Social reform and increase in support for Socialism

Industrial and demographic changes led to huge social changes, especially in the growing towns and cities. However, the basic hierarchy of German society remained, even if the numbers in each group changed.

By 1910 there were 10.86 million industrial workers in Germany, making them the biggest single group in society. They generally faced poor living and working conditions. The fact that all adult males could vote meant that the workers were able to influence politics through their support for the German Social Democratic Party, or SPD. The party grew rapidly during this period to become the largest party in the Reichstag by 1912.

Support for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD)

The rise in support for the SPD troubled the Kaiser and other members of the government greatly. The German Chancellor in the 1880s, Otto von Bismarck, introduced several liberal reforms to reduce support for the SPD. Bismarck also pushed through laws to weaken the influence of socialists. Several attempts were made after 1890 to reintroduce anti-Socialist laws though none were approved by the Reichstag.

Social reform

Social insurance systems for health care, accidents, disability and old age had been introduced by Bismarck in the 1880s.

Despite its commitment to revolutionary change, the SPD worked to pass further social reforms that were designed to improve the working conditions of industrial workers, such as:

  1. 1891 - the Social Law banned Sunday working and the employment of children under 13.
  2. 1900 - the length of time accident insurance could be claimed for was increased.
  3. 1901 - industrial arbitration courts were introduced to settle disputes between workers and employers.
  4. 1903 - health insurance was extended and further restrictions were placed on child labour.

The Junkers and industrialists recognised the need to limit the influence of socialists and so supported the introduction of modest reforms in order to keep the workers happy and loyal to the German state.