The General German Trade Union Federation [Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, ADGB] and the General Independent Employees’ Federation [Allgemeiner freier Angestelltenbund, AFA] had long been linked with the Social Democrats. After the Nazis came to power, however, certain officials of both organizations sought to retain their influence by relinquishing all ties to the SPD and offering their allegiance to the new regime. As a nominally socialist party, the Nazis had their own small trade union organization, the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization [Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation, NSBO], which exhibited a marked predilection for disrupting the activities of other unions. Eliminating separate “divisive” organizations that reflected old social and political differences, the Nazi regime and party activists sought to create unified, functional union organizations under Nazi control.
May 1st was the traditional rally day of the Socialist International. The Nazis stripped May Day of its Marxist traditions and turned it into a national holiday accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign. On May 1, 1933, a crowd of about 500,000 gathered to hear Hitler speak at a field near Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. In total, approximately ten million workers took part in festivities throughout Germany that day, with the ADGB participating willingly (4). The day’s events were partially motivated by a desire to lay the groundwork for the regime’s next step – an action to destroy all Social Democratic union organizations.
Throughout the country, union buildings were to be occupied, high union officials taken into custody, and union assets seized. On May 2, 1933, “separatist” trade union federations were abolished and replaced by the German Labor Front [Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF], a quasi-union under the leadership of Dr. Robert Ley (1890-1945), staff chief of NSDAP political organizations. The German Labor Front aimed to give workers a general sense of being valued by the Third Reich, without offering them any practical tool with which to bargain for their own economic interests. On June 22, 1933, the government finally banned the Social Democratic Party.
Although fully determined to smash “Marxist” institutions and move toward a one-party state, Hitler was willing to negotiate with Catholic interests up to a point. The governments of the Weimar Republic had never been able to reach an agreement with German Catholic officials and the Vatican on the appropriate terms for a relationship between the state and the powerful international church to which roughly one-third of Germans belonged. Hitler’s government not only managed to do this, it also devised ways to lure the Catholic Church into at least implicit support of some of its goals, including the elimination of the Center Party, which had long regarded safeguarding the religious and secular interests of Germany’s Catholics as part of its mission. On July 20, 1933, representatives of the German Reich and the Catholic Church signed a concordat regulating the relationship between the two entities.
On July 14, 1933, six days before the Reich Concordat was signed, Hitler held a cabinet meeting. As the protocol suggests, he was confident that the agreement would bolster the regime by aiding it in the fight against international Jewry. (Hitler likely believed that the Vatican would not support efforts to sanction or restrict Germany – efforts that he blamed on the Jews.) Although Catholics took issue with anti-Christian elements within the Nazi movement, the Vatican was willing to enter into a formal relationship with the Nazi state and to commit Catholic bishops to its support. On that very same day, the Nazi Party was declared the only legitimate political party in Germany. Together, these two steps – the signing of the Reich Concordat and the abolition of all other parties – marked the consolidation of the Nazi dictatorship. Technically, the aged Hindenburg was still president, but he was nothing more than a figurehead. He could temper Hitler’s impulses on rare occasions but never block them.
(4) Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 476.