16. Protests continued in the labor unions throughout the summer
For workers across East Germany, the violent suppression of the protests on June 17 increased their discontent with the SED. Of particular concern was the knowledge that East German police had joined with the Soviets in shooting at their fellow citizens. Workers across East Germany, especially in the larger cities, began to leave the party. Hundreds of workers in East Berlin, Halle, Potsdam, Leipzig, and other industrial centers abandoned the SED. Hundreds of others abandoned their trade unions, refusing to pay the dues which ultimately supported the East German ruling party. The SED lost an important source of knowledge regarding the labor movement as the number of workers supporting the party dwindled. Ulbricht knew his hold on power remained tenuous in the face of continued worker discontent. He responded to the workers with several new measures.
In September, Ulbricht directed the formation of a new militia. The Combat Groups of the Working Class comprised units of armed personnel to protect factories and industrial sites from perceived enemies. Though the militia formed in late 1953, it did not receive its official name until 1959. Years later it protected the workers building the Berlin Wall. Ulbricht conceived the militia as a paramilitary arm of the SED. The party recruited its members from workplaces. Officially, service in the militia was voluntary, though all party members were required to join as a condition of their membership. Military training and equipment made the militia a de facto army serving the ruling party, rather than the people. The Combat Groups of the Working Class disbanded after the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989.