March 25, 2017

1949. Ruhr Workers Defy British Orders to Dismantle Industry

German Workers Refuse to Dismantle the Bochum Plant
A crowd gathers in front of the Bochum steel plant in West Germany to celebrate Catholic Day on September 4, 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin


January 7, 1949

Several hundred German workers in the Ruhr today are conducting a campaign of civil disobedience against the British military government by refusing to dismantle the giant Bochum steel plant there.

The protest movement began two days ago when the Ruhr dismantling commission ordered that the plant's drop forges section be torn down as part of German war reparations. Local workers refused to report for work, maintaining that they were dismantling themselves out of their jobs.

Yesterday, the British recruited laborers from nearby Essen. But when they started to enter the plant, the Bochum workers formed a human barrier across the gates. No one was allowed to enter.

This morning, reparations officials found that not even Essen laborers would report for work.

The British military government says that later today notices will be posted at the plant and written orders will be handed to the German contractor declaring that the Bochum steel plant is still on the reparations list, that it will be dismantled, and warning that anyone attempting to prevent this work or interfering with the workmen doing the job will be punished in British military courts.

Ruhr authorities say that German police will be used to enforce the order if necessary, but that there is no question of British military police or troops being used. This civil disobedience campaign, while today involves only a few hundred workers, is viewed as a serious portent of what might happen in the future.

There has been a growing protest of the recent decision to put the Ruhr industrial area under international control. There have been numerous other protests over the Allied reparations and restitution commission which has been attempting to destroy Germany's war industries.

With Ruhr production being incorporated into the European Recovery Plan, any disaffection among German workers there is a serious thing.

The Western Powers have a delicate problem on their hands. At the same time, the Allies must make sure that the Ruhr will never again become the core of German arms manufacturing.

It's the $64 billion question in Germany today—one that daily is becoming more complex.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.