswagen, 2 Audi, 1 VW Sachsen
Spain 3 2 SEAT, 1 VW Navarra
Belgium 1 1 VW Brussels
Czech Republic 1 1 Skoda
Slovakia 1 1 VW Skoda
Poland 1 1 VW Poznan
United Kingdom 1 1 Rolls Royce/Bentley
Portugal 1 1 AutoEuropa
European total 20
Mexico 1 1 VW Mexico
Brazil 4 4 VW Brazil
Argentina 1 1 VW Argentina
South Africa 1 1 VW South Africa
Non European total 7

Global Framework Agreements

In 2002, VW Group, the European and Global Works Councils signed the "Declaration on Social Rights and Industrial Relationships at Volkswagen" a Global Framework Agreement (GFA) with the International Metalworkers' Federation.[note 1]

In 2012, VW Group and the IndustriALL Global Union signed the Global Framework Agreement "Charter on Temporary Work for the Volkswagen Group", specifying the terms and conditions of agency workers at VW and its subsidiaries.[8] However, VW limits the scope of the GFA to countries represented in the Global Works Council, of which China is not a member of.[9] In later years, Chinese temporary workers at FAW-Volkswagen posted on social media, bylaws from the "Charter on Temporary Work" as evidence of VW's commitment to its temporary workforce.[10]

In 2019, IndustriALL suspended its agreement with VW Group over its refusal to bargain with the United Auto Workers in the United States.[11]


Volkswagen Group is organized on multiple levels, locally, regionally, nationally, internationally and by marque. The heart of its labour representation is in Wolfsburg, Germany. Its headquarter plant alone has over 65,000 employees or half of the total German workforce.[12]

The Volkswagen collective agreements [de] are some of the strongest collective agreements in Germany.[1] The 2021 collective agreement applies to 120,000 VW workers in the following six plants: Wolfsburg, Braunschweig (Brunswick), Hanover, Salzgitter, Emden and Kassel as well as Volkswagen Financial Services.[13]

Works Councils and IG Metall

The chair of the Global–, European–, Group [de]–, General [de] and Wolfsburg Works Council is Daniela Cavallo. She was elected in the March 2022, Wolfsburg Works Council election, with IG Metall taking 66 out of 73 Works Council seats.[14][15] She first served as the chair in May 2021, when she was appointed to succeed Bernd Osterloh [de]. She is the first woman chair at VW Group and is arguably the most powerful employee representative in all of Germany.[16]

During the 2018 Wolfsburg Works Council election in the headquarter plant, 86% of employees voted for the IG Metall list or 66 out of 75 Works Council seats, with only two other lists competing.[17] A network of 2,500 rank and file IG Metall union representatives are organized internally by the "Union Representative Steering Committee" of VW (Vertrauenskörperleitung bei VW) to ensure the IG Metall backed Works Council has extensive influence and reach in the workplace.[12][18] Additionally VW Group pays for an additional 70 administrative personnel to help the Works Council carry out its duties.[17]

Supervisory Board

IG Metall and the Group Works Council have the right to appoint 10 employee representatives or half of VW Group's Supervisory Board.[19] Seven of the seats are reserved for VW employees and three are reserved for trade union representatives, i.e. IG Metall, including its president Jörg Hofmann [de]. Additionally on the employer side, Lower Saxony state holds two seats, which are filled by politicians Stephan Weil and Bernd Althusmann.[20][21]

A provision in the 1960 Volkswagen Act that privatised Volkswagenwerk GmbH into Volkswagen Group (Aktiengesellschaft), stipulates 80% of shareholders are needed to pass any major decisions. Lower Saxony state has a voting share of 20.2%, ensuring a veto power on any major decisions.[22] Because of this, the German Employers' Association precludes VW from membership or concluding sectoral agreements within any regional branches of the Employers' Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries (Gesamtmetall [de]). Unlike its automotive competitors BMW or Daimler, this means there is only one federally negotiated collective agreement between the employer and IG Metall, which is more favourable for all Germany based VW workers as a result.[23][clarification needed]

