Cyclical and Technological Unemployment in Germany’s Ruhr Coal Industry, 1918 - 1935
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Historians as well as contemporary observers have agreed that crushing unemployment was one of the most severe problems that Germany’s Weimar Republic confronted. Not only did Germany suffer deeply from unemployment as Europe crumbled into the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Germany also experienced persistently high unemployment rates even in the later 1920s when its economy appeared to enjoy a much delayed phase of recovery and expansion after World War I. Average unemployment remained at a stubborn 10% of the labor force even for the “golden” years from 1924 to 1929. But the unemployment in the Weimar years was not just a national economic problem, as serious as that might have been. Scholars have analyzed catastrophic political consequences emanating from the economic dislocation and unemployment of Weimar’s later years. In an important study, Detlev Peukert has propounded an interpretive history of the Weimar Republic that singles out economic disaster as the crucial social crisis precipitating political catastrophe. Weimar, in his view, previewed the classic contradictions of economic and political modernity. Analysts of urban conflict and political radicalization, particularly Eve Rosenhaft, also closely link political disintegration in the early 1930s to ruinous unemployment. Clearly Germany’s persistent joblessness was critical to the social and political crisis of the latter part of the troubled Republic. In addition, unemployment hit some sectors much harder than others. In 1930, approximately 80% of Germany’s jobless belonged to the blue collar sectors of industrial production, mining, and manufacturing. In the depth of the Depression in 1932, the largest masses of the out-of-work were found in Germany’s traditional industrial regions: the Ruhr’s Rhineland and Westphalian provinces, Berlin, and the state of Saxony. The industrial origins of severe unemployment have thus drawn significant attention. Debate has persisted about the causes of unemployment, especially in these traditional industrial sectors.