Portrait: Benner wants to become the first female boss of IG Metall

Christiane Benner has often led the way.

Portrait: Benner wants to become the first female boss of IG Metall

Christiane Benner has often led the way. The 55-year-old wants to be the first woman to be elected head of IG Metall next Monday (October 23rd) - Germany's largest, most powerful and most male union, firmly anchored in the automotive industry and with a proportion of women of around 20 percent.

For decades, the organization was led by power-conscious men such as Franz Steinkuhler, Berthold Huber and, most recently, Jörg Hofmann, who, at the age of 67, will not run again.

So now Christiane Benner, Hofmann's deputy for eight years. Since joining the union in 1988, the former youth representative of a metal company in Bensheim, southern Hesse, has gotten to know IG Metall from many perspectives - and has developed a remarkable preference for difficult and promising topics. After studying sociology financed by the Hans Böckler Foundation and working in Frankfurt and Hanover, she became department manager on the board in 2008, responsible for IT staff and “target group work,” among other things.

Information technology as a driver

These groups included women, employees, students and engineers and were therefore quite far removed from the dominant group of classic skilled workers. Benner has already organized pseudo-self-employed click workers and thought about circular economy and artificial intelligence when for others this was still a distant dream of the future. She says about herself: "I have always seen information technology as a driver. If I understand what is happening at IBM or SAP, then I know what is happening in the other companies three or four years later."

What she described as a “slightly nerdy” woman responsible for complex questions about the future quickly became a woman with a future, who was appointed to the board in 2011 and became second chairwoman in 2015. At the union conference in Frankfurt, the married Benner is running for the board as part of, but also as the clear leader of, a five-person team of candidates. There are no opposing candidates in sight.

The Social Democrat also owes her upcoming electoral success to her own steadfastness when she refused to be praised as the head of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) last year and preferred to let IG-BCE official Yasmin Fahimi go first. Afterwards, the attempt by Baden-Württemberg cliques to install the Stuttgart district boss Roman Zitzelsberger as co-chairman alongside her in a new type of dual leadership failed.

She has always been ready to take on responsibility in her life, says the tall and sporty former handball player, who prefers jogging along the Main. "I was also head girl, which my mother didn't really notice at the time." According to IG Metall's practice, the desired position at the top of the union will soon mean a move to the supervisory board of VW, which the designated boss will not turn away from. "There is an expectation and there is a tradition. And of course I will live up to that."

Quota for women and reduction in working hours

The long-time BMW and Continental supervisor sees herself as well connected in her company's strong car group. However, IG Metall is much more diverse, sets tariffs for vehicle mechatronics engineers as well as for the textile and wood industries and has other key industries in its organizational area, such as mechanical engineering and metal processing.

Benner is a staunch advocate of women's quotas and wants to reduce the structural disadvantages in the world of work that mean that women are no longer allowed onto the career path after maternity leave. A "short full-time" of 32 hours for men and women alike seems to her to be the right remedy for the shortage of skilled workers. However, she initially wants to see this demand for a further reduction in working hours, which could amount to a four-day week, limited to the steel industry, which is facing an ecological restructuring.

Sometimes the sociologist slips through an anglicism like “empowern”, but in general Benner is not at a loss to speak clearly. "I just have to explain things in a way that a normal person on the hall floor can understand - and not some over-the-top stuff." She wants to make her organization with a good 2.1 million members much more visible in the future and be much more present in traditional and social media. Her predecessors preferred the political backroom rather than the glare of the talk shows, but Benner says: "I don't shy away from the public eye at all." On Monday the time has finally come.