West Germany: The Union Banker

The Marxist origins of Germany's labor movement long made it unthinkable for unions to support or even condone capitalism. Then postwar prosperity, bulging union coffers, and "co-determination" laws—which placed union leaders on corporate boards—gradually converted labor into an eager partner in the German economy. Trade unions today own Germany's biggest housing construction company, and share with cooperatives ownership of its second-ranked deep-sea fishery and the largest cut-rate life insurance company in Europe. Labor's proudest possession is one of the world's few union-owned banks, the Frankfurt-based Bank fur Gemeinwirtschaft, which lately has been engaged in the highly capitalistic practice...