Robert Ley was the leader of the German Labour Front (DAF) from 1933 until 1945. Ley joined the Nazi Party in 1924. He was soon placed in charge of the parties activities in Koln and Aachen, who he represented in the Reichstag from 1930 onwards.
Ley was a bitter man. He had been to University before the war. In the First World War he served in the fledgling German airforce. He was shot down and captured by the French. After returning to Germany after the war he gained employment with IG Faben but failed to hold down the job due to alcoholism.
Ley was drawn by the passion and message of Hitler’s rhetoric. He became highly anti-semitic and used the parties newspaper in his region to regularly campaign against the local Jewish community. His speeches were often irrational, full of odd suggestions and littered with impolite remarks. However, his approach actually endeared him to a lot of people, both within and outside of the NSDAP organisation.
In 1933, upon the Nazi Party’s rise to power, Robert Ley assumed the task of creating the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF). The German Labour Front replaced previous organisations that had represented workers. This involved putting an end to Independent Trade Unions, removing collective bargaining for things such as wages, working hours and working conditions etc.
Usually there would be uproar from the working classes and Industrial workers if their union representation was challenged. Robert Ley managed to avoid their being any ‘risk’ of the German Labour Front being opposed. Firstly, he involved some former Union representatives and negotiators in the organisation of the German Labour Front. Secondly, there was Propaganda. Lots of Propaganda. For example;
“Every worker must regard himself as a soldier of the German Economy.”
The German Labour Front, he proclaimed, was to be,
“An Organisation of creative Germans of the brain and fist.”
In the workplace things were done to make the work of the German labour Front appear to be socialistic in nature. Uniforms, for example, were standardised so that management, overseers and ordinary workers were all dressed in the same attire: giving the impression of equality within a structured organisation.
Such actions don’t really fool workers though. Pupils would hardly think they had the same authority as a teacher, for example, if the teacher had to wear the same uniform that they do… so, why did it not get opposed?
People of working age tend to want a few small things:
A steady, reliable source of income (ie a safe job)
A safety net, in case they are sick, or injured at work
Holidays, so they can relax and enjoy time with their family and friends
A reasonable standard of living, with no need to worry about housing, food or your children
Robert Ley and his subordinates realised this. They also knew that they could manipulate these. So, they put work into the hands of the state, ensured contracts, virtually guaranteed work: tick number 1. Tey managed an insurance and compensation scheme: tick number 2. They created a means by which ordinary workers could go on cheap, affordable, overseas holidays (Strength through Joy, which also provided means of entertainment closer to home): BIG TICK number 3; they ensured there was adequate – note adequate housing, schooling and food for the workers: tick number 4.
Clearly, there is a bit more to it that the above. It isn’t as simple as simply, you’ve got a job, a house, have a nice holiday… but in simple terms, that is what they provided.
What’s the catch?
The catch is a fairly big, and fairly clever one. Whilst there was a facade of unity and solidarity, the reality was a little different. As the Labour Market was controlled, it was hard to move jobs. This meant that working hours could be increased without much scope forthe workers to complain or do anything about it. Wages were similarly controlled, so pay could be frozen. Also, as the German Labour Front was part of the system that delivered things such as the Autobahn network, the Public Works and rearmament, there was scope for Robert Ley and his associates to move the workforce around the Third Reich.
Did Robert Ley and the German Labour Front attempt to disguise these drawbacks?
To a degree. The principle of Volksgemeinshaft was promoted. Volksgemeinschaft is basically a vision of everyone working together for each others good. In the factories, this would be noticeable through the actions of the Beauty through Labour unit, which had a remit of improving things in the workplace: things such as improved canteens etc… (Volksgemeinschaft and Beaty Through Labour will be catered for in future posts.)
The German Labour Front existed until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945. Robert Ley committed suicide after being taken prisoner towards the end of the war. At it’s peak, the German Labour Front controlled over twenty five million workers.