IG Metall is preparing for the future. A new image of “We – the IG Metall team” is needed, according to a “workshop paper” that the largest German trade union is discussing at a congress in Leipzig this week. In addition, the team is getting “a new, cooperative management culture”, as IG Metall puts it. In fact, the most important people at the top of the union have agreed on a small revolution: Following the example of the Greens and the SPD, IG Metall is to be headed by a woman and a man in the future. The change in leadership is not due until autumn next year, but the protagonists have already agreed on the basics. The successors are keeping a low profile to ensure that the current chairman, Jörg Hofmann, does not go into the forthcoming collective bargaining dispute as a “lame duck”. Officially, the candidates for the board will be named in spring 2023.

In the past two years, a good 1,200 honorary and full-time metalworkers, known internally as “change promoters”, have looked for a way out of the crisis: IG Metall, like almost all trade unions, is losing members. “If we don’t stop the trend towards falling degrees of organization in our companies, we will lose strength in the company, in wage movements and in our influence on society and politics,” says the workshop report. “Our potential for power is our 2.1 million members. You can move mountains with it.” But for how much longer?

No other union is as assertive and financially strong as IG Metall, which is also sometimes referred to as the car union. Here it has its most capable troops. However, the effects of saying goodbye to the combustion engine and digitization are also corresponding. The industry needs fewer mechanics and more programmers, the change from blue-collar to white-collar workers is in full swing, and IG Metall is finding it difficult to win over the new groups of employees. In 2021, 592 million euros flowed into the union’s coffers – that was slightly more than in the first year of the pandemic, when even more short-time work was done. But in 2019, the last year before Corona, the main cashier Jürgen Kerner had booked 598 million.

Kerner, born in Augsburg in 1969, has been responsible for finances on the seven-member board of IG Metall since 2013. The charismatic treasurer is working out the new management structure together with the deputy chairman, Christiane Benner, and the IG Metall head of Baden-Württemberg, Roman Zitzelsberger, which Jörg Hofmann will then propose to the committees. This is the procedure in the 73-year-old industrial union. IG Metall pushed through the five-day week in the Federal Republic, continued payment of wages in the event of illness and the 35-hour week.

Benner, who has a degree in sociology and was born in 1968, has been working for the union since 1997; In 2011 she was elected to the board of directors, since 2015 she has been the second chairwoman. Among other things, Benner takes care of platform economy, organizational policy and co-determination. Zitzelsberger, born near Karlsruhe in 1966, has headed the Baden-Württemberg district since 2013, which usually concludes the pilot tariffs for the entire industry. This is another reason why the chairman of IG Metall almost always comes from Baden-Württemberg, the heartland of the vehicle industry and mechanical engineering. In the past decades, Jürgen Peters (Lower Saxony) and Detlef Wetzel (North Rhine-Westphalia) were the exceptions.

Zitzelsberger has already negotiated and signed a few important collective agreements, and the trained mechanical engineer will also be leading the negotiations next fall. After IG Metall opened the current steel round with a demand for 8.2 percent, the demand for the metal and electrical industry will follow in June – probably with a seven before the decimal point. Mainly because of Corona, the 3.8 million metalheads have not received an increase in the table fees for years.

Therefore – and because the inflation rate is higher than it has been for decades – the expectations that Zitzelsberger has to live up to in the fall are enormous. With a good collective bargaining agreement, he could then go into the 2023 election year – the IG Metall union conference in autumn will see the election of the leadership for the next four years. Zitzelsberger had decided to campaign against Benner, who, as second chairman, has an unwritten right to access the top spot. She really wants the post and has therefore not run for the DGB chairmanship. Benner would probably win against Zitzelsberger: Even in IG Metall, with almost 80 percent male members, the time is ripe for a woman.

But campaign candidates are risky and can disrupt the organization – as in 2003. At that time, the candidates for the presidency were Jürgen Peters and Berthold Huber. After a lost labor dispute over the 35-hour week in East Germany and a nasty power struggle between the chairman at the time, Klaus Zwickel, and Peters, the deputy chairman, Zwickel resigned prematurely. Peters and Huber made peace for the good of the union: Peters became number one, Huber number two for four years and then number one.

20 years after the horror summer, neither Benner nor Zitzelsberger want a similar argument. With Kerner at their side, they will propose a change in the statutes to the trade union convention: Two-thirds of the delegates must agree that there will no longer be a first and second chairperson. If the union convention agrees – which there is no doubt about – the new leadership will set to work shaping the future. As a team.