Ultima ratio

German workers do not like to strike. It is considered the ultima ratio – weapon of last resort – used only when negotiations about wages and worker‘s rights have completely broken down.

In 2002, when the German government passed painful but necessary social and employment reforms, there were strikes in 938 companies. In 2000 there was not a single strike. 2001 saw only 48 strikes. A decade later, in 2011, there were 158. On average only three days a year are lost due to strikes in Germany.

Ultima ratio. Latin ultimus, the last, final, the furthest away. ratio: reason, reasonable thoughts; the last possible solution, the final remaining path out of a conflict.

Friedenspflicht. Literally peace obligation or obligation to keep the peace. When German employers and employees enter into wage negotiations they are obligated for the first ten days to refrain from strikes or lockouts.

The Friedenspflicht is anchored in §74 of the Betriebsverfassungsgesetzes, the law governing the relations between employers and employees:

The employer and the works council (a kind of white collar union) should meet at a minimum once per month in order to discuss potential conflicts and to propose in good faith recommendations on how to resolve them. The employer and the works council are obligated to refrin from methods of pressure – strikes, lockouts, etc. – which could disrupt company operations.

In 1923, during the politically unstable Weimar Republic, the Stresemann government passed laws requiring a mediator to resolve conflicts between employers and labor. Should companies and labor unions not come to agreement on wages and other benefits, the government had the power – and the obligation – to engage an arbitrator, whose decisions were legally binding.

German schools train both students and teachers to anticipate and prevent potential conflicts, as well as to mediate those which have been escalated.

The Prussian military instituted a rule informally called the Prussian Night, which obligated conflict parties to not escalate their problems within the first 24 hours of the conflict. Those in conflict should first „sleep over it“, then decide how to proceed.