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The Minister of the Interior on Domestic Reform (May 1915)

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Obviously, one cannot simply exempt the trade unions from the provisions of the Law of Associations. It is impossible to do so, because the concept of a trade union or a vocational association is difficult to define, and because the wholesale exemption of the trade unions would make it possible to pursue political goals of every kind in the guise of a trade union. Even if one were to admit that the language paragraphs are in need of reform, one would not be able to dispense entirely with power to prohibit the use of Polish, Danish, and French in cases where these languages are cultivated and used expressly to promote subversive goals. Given this state of affairs, there are two possibilities. One could try to modify the Law on Associations to remove its applicability to trade unions to the extent that they restrict themselves to activity described under §152 of the Industrial Code and to economic-political questions that are directly related to it. One would thus certainly expand the trade unions’ freedom of movement somewhat. The debate over whether a line so drawn can be maintained will not, however, be eliminated this way. The second way would be to regulate by statute the legal status of vocational associations and to free all associations that are organized according to this law from the application of the Law on Associations. This solution to the question is not unobjectionable, because the trade unions will only be interested in a law that regulates the legal position of vocational associations if this regulation takes place in a liberal sense and provides for the creation of arbitration agencies to settle industrial disputes that result from conditions of labor. To draft such a law by the conclusion of peace will not be easy, and its passage in the Reichstag will be very difficult.

The wishes of the Poles and of the Danes are directed primarily against §17 and §12 of the Law on Associations. The Poles and Danes demand, first, the removal of §17, but they would probably be satisfied with a regulation that gives the right to exist to youth groups that limit themselves to the cultivation of the Polish language – poetry and art. Above all, their desires are directed toward the removal of §12, which in its present form and previous application has doubtless given rise to hardships. These hardships lie, however, once again less in the law itself than in the manner of its application. If the authorities of the federal states, especially Prussia, could decide to apply the paragraphs more mildly, if Prussia could decide to make use of the full powers provided in the final paragraph of §12 and to create through state legislation a somewhat more liberal right, one could probably get around a modification of §12. To be sure, Prussia’s willingness to uphold to such a milder practice, even were there the prospect of one, can be strongly doubted. One will also not place much trust in the permanence of any Prussian legislation. One must also recognize that the present version of §12 is unfortunate. If one takes into account that it was not possible during the war to hold public lectures in Polish, while, on the other hand, the use of the Polish language is allowed in election assemblies, one must admit that this paragraph is in need of improvement.

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