3 Aug 2022 7:40 p.m
The powerful employers’ association, Gesamtmetall, is calling for significantly longer working weeks and longer working hours in order to overcome the crisis in favor of the corporations. In view of the technological development and the real effects to be expected, this is absurd.
by Susan Bonath
The labor movement once fought bloodily for eight-hour days and old-age pensions. After 1945, the “social market economy” with its promises of justice largely pacified wage earners. But at least since the liquidation of the “Eastern Bloc” in the early 1990s, things have been going backwards: the dismantling of social rights is progressing, unpaid overtime is the order of the day and the retirement age is rising. Entrepreneurs’ associations are calling for more and more harassment of employees.
Under the pretext of the lack of alternatives, the Gesamtmetall employers’ association is currently drumming up not only for private households to be disadvantaged in terms of gas supply, but also for a further extension of the working week and working life. The newspapers of Funk media group said its President Stefan Wolf literally from his (probably comfortable and well-paid) “home office in southern Germany”:
“If you look at the demographic development and the burden on the social security and pension funds, then the reserves have been used up. We will have to work longer and more. We will gradually have to go up to the retirement age of 70 years – also because the age continues to rise . Otherwise the system will no longer be financially viable in the medium term.”
In addition to retiring at 70, Wolf also advocated extending the regular working week from 40 to 42 hours for the time being. That would be the end of the eight-hour day – one of the oldest demands of labor movements since the early 19th century. In Germany, this was enshrined in law for the first time in 1918.
Low wages and unpaid overtime
In view of the “digital revolution” that is making more and more jobs redundant, Wolf’s demand seems quite irrational. In many countries, including Europe, unemployment and poverty rates are reaching new record highs. Wages are also lagging behind inflation.
In Germany, for example, according to official information from the Federal Statistical Office, more than one in five dependent employees worked for low wages in 2018. This put Germany in sixth place in the EU comparison, behind Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Bulgaria.
In addition, around 34.4 million employees subject to social security contributions in Germany worked almost 900 million unpaid overtime hours last year. The number of unreported cases is unknown. Recently, this form of exploitation, to which many submit for fear of losing their jobs, has increased again.
Unemployment at a high level
At the same time, according to the Federal Employment Agency (BA), around 5.6 million people were living in Hartz IV households, including more than 1.5 million children. The number of those entitled to benefits has changed little since the introduction of basic security for jobseekers.
After a brief recovery, the BA is currently recording an increase in the number of people affected by Hartz IV. In July, around 200,000 more households with over 400,000 people were dependent on these services than in May of this year. Almost every fourth affected adult was still employed last year, but earned so little that he had to top up.
Full employment, which the Federal Republic of Germany once boasted about at the time of the “economic miracle”, should not be expected in the long term either. Due to the technological development, the economy expects a reduction of 1.3 million jobs in the next three years in the manufacturing industry alone.
30 years of pension cuts
Instead of reducing working hours with full wage compensation, politicians have been gradually increasing the retirement age to 67 for a good ten years. The law focuses on the year of birth: Currently, employees who were born in 1956 can retire normally at the age of 65 years and ten months. The age limit of 67 applies for the first time from 2031 for those born in 1964.
Raising the retirement age is actually cutting pensions. Wolf justifies his further-reaching wishes with an increase in life expectancy. In other words: From the point of view of market ideology, old people are unproductive and cause costs like the unemployed. The state pays for it. However, he has to get the money back through taxes – both from companies and from employees. That reduces profit. From the point of view of market economists, Wolf’s demand is only logical.
If you take a look at the so-called pension reforms of the past 30 years, it quickly becomes clear that one pension reduction program has been chasing the next, only interrupted by toddling steps of cautious rowing back. The liquidation of the GDR was accompanied by an increase in the retirement age and the introduction of deductions. In 2001, the legislature lowered the pension level further, and in 2004 it decided to tax retirement benefits. All these legislative decisions were preceded by corresponding demands from the economy.
Market ideology with pitfalls
It is possible that assembly line workers will soon have to decide whether to use a walker to get to work or to settle for an early starvation pension. Distinguishing between those in need and carers could then also be difficult in retirement homes, while more and more young people cannot find a job from which they can make a living.
Assuming, of course, that the wage earners reach their 70th birthday at all, once the apartments stay cold. The president of the powerful business association, Gesamtmetall, is also not in favor of capping gas prices for the general public. He said: “Basically, I am for the free regulatory forces of the market.” Which is why he is also opposed to wage increases.
But this market ideology has its pitfalls: if the unemployed can’t find a job, employees are supposed to slave away until old age, but their wages are still not enough for the bare necessities, and if on top of that cold apartments bring them an early death, the corporations are stuck with their goods one way or another . Then the profits collapse anyway. The image of the enemy in the form of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Wolf also conjured up, does not change that.
More on the subject – War, destruction, impoverishment: A global system in crisis
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