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Law on Freedom of Occupation [Gewerbefreiheit] and Freedom of Coalition [Koalitionsfreiheit] (June 21, 1869)

This law, passed in the Reichstag of the North German Confederation, was adopted for Imperial Germany in 1871 as the Imperial Industrial Code [Reichsgewerbeordnung]. It standardized and simplified accepted practices for everyone who carried out business. The Law on Freedom of Coalition recognized trade unions as legitimate representatives of workers’ interests. Together, these laws had a strong influence on industrial and labor relations in the emerging Germany. Many of the bills drafted in this era were amended in fundamental and sometimes surprising ways by the Reichstag and the Federal Council, but Bismarck successfully resisted the National Liberals’ attempts to redraw the balance between legislative and executive power.

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Trade Regulations Act for the North German Confederation (June 21, 1869)*

[I. Freedom of Occupation]

§ 1. Anyone is permitted to practice a trade, provided that no exceptions or restrictions are admitted through this law.

Anyone who is currently entitled to engage in a trade cannot be excluded from it if he does not meet the requirements of this [new] law.

§ 2. The differentiation of city and countryside with respect to trade enterprises and the extension thereof is thus terminated.

§ 3. The simultaneous practice of different trades, as well as the same trade in several operational or sales sites, is permitted. There is no restriction for artisans on selling goods from their own production.

§ 4. The guilds or merchants’ associations have no right to exclude others from practicing a trade.

[ . . . ]

§ 6. The present law is not applicable to the mining trade (subject to the regulations of §§ 152, 153, and 154), fisheries, the practice of medicine [ . . . ], the establishment and relocation of pharmacies, and the sale of medicines [ . . . ], the educational system, the attorney’s and notary public’s profession, the commercial operations of entrepreneurs and agents who arrange emigration, insurers, railway enterprises, the sale of lottery tickets, the privilege of operating public ferries, and the legal status of crew members on seagoing vessels.

A decree issued by the Federal Executive will determine which of the pharmacist’s goods will be admitted for general sale.

[ . . . ]

§ 11. Gender does not establish any difference with respect to the right to the independent practice of a trade.

Women who engage in a trade independently are permitted to conclude legal transactions related to their trade and to appear before court, regardless of whether they are married or not. In affairs concerning their trade, they cannot refer to any of the legal privileges for women existing in the individual federal states. It makes no difference whether they operate their trade alone or jointly with other persons, or whether they operate it in person or by proxy.

[ . . . ]

* The law was adopted into the Reich Trade Regulations in 1871. (All footnotes adpated from Ernst Rudolf Huber, ed., Dokumente zur Deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte [Documents on German Constitutional History], 3rd rev. ed., vol. 2, 1851-1900. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1986, pp. 310-12.)

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