1937–1945: Nazi origins

See also: Private sector participation in Nazi crimes

Volkswagenwerk was established in Wolfsburg, Germany in 1937 by the German Labour Front, a Nazi organization.[24] It is estimated by historians that 60–70% of the workforce were enslaved or forced labour including from Arbeitsdorf, a concentration camp specifically built for providing VW with enslaved labour.[25][26] Workers were subject to racialised hierarchies when it came to housing, nutrition and treatment, with Soviet prisoners of war, Poles and "Eastern Workers" on the bottom of the hierarchy.[27]: 4–9, 46 

1945–1949: British occupying power

The Volkswagen Beetle was an icon of post-war West Germany's "economic miracle".[28]
The Volkswagen Beetle was an icon of post-war West Germany's "economic miracle".[28]

In July 1945, with pressure from Social Democrats and Communists, a provisional Works Council (German: Betriebsvertretung, lit.'Factory representation') was authorized by the British occupying power. It was expressly forbidden for the Works Council to discuss politics or practice co-determination. However, it had informational and discussion rights. By November 1945, the first democratically elected Works Council was voted in.[29]: 48–49 

Given Volkswagen's origins and the political climate after the end of World War II, British Major Ivan Hirst was tasked with the denazification of Volkswagen in the autumn of 1945; which initially applied solely to VW management on a limited scale. In January 1946, Hirst declared the denazification process as complete, to the dismay of the General Union (Allgemeine Gewerkschaft)[note 2] and the Works Council. 228 mid to lower–level managers were selected for dismissal due to their alleged Nazi associations in June 1946.[29]: 14–17  One year later, the Works Council still had limited co-determination rights, particularly when it came to reinstating dismissed Nazi sympathizers.[29]: 19 

In addition to infighting between the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Communists (KPD), far-right wing union opposition candidates from the German Right Party (Deutsche Rechtspartei; DRP) ran for the first time in 1948. In the following 1949 Works Council elections, due to the political climate (DRP won 70% of the Wolfsburg city council election in 1948)[31] and a workforce composed of Wehrmacht officers, freed soldiers and German refugees from the East; the two leading trade unions IG Metall and Deutsche Angestellten Gewerkschaft reserved 6 spots in their Works Council election lists for the right-wing candidates as a strategy of neutralizing the opposition.[29]: 52–55 

The transfer of Volkswagen by the British authorities to the governments of Lower Saxony and the newly formed West German government in 1949, completed the transfer of ownership to Germany. One year after its founding, IG Metall became the dominant union force in VW, coinciding with the German period of economic recovery.[29]: 55, 91 


Volkswagen do Brasil (VW Brasil) was established on 23 March 1953 to re-assemble Beetle cars in a growing market. It was Brazil's first German automobile plant, and VW's first foreign factory. In the 1960s, VW Brasil was VW Group's largest foreign member and Brazil's 5th largest industrial firm. From 1960 to the 1970s its workforce increased from 7,000 employees to over 40,000. Trade union activity in VW Brasil was heavily repressed until the 1980s. In a 2014 National Truth Commission, the extent to which VW Brasil management collaborated with the Brazilian military dictatorship was revealed.[3] VW Group commissioned a year long study in 2016 by historian Christopher Kopper [de].[32] In 2020, VW agreed to pay 5.5 million euros, part of which will go the Heinrich Plagge victims' association, and the rest going towards various research and human rights projects.[33]

1964 coup

While VW Brasil was not directly involved with the 1964 military overthrow of the Brazilian government, as a significant financial contributor to the Industrial Association of São Paulo (FIESP) which wielded political influence and was in favour of regime change, VW Brasil CEO Friedrich Schultz-Wenk was most likely in favour as well.[3] Wenk not only justified the violence and repression against communists (PCB) and trade union leaders, but in a letter to VW Group CEO Heinrich Nordhoff, Wenk stated "What is currently taking place is a hunt such as we did not even see back in 1933 in Germany",[3]: 328  a nod to the Nazi rise to power in Germany, which was stated in awe and respect rather than horror. Nordhoff did not share the same enthusiasm, not because of concern for human rights, but because of the negative impact the political instability might have on VW Brasil. Lower Saxony state had 50% ownership of VW Group but did not interfere with VW Brasil throughout. In short, management at VW Group and VW Brasil benefited from and saw the military dictatorship in a positive light.[3]: 328 

