labormovement

The Gängeviertel were home to the city’s poor and therefore a hot spot for its labor movement. Already in 1863 the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein (German Labor Association) constituted itself in Tütge’s Etablissement on the Valentinskamp around the corner. During the time of anti-socialist laws (1878 – 1890) no official gatherings of the Social Democrats could take place. However, organizing and mobilization continued in the Gängeviertel. Consequentially, the end of the party prohibition in 1890 was celebrated at Tütge’s as well. Shortly after, the Social Democrats won the mandates for the Reichstag in all of Hamburg and Altona. In 1897, the SPD also held its annual convention at the Etablissement, which in 1923 became the headquarters of the communist party and its newspaper the “Hamburger Volkszeitung”.

Also in 1890, the grievances of the proletarians in Hamburg erupted for the first time. The decade before had seen an unprecedented upsurge in organizational activity to 30,000 union members, while prices and rents had increased steadily, especially due to the eviction of thousands of workers from the southern Gängeviertel. The political situation became even more tense, when the Second International declared at its 1889 Paris congress that the First of May 1890 was to be a labor holiday in commemoration of the martyrs of the Chicago Haymarket and in favor of the Eight-Hour-Day. Hamburg’s workers abstained from work in masses and the factory owners reacted with a massive lockout that affected roughly 20,000 workers in the next couple of days. The organized attack of employers and the state on organized labor was an attempt to crush the relatively young and inexperienced unions and became the reason for the Steinstraßen riots, where thousands of workers and inhabitants of the Altstadt-Gängeviertel fought the police in the streets for several days.

Also in the following years, the Gängeviertel remained a center of civil unrest: in the winter of 1986-87 the strike of the harbor workers – the biggest labor dispute within the German Empire – with more than 17,000 participants shook the neighborhoods and the entire city. After the final and total defeat of the workers in February 1987, the Neustadt became the scene for especially violent clashes with the police. Again during the so called “Wahlrechtsraub” (literally “voting rights theft”), an alteration of the voting laws in favor of the city’s rich in 1906, the inhabitants of the Gängeviertel reacted with violent mass resistance. In all cases, neither the excessive police brutality during these events, nor the legislative attacks on its parties, could impede the progress of the movement in the so-called “Capital of Socialism”.

On the eve of World War I the moderate reformist Social Democratic Party and union bureaucracy had estranged itself from the more militant and activist parts of the movement, especially among the harbor and metal workers. The so called “Burgfrieden” (truce) during the war lasted until 1917, when the USPD left the mainstream SPD. Already in 1916, hunger revolts had become a common feature of urban life accompanied by an endless series of smaller strikes that culminated in the January-strike of 1918, in which 30,000 workers participated. The wave of strikes was a harbinger of the November Revolution that hit the city on the 5 th of November 1918. It took the mainstream Social Democrats until March 1919 to regain control over the city from the councils of workers and soldiers. In the Weimar Republic, the Gängeviertel became a stronghold of the communist movement and therefore a target of raids, cleansings and demolitions during the Third Reich. Today, the red brick architecture in the Kornträger- and Rademachergang marks the biggest redevelopment area of the Nazis in Hamburg’s inner city, which was the counter-project to the chaotic and subversive Gängeviertel.

Apart from its newspapers and organizations, labor bars and venues were of vital importance to the labor movement. They served as social hubs, were the political discourse and the social network of the urban poor was constituted. Especially the Caffamacherreihe was a center of proletarian life, with more than 16 bars in total. Up until today, it’s possible to visit a former labor bar here: the Jupi Bar.

labormovement