Historical Background :: Swissmem - Switzerland's Work Place and Think Tank

Historical Background

The Swiss Association of Machinery Manufacturers (VSM) was founded in 1883 when times were starting to improve again after several years of crisis. At the time, the Association had 47 member companies which employed some 9500 "workers". Although the main focus in those days was on questions relating to customs and trade policy (primarily the dismantling of high protective tariffs), the Association's purpose was defined as being "to safeguard and promote the general interests of the Swiss engineering industry" - a sufficiently broad focus for it to remain relevant up to the present day.


Even in Switzerland, the beginning of the 20th century was a time of rising social tensions. It was against this background that the employers of the engineering industry decided to establish a special organization from the ranks of the VSM whose purpose would be to safeguard interests in the area of social policy. This resulted in the founding of the Association of Swiss Engineering Employers (ASM) in 1905.


With the progressive electrification of the country, the industry began to develop rapidly. In parallel with this growth, the VSM's sphere of activity steadily broadened. The Association had to address many difficult tasks including wartime shortages of raw materials and export restrictions, sharp swings in economic fortunes ranging from world economic crises to economic slumps, the expansion of the transport system and the creation of an efficient infrastructure. The VSM was also quick to seize the initiative in the field of export promotion.


On social policy issues, organizations representing employers and employees opposed each other until well into the 1930s, or at least had great reservations about their respective positions. Even in those days, however, their mutual relations were not dominated by outright hostility. For example, the ASM's 1905 articles of association include the aim of "promoting fruitful cooperation between employers and employees". In the wake of the world economic crisis at the beginning of the 1930s, the Swiss Federal Council wanted to act as an arbitrator in collective, nationwide wage disputes, but the employers and trade unions opposed such government intervention. Under the leadership of two outstanding individuals, Konrad Ilg and Ernst Dübi, the unions and the ASM sought a solution which would enable them to meet calls for social peace while maintaining autonomy in collective pay bargaining - the "Agreement in the Engineering Industry" (VMI) had been born. This brought a solution for settling differences of opinion between the social partners and therefore industrial peace.


The Agreement in the Engineering Industry (VMI) was subsequently repeatedly renewed and the circle of partner associations expanded. Today, the VMI is one of Switzerland's most important collective agreements and covers some 130,000 employees. It regulates general working conditions and employee participation in businesses and lays down important principles for basic and ongoing training. As an industry-specific agreement negotiated on a pragmatic basis between the social partners, the VMI brings important advantages for both sides. The VMI repeatedly emerges as a trendsetting instrument and a forum for fleshing out innovative ideas: for example, 1998 saw the introduction of annual working hours as a benchmark, along with a "long-term account" in which individual employees could save up overtime credits.


Since the beginning of July 1999, the ASM/VSM associations have been amalgamated under single management, while nonetheless maintaining their legal independence. Since 1 October 1999, they are operating under the name of Swissmem


In the VSM office (1943)


Visiting the National Registrierkassen AG (1954)