Labour laws established during the Vargas dictatorship (1937–1945) were already weak and they remained in place during the democratic phase (1946–1964); for example, collective agreements could only be approved by the Ministry of Labour and the establishment of a federal metal workers' union was forbidden, in favour of regional federations. Labour laws were further weakened in June 1964, with the "Strike Act" (Lei de Greve) which criminalised striking with prison sentences of 6–12 months for strike leaders.[3]: 329 

Since 1969 there was collaboration between VW Brasil's internal Works Security department (Portuguese: Departamento de Segurança Industria) and the Brazilian political police (Portuguese: Departamento Estadual de Ordem Política e Social; DEOPS). It was headed by Brazilian Army officer major Ademar Rudge. Their collaboration lead to the arrests and torture of at least 12 employees of VW Brasil including Communist Party of Brazil member Lúcio Bellentani [de] who described his arrest to the Brazil National Truth Commission, with numerous more being blacklisted.[34][35] By 1973, for every 79 VW Brasil employees, there was one member of the Works Security department, enabling a deeply surveilled workplace.[36]

Office of São Bernardo do Campo metalworkers union building
Office of São Bernardo do Campo metalworkers union building

It was only in 1975, that the General Works Council of Volkswagen Group began to investigate the working conditions in Brazil. A 1976 delegation including the Works Council chair Siegfried Ehlers, met with the local affiliate of the São Bernardo do Campo metalworkers union, facilitated by the International Metalworkers Federation. After hearing serious allegation of wage dispersion, surveillance of workers and ban on union assemblies, the delegation asked to meet with the VW Brasil trade union representatives directly. To the delegation's surprise, the representatives denied the allegations made by the local metalworkers union. There were no legitimate employee representatives from and up to 1977; the few existing trade union representatives were pelegos more closely associated with the company than the workers. Before 1980, the only legitimate contacts available to the German Works Council was the local São Bernardo do Campo union committee. Additionally they had communication channels through the International Metalworkers Federation and the International Relations department of the IG Metall.[36]

By 1979, due to pressure from the German media and the employee representatives on Volkswagen Group's supervisory board, VW Group was forced to change from being a passive beneficiary of the military dictatorship to an agent of change. In October 1980, VW do Brasil became the first major company in Brazil to have employee representation (a Works Council) even though it was not required by law.[3]


See also: 2010 Chinese labour unrest

Volkswagen Group China has operated since 1984 in China, with the establishment of joint venture SAIC Volkswagen followed by FAW-Volkswagen in 1991 and JAC in 2017.[37] Independent trade unions in China are generally banned, with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACTFU) being the only permitted one.[6]: 28  Approximately, 80% of VW China's 23,000 employees are unionized, and include a Works Council structure.[38]

In February 1999, InterSoli launched the China working group, in part to address the numerous human rights issues in China and limited trade union democracy.[6]: 28  In 2010 for the first time, China was present in the Global Works Council meeting.[38][note 3]

FAW-VW labour dispute

In 2016, Chinese legislation regarding temporary work expired. Temporary workers of the Changchun FAW-Volkswagen (FAW-VW) plant sought collective bargaining with ACFTU, FAW-VW and temporary agencies to represent 3,000 agency workers. Workers argued their working conditions not only breached Chinese labour law, but also Volkswagen's Global Framework Agreement "Charter on Temporary Work".[10]

Temporary worker demands included equal pay between them and regular employees of FAW-VW, a conversion of temporary contracts into permanent ones, and limitting the reliance on temporary workers.[10] After several unsuccessful rounds of bargaining and an unsuccessful court petition, hundreds of workers organised a protest in the front of the factory gate in February 2017 under the slogan "equal pay for equal work".[39]

