Shaping Industry 4.0 – an experimental approach developed by German trade unions

2020 – Bosch and Schmitz – Kiessler, associated with etui (European trade union institute), describe the experiences gained in the first phase (2016 – 2019) of the Arbeit-2020 project in Germany. That project was set up by three German industrial unions. These unions wanted to test an experimental union strategy that aims to promote employee interests in companies in the digitization of industry (Industry 4.0).

Industry 4.0 and Arbeit-2020

Industry 4.0 is a movement in Germany that arises from the widely shared view that Industry, employment in industrial sectors and even trade unions can survive only if the opportunities offered by new technology – particularly digitalisation – are quickly and effectively exploited. Industry 4.0 is about combining good work, technological innovation and employee participation, leading to solutions that are both technically efficient and socially balanced. Despite fine words and intentions, external flexibility and outsourcing have led to a weakened position of the unions and a reduction in the number of employees covered by collective labour agreements, the last years. Three unions from industrial sectors have concluded that a new union strategy should be developed for active union work in companies and that Works Council members should be trained to play their role in the digital changes in their companies. With the Arbeit-2020 project, the three unions (IG Metall, IG Bergbau, Energie und Chemie and IG Nahrung-Genuss, Gaststätten) aim to develop this strategy.


Structure of the article

After the introduction, section 2 explains the role of employee participation in German industrial relations. Section 3 outlines the discussion about trade union renewal and union strategy. Section 4 presents the method and results of the study into the practice of Arbeit-2020 and section 5 contains the conclusions.

Five conclusions

The authors draw five conclusions from the study on the practice of Arbeit-2020.

  1. The unions played a much greater role in participating in the digital change in companies than before.
  2. The public funds made the deployment of consultants possible. They outlined the situation of Industry 4.0 clearly and understandably for all involved.
  3. The intensive involvement of employees in the process offers new perspectives for the unions and works councils, also in other processes.
  4. Knowledge about the individual companies was developed and shared in workshops and conferences.
  5. Failures due to management opposition or the withdrawal of Works Council members, that also occurred, should not be overlooked.

Especially in the IG Metall Arbeit-2020 continues in an even bigger experiment. The “Agreements on the Digital Future" that IG Metall has concluded will hopefully serve as a model throughout German industry.


Gerhard Bosch & Jutta Schmitz – Kiessler, etui, Shaping Industry 4.0 – an experimental approach developed by German trade unions. Transfer 2020, Vol 26 (2), 2020.

The article is included as appendix.


Themes: Industrial relations, CLA renewal, Co-determination, Innovation & Innovation capacity

Sector: Metal Industry, Chemical & Energy, Food Industry

Source: Article