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A Police Officer Reports on Workers in a Hamburg Tavern (1898-1909)

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III. May 25, 1909

From 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., I visited the tavern Appelhoff, Schwabenstraße No. 54. During this time, six workers were present; they were talking about the difficulties that strikes create for employers as well as workers. One of them said: “Until now strikes have brought mostly disadvantages, namely for the employers as well as the workers. Let me just mention the current strike of the cement workers. The employers have to bring in workers from the outside, of course with all kinds of promises. Above all, they have to pay the strike-breakers the old wage; then they have to pay for lodging and food, which creates more expenses for them than if they had given the old workers the few extra pennies per day. For the strikers, the disadvantage arises from the fact that they have to fall back on the strike fund. But it does not pay the regular wage, which means that they slide ever more heavily into debt. And when the strike is over and they did in fact get a few pennies more, they face the increased payments into the strike fund and then the repayment of their debts, and thus after the strike they don’t end up with any more than they had before.”

Another worker said the following: “If there were no class hatred, there would be no strikes. But as long as this class hatred exists, strikes will also happen again and again, and it won’t change until the working people have advanced to the point where they no longer have to bow to the capitalist exploiters.”

Source: Szymanski, May 25, 1909. Staatsarchiv der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg (Call number: S 3930).

IV. March 7, 1903

From 9:55-10:35 a.m. a visit was paid to tavern Ellerbroock, Hamburgerstraße 134. About 14 workers were present; they were talking at various tables. One worker said: “The tactics of the workers in the economic struggle must be recognized as exemplary even by people who are enemies of the unions, for it is a well-known fact that the strikes of organized workers are not carried out with the bitterness of those strikes in which workers are not organized and the unions have no influence on them. Of course, the employers are claiming the exact opposite, which is also entirely understandable, since they know full well that a well-organized union is able to force through its demands by way of a strike under any circumstances. What does harm many strikes is that the authorities, in an entirely unjust and irresponsible way, intervene on behalf of the employers and thus make the struggle more difficult and systematically prevent a settlement of the outstanding strike questions. Because of the intervention of the authorities in the economic struggle, it unfortunately also happens that bitterness takes hold from that moment on within the ranks of the organized workers, and then we see the kind of scenes that happened last year during the strike of the construction workers. Of course it is the strikers who are blamed for this, not the authorities, who caused it with their measures.”

Another worker said: “Experience has taught us that wherever the authorities do not intervene during the economic struggle, the differences are settled much more calmly and quickly. This fact has been noted not only by the workers, but by important individuals, the industrial and factory inspectors. Just as in Germany, where everything that the organized workers do is a threat to the state, experts in other countries have only one opinion of the German union movement – namely, the very best. Unfortunately, it has to be said that the highly developed German working class could be a model to the world if the union movement were met with greater interest within its circles. No worker should be allowed to remain outside of the organization; then the living conditions of the German workers would be better. As far as the tactics of the workers in the economic struggle is concerned, the only thing one can say is that they do not spring from such dishonest motives as are found among the employer class, since it cares nothing for the workers, as is demonstrated already by the frequent disciplinary measures that are taken against workers.”

Source: Graumann, March 7, 1903. Staatsarchiv der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg (Call number: S 3930).

All reports reprinted in Richard Evans, ed., Kneipengespräche im Kaiserreich [Barroom Conversations in Wilhelmine Germany]. Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1989, pp. 234-35, 237-40.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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