Following another demo organised on 21 May, three worker representatives, Fu Tianbo, Wang Shuai, and Ai Zhenyu were detained by police on 26 May. Shuai and Zhenyu were released, while Tianbo remained in custody on the accusation of "disturbing public order".[40] A Volkswagen spokesperson told Frankfurter Rundschau, due to the criminal charges, there was nothing further they could do for Tianbo. In contrast, Han Dongfang, a Chinese labour activist and founder of China Labour Bulletin told Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, that VW, the trade unions and VW Works Councils could do much more to support Tianbo, for example insist on visiting Tianbo in jail.[41] In November 2018, Tianbo was found guilty but exempted from further punishment.[42]


Volkswagen Mexico employs 13,000 workers in its main plant in Puebla. Since 1972, workers are represented by the Independent Union of Volkswagen (Spanish: Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores Volkswagen; SITIAVW).[43]: 73 

From 1966 to 1972 the Volkswagen union was affiliated with the undemocratic and PRI affiliated Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). Initially, the VW union was affiliated with CGT.[43]: 73  When VW union disaffiliated from CTM in 1972, it affiliated with the Independent Workers' Union (Unidad Obrera Independiente; UOI), however by late 1970s UOI stopped being independent and followed PRI guidelines. SITIAVW disaffiliated and remained an independent single factory union,[44] until 1997 when it co-founded UNT, a progressive union federation.[45] In 2018, SITIAVW formed a new industrial union federation for all auto, rubber and aerospace unions.[46][47]


Volkswagen Slovakia employs around 9,000 workers at its Bratislava and Martin plants. Since 2016, 75% of its workers are unionised members of Modern Volkswagen Union (Slovak: Moderné odbory Volkswagen; MOV), which formed after a contentious split from the Volkswagen branch of OZ Kovo (Metal Workers Union), affiliated with the KOZ SR.[48]

On 20 June 2017, an estimated 70% of the workforce across three facilities participated in the first strike ever at Volkswagen Slovakia, demanding a 16% pay raise instead of the initially proposed 9%.[49] After 6 days, the workers successfully achieved a 14% pay raise and ended the strikes.[48]

South Africa

Volkswagen of South Africa (VWSA) employs around 6,000 workers and is a highly unionised workforce, with 80% of its workforce belonging to NUMSA, which is affiliated with COSATU and the wider Tripartite Alliance.[50]

South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors Limited (SAMAD) agreed to manufacture Beetle cars in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape for Volkswagen. By 1956, VW acquired a controlling stake in SAMAD. In 1966, SAMAD was renamed to its present name Volkswagen of South Africa. That same year, the Apartheid government enacted legislation for white-only trade unions. VWSA began negotiating with the South African Iron, Steel and Allied Industries Union. The International Metalworkers Federation pressured the Trade Union Council of South Africa to form parallel trade unions for black, coloured and Indian workers.[51] By May 1969, half of VWSA's coloured workers were organized with the National Union of Motor Assembly and Rubber Workers of South Africa (NUMAWOSA) and they were formally recognized by VWSA.

While legal bargaining rights existed for white, coloured and Indian workers, none existed for black workers. The 1973 Bantu Labour Relations Act for black workers stipulated the creation of "liaison committees" on the plant level which were limited in their power. Nonetheless, the VW liaison committee was dominated by future shop stewards of the newly created United Automobile, Rubber, and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (UAW), the parallel union for black workers.[51]: 4–5 [note 4]

1980 Strike

See also: 1973 Durban strikes

Four years after the Soweto uprisings, in 1980, black workers of UAW at VWSA engaged in their first strike action. IG Metall and the International International Metalworker's Federation raised £38,000 for a strike fund and exerted pressure through VW Group on its subsidiary. The strike lasted three weeks, with no layoffs, a higher hourly wage of R1.45 and a strengthened union, despite the fact that black unions were not legally recognised. In September 1980, VWSA became the first company in South Africa to pay for full time shop stewards.[51]: 8–9  Shortly afterwards, the InterSoli working groups were established. The South African working group was the most active.[53]

