Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Further Development of Social Legislation

Further Development of Social Legislation

A few more institutions of very great importance for the promotion of social welfare in Denmark may be mentioned. Conflicts between labour and capital occur in Denmark, just as they do in all other civilized countries, and many times it has been suggested that they be suppressed by the state in order to maintain the social peace. But the introduction of compulsory arbitration and similar measures has rarely been looked upon with favour by either of the opposing parties. Possessed of a solid organization and enjoying that government recognition, so often mentioned, which places the control of many of their affairs in their own hands, they feel, like states within the state, that they are better able than the government to guard their own interests. In these conflicts, with their constantly threatened strikes and lockouts, they see a struggle which in the long run will be beneficial. Records furnish proof of many declarations of open war, to be sure, and consequently of many lost working-days; besides these, however, many disputes have been quietly settled either by a satisfactory agreement between the local organizations or by a decision of the central organizations. Only occasionally have the conflicts been fought out before the open curtain.

The great lock-out of 1899, culminating in the September Agreement, has already been mentioned. Some years later, in 1908, a new conflict arose between the newspaper proprietors and their typographers. Here for the first time the government intervened, and it was the Secretary of the Home Office who finally conciliated the contending parties. Out of this intervention grew certain measures for the settlement of all such conflicts, conformably with other social developments in Denmark. By an act of 1910 the existing Court of Arbitration, which had been established for the settlement of all disputes concerning violations of the September Agreement, was superseded by a Permanent Court of Arbitration (den faste Voldgiftsret), which also was empowered to settle all violations of other agreements. Its composition rests on the principle of parity representation. An equal number of judges is chosen from each of the two contending organizations, the members of which then appoint by vote their chairman and one or two deputy chairmen; if they cannot agree upon the appointment, they are appointed by the chairman of the Supreme Court in Copenhagen. The state pays the expenses. The Court has the power to sentence the organization found guilty of violating the agreement to a so-called 'penance' and can execute the sentence. Before the establishment of this Court of Arbitration some general rules for the settlement of trade disputes had been adopted, and the central organizations recommended that these rules be incorporated by the inferior or local organizations in their agreements. The rules thus became the basis for the decisions of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Besides this Permanent Court created for the settlement of legal disputes, provision was made at the same time for the settlement of disputes over conflicting interests by a State Arbitrator, appointed by the Home Office after nomination by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. If the State Arbitrator considers the dispute to be of great importance for the organizations concerned he may on his own initiative, or at the request of one of the contending parties, call them together for a discussion of the matter in his presence; and they are bound to obey his summons. In endeavouring to conciliate the parties the Arbitrator, after consulting representatives of the central organizations, makes conciliatory proposals. The method of appointing a State Arbitrator, confirmed by a subsequent act, has proved most satisfactory, and many large and small disagreements have been satisfactorily settled in this way. Some cavillers may contend that equally good results might have been attained without a State Arbitrator. There can be no doubt, however, that a person of social prominence, supported by an act of Parliament, possessed of a thorough understanding of both the legal and the psychological aspects of the dispute, and backed by the authority of the Home Office, is in a position to effect a happier decision for everyone concerned than could be arrived at in any other way. Moreover, the experience of such a person in each new case will increase the value of his decision in the next. Certain it is, at all events, that state arbitration has become an established feature of our industrial life, so much so that neither party would willingly have it abolished.