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The Daimler Werkzeitung from 1919 to 1920: avant-garde project in a difficult period
- New form of corporate culture
- Focus on engineering, culture and politics
- Social education concept on a high level
"That people are not there for the sake of work, but work is for the sake of people," was the belief of Paul Riebensahm, member of the Board of Management of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), in 1919. In the troubled times following the First World War he was serious about striving for a new corporate culture which would make allowance for the radically changed conditions.
In the intellectual Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy he found an ideal partner for the special factory newspaper project, Werkzeitung, which pursued a very high purpose: overcoming of the gulf between employees and employers, development of a "common working language". These were the ambitious aims of the newspaper, of which 19 issues in all were published – decades before the catchword "Corporate Identity" went the rounds.
High purpose: revitalising a ruined relationship
Regain lost confidence and bridge the gap between workers and employers: this is what Paul Riebensahm aspired to with the Werkzeitung. And Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, too, who offered his services as editor at the right moment, wanted to develop precisely a "common working language".
These were turbulent times: on 9 November 1918 Prince Max of Baden, Chancellor of the Reich since the beginning of October, announced the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands. Friedrich Ebert now took over the Chancellery. On the very same day, independently of each other Philipp Scheidemann and Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the Republic.
Eight-hour day, yes; socialization, no
On the day Max of Baden announced the emperor's abdication, industry and trade unions met in Berlin for consultations. On 15 November they signed an agreement in which the unions recognised private enterprise, promising to ensure the orderly continuation of production and to work to prevent wildcat strikes. In return they secured the introduction of the eight-hour day (at full pay, i.e., making up for the lost hours) and were given the exclusive right to represent the workers. But the unions did not always have the backing of the workers in the factories by any means.
Leftists gain the upper hand at the DMG factory
The workers' committee at the Daimler works in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim initially was dominated by Social Democrats, but the Left soon gained the upper hand. On the other hand there was Paul Riebensahm who with his Werkzeitung sought to overcome the gulf between workers and employers.
Riebensahm enthusiastically took up the ideas of Rosenstock-Huessy. Unconventional rules were laid down for the editing of the new newspaper. They were based on the exchange of ideas between several persons who jointly determined the topics of each issue. Riebensahm's secretary, for example, also took part in the editorial meetings and even had a say in the matters being discussed.
Current issues – big issues
The first two numbers focussed especially on current topics affecting the work at the Daimler plants. Right after Riebensahm, rationalisation expert Richard Lang commented on the topic of group production, which the Untertürkheim factory was experimenting with at the time. And the second issue of the Werkzeitung also began with an article by Paul Riebensahm, this time on the main points of the Stinnes-Legien agreement: working hours.
In the issues that followed, topics of an entirely different nature also were brought up: economics and industry, transport and engineering took centre stage. At the same time the newspaper made lengthy excursions to other countries and explored the history of technology. Adult education, as one would call it today, was a matter of concern to the factory, generally speaking, also on other levels. For example, in July 1919 a "factory library with reading and writing room" opened its doors in Untertürkheim.
Transport and technology, art and culture
Along with these "hard" issues, topics from art and culture also were given attention. The very first number contained a page with "cultural-historical aphorisms" from Alphons Heinze, a senior engineer at Hallesche Maschinenfabriken in Halle an der Saale, plus an excerpt from Hinter Pflug und Schraubstock ("Behind Plough and Vice"), a book of stories published by Max Eyth in 1898. Subsequent issues contained further episodes from the book as well as other stories.
Better living: architecture in the Werkzeitung
Immediately following the articles of the two Board members the very first number of the newspaper addressed a topic that was a major concern to Daimler workers in 1919: housing construction. The very first words of the essay by architect W. Franz, professor at the Technical University Berlin-Charlottenburg, which originally appeared in the magazine Technik und Wirtschaft, underscore the relevance of the topic:
"One of the fields in which the social idea has been able to gain ground only hesitantly and only again hardest opposition is small homes. What has been neglected here during the past two decades forms part of the background of the chaotic events which we witness since the 9th of November this year."
"Currency issues": economics in hard times
Of no less interest to the Daimler workers was the complex of economics, for every one of them personally felt the effects of the economic developments in the tense post-war situation. But the company as well was dependent on the prevailing economic conditions. It was not always easy to understand the complex interrelationships: education was a necessity.
Brave excursions into politics
The first numbers did include occasional comments on foreign policy issues. No less a personality than the future German President Theodor Heuss wrote, for example, in the second issue of the Werkzeitung about the "economic importance of the union of German Austria with Germany".
But from the third number onwards the Werkzeitung reduced the emphasis on current local problems and devoted itself from now on in large thematically related issues to topics such as America and Italy, the pioneering spirits of the history of technology, Leonardo da Vinci and James Watt, the latest scientific discoveries, such as the theory of relativity, or the beginnings of metalworking in prehistoric times. The whole picture, the fundamental connections is what it was about.
A shift in priorities in the topic mix can be observed over time, and it shows Rosenstock-Huessy's influence. For example, topics from the field of economy take up much of the first five issues, but play almost no more role in the further issues.
Attention focussed instead on so-called psycho-technique, new methods of industrial psychology for determining people's aptitude for certain occupations. The subject was controversially discussed: the new methods were fascinating, but both Riebensahm and Rosenstock-Huessy warned about too much uninspired positivism.
Employees respond to the newspaper
The dialogue with the employees which the Werkzeitung was designed to encourage did not get going until relatively late. In fact, the first employee did not respond until the ninth issue appeared on 3 December 1919, six months after the first issue.
The topic was waste of materials and extra effort. "The assistance of a worker in this case indisputably benefited technical operation," Riebensahm replied. The basic notion of something which provided a topic for discussion in the 1990s – kaizen, from Japan – seems to have been anticipated here over half a century earlier: every company employee can and should contribute to improving quality through his observations. The management objectively examines these suggestions and, if appropriate, orders changes in the production process.
August 1920: abrupt end
With an issue on metals published as number 8 of the second volume on 26 August 1920, the history of the Werkzeitung already drew to a close. That the experiment was not destined to be a lasting success was due to several very different factors.
Despite everything, a mutual mistrust remained between management and labour which both sides transferred also to the project. And the situation remained critical. There was a lack of fuel for electricity generation. Saturday work had to be discontinued temporarily. The former aero engine factory in Sindelfingen went over to making furniture at the end of 1919. A new income tax law that provided for deducting ten percent of wages aroused the ire of the radicalised workers. Wildcat strikes, property damage and violence were the result.
Vain quest for more independence
To gain greater independence from both parties, employers and employees, in June 1920 Rosenstock-Huessy even had plans to publish Werkzeitung also in the Netherlands, the USA and Switzerland. But things turned out differently: Riebensahm supported such ideas, but he took on new professional tasks, first in Munich and then as professor in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Even on 20 August Rosenstock was in Zurich organising the distribution of the newspaper in Switzerland.
Five days later, however, the government of Württemberg closed the Untertürkheim plant in response to violent clashes with radical workers. Sentries stood before the gates, and entry was prohibited on penalty of death.
It appears questionable whether the last number of the Werkzeitung, dated the following day, ever reached the factory employees. They had all been sacked, and when the factory reopened in October, the workforce numbered only 3270 blue-collar workers instead of 7776 and 585 salaried employees instead of 1048.