United States

Westmoreland, Pennsylvania

Volkswagen of America (VWoA) opened its first production plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in 1976 and renamed the plant to Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly after acquiring it from Chrysler.[54] VWoA immediately recognized the United Auto Workers via a card check.[23] For the assembly line, Volkswagen did not develop its own skill base for Westmoreland, instead bringing in workers from Detroit, Michigan. 100 workers were also brought in from Great Britain.[55] A pool of 40,000 people applied for jobs at Westmoreland.[56] No more than 20% of the workers had ever worked for an automobile manufacturer before.[57] The average age of workers was 24–26; at the time this was considered a demographic that was "independent and militant."[57] VWoA chose employees not by skills, but by how long they had been unemployed.[58]

From the outset, minorities picketed the site, seeking fair treatment in the hiring process[59] and by its first 20 months of operation, workers had staged six walkouts.[60] In a 1992 New York Times article, the plant was described as the only "transplant" factory that the UAW had succeeded in representing, and that the plant "began with a strike and lurched from problem to problem before closing" in 1988.[61]

On October 13, 1978, six months after the plant opened, UAW workers staged a wildcat strike at Westmoreland for salaries equal to those received by General Motors Corporation (GM) employees.[62] Picketing workers chanted "No Money, No Bunny".[63] In 1981, Westmoreland Assembly avoided a strike when it reached agreement with the UAW over essentially the same issue: the disparity between wages earned at Westmoreland, where assemblers made an average of $10.76 per hour, and those at auto plants in Detroit, where GM and Ford assemblers made an average of $11.42 per hour.[64]

Volkswagen settled a 1983 discrimination suit with the UAW to settle claims that they discriminated against black employees at Westmoreland Assembly. Plaintiffs had sought $70 million when filing the lawsuit, charging that management had initiated or tolerated "a pattern and practice" of limited hiring and promotions of black people, that black workers were also subject to arbitrary firings and demotions and that the company openly allowed racial insults and threats in the workplace.[65] Three days after the lawsuit was filed, a prominent black executive at the Westmoreland Assembly and spokesman for the "VW Black Caucus" committed suicide, bringing further notoriety to the lawsuit. The presiding federal district judge said the case has turned into "a media event".[66] VWoA denied the charges and later settled the case without admission of guilt in 1989, paying 800 plaintiffs $670,000 and the United Auto Workers $48,000.[65] On July 14, 1988, VWoA closed the plant.[67]

Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant attracted international attention in 2014 after it was proposed that employees elect a union in order to implement a Works Council that has co-determination, consultation and participation rights with management.[68][69]

The United Auto Workers (UAW) attempted unsuccessfully to unionize the Chattanooga plant in 2014. This was defeated in a 712–626 vote. The unionization effort was backed by Volkswagen management and the IG Metall union in Germany. There was, however, considerable opposition from US business groups and Republican politicians.[70][71][72] Despite a failed unionization vote at the plant, Volkswagen recognized members who have joined the UAW Local 42. After the close vote against the UAW, Volkswagen announced a new policy allowing groups representing at least 15% of the workforce to participate in meetings, with higher access tiers for groups representing 30% and 45% of employees.[73] This prompted anti-UAW workers who opposed the first vote to form a rival union, the American Council of Employees.[74] In December, 2014, the UAW was certified as representing more than 45% of employees.[75]

The UAW again attempted to unionize the plant in June 2019. This failed by a 52 to 48 percent margin.[76] Unlike in 2014, Volkswagen management was not supportive of the union vote.[68]

See also


  1. ^ a b International Metalworkers Federation later merged into the IndustriALL Global Union.[7]
  2. ^ The Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund of which IG Metall is part of, was not founded until 1949.[30]
  3. ^ A more recent report in 2017 lists China as an example of a country without any seats in the Global Works Council.[1]
  4. ^ NUMARWOSA and UAW eventually merged into the multi-racial National Automobile and Allied Workers' Union which in turn merged into the modern day NUMSA.[52]


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Further reading