The German Labour Front (German: Deutsche Arbeitsfront, pronounced [ˌdɔʏtʃə ˈʔaʁbaɪtsfʁɔnt]; DAF) was the National Socialist labour organisation which replaced the various independent trade unions in Germany after Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Its leader was Dr Robert Ley, who stated that its aim was 'to create a true social and productive community'. Theoretically, DAF existed to act as a medium through which workers and owners could mutually represent their interests. Wages were set by the 12 DAF trustees. The employees were given relatively high set wages and security of employment, and dismissal was increasingly made difficult. Social security and leisure programmes were started, canteens, breaks, and regular working times were established, and German workers were generally satisfied by what the DAF gave them in repayment for their absolute loyalty.
Following the National Socialist’s Volksgemeinschaft approach towards developing a greater "people's community", the DAF expanded or established new social, educational, sports, health, and entertainment programs for German workers via the Strength through Joy, which included factory libraries and gardens, swimming pools, low-priced hot meals, adult education programs, periodic work breaks, physical education, sports facilities, gymnastic training, orchestral music during lunch breaks, free tickets to concerts and opera, and subsidized vacations that saw over 10.3 million Germans signed up by 1938. The DAF financed the building of ocean-going vessels that permitted German workers to pay minimal prices to sail to many foreign destinations. Up to six ocean liners were operating just before the start of World War II. According to the chief of the Associated Press in Berlin, Louis P. Lochner, ticket prices for ocean steamer vessels ranged from twelve to sixteen marks for "a full week on such a steamer". For those who desired vacations closer to home, the DAF constructed spa and summer resort complexes. The most ambitious was the 4.5 km long Prora complex on Rugen island, which was to have 20,000 beds, and would have been the largest beach resort in the world. It was never completed and the massive complex largely remained an empty shell right through until the 21st century.
To help finance such ambitious social programs, the DAF also operated one of the largest financial institutions—the Bank of German Labour—along with additional community programs such as medical screening, occupational training, legal assistance and programs to improve the company's working environment. The DAF was one of the largest National Socialist organizations, boasting of over 35,000 full-time employees by 1939. To help Hitler keep his promise to have every German capable of owning an affordable car (Volkswagen—the People’s Car) the DAF subsidized the construction of an automobile factory, which was partially paid from worker’s payroll deductions. None of the 340,000 workers who were paying for a car ever received one, since the factory had to be retooled for war production after Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
In the case of workplace abuses, the DAF set up worker councils to regulate and manage business practices, along with working hours and wages, and conflicts rising between employers and workers. In 1934, worker councils dismissed over 50 workers, while in the same year 13 employers were punished through the expropriation of their business.
Employment contracts created under the Weimar Republic were abolished and renewed under new circumstances in the DAF. Employers could demand more of their workers, while at the same time workers were given increased security of work and increasingly enrolled into social security programmes for workers. The organisation, by its own definition, combated capitalism and liberalism, but also revolution against the factory owners and the National Socialist state. The DAF, however, did openly prefer to have large companies nationalised by the German state, instead of privately owned companies.
DAF membership was theoretically voluntary, but any workers in any area of German commerce or industry would have found it hard to get a job without being a member. Membership required a fee within the range of 15 pfennig to three Reichsmark, depending on the category a member fell into in a large scale of 20 membership groups. A substantially large amount of income was raised through fees. In 1934, the total intake was 300,000,000 Reichsmark. In US dollars, the annual income from dues to the Labour Front came to $160,000,000 in 1937 and $200,000,000 by 1939.
There were two main components of the DAF and these were:
- Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation (NSBO; National Socialist Factory Organization)
- Nationalsozialistische Handels- und Gewerbeorganisation (NSHAGO; National Socialist Trade and Industry Organization)
Several other sub-organisations were set up:
- Kraft durch Freude (KdF; Strength through Joy) – Organisation giving the workers cheap/free holidays in addition to subsidised sporting and leisure facilities.
- Schönheit der Arbeit (SdA; Beauty of Labour) – Aimed to make workplaces more enticing to workers (e.g., renovations of outdated factories, new canteens for workers, smoking-free rooms, cleaner working spaces etc.).
The Front also organised the Reichsberufswettkampf, a national vocational competition.