Agreed Action: End of the Class Struggle (nd-aktuell.de)


At the first “Concerted Action” meeting: DGB chairman Yasmin Fahimi, BDA chief Rainer Dulger and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (from left to right)

Photo: IMAGO / Ute Grabowsky

Together through the crisis! This was the motto of IG Metall during the 2008/09 financial and economic crisis. On the one hand, this meant that companies and employees should stand together in the most dramatic economic downturn in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany to date. Above all, however, companies should go through the crisis together with their employees, i.e. not throw them out on the street. The latter was only partially successful. In particular, tens of thousands of temporary and contract workers have been “deregistered” without a works council or trade unions. On the other hand, in the case of permanent workforce in large companies, mass layoffs have been avoided in many places through reduced work and collective agreed reductions in working hours. It was primarily employees who paid for it, but many were glad that they at least kept their jobs.

Especially for German corporations, this “social partnership” crisis management has proved to be of great benefit. When things started to recover surprisingly quickly after the collapse, they did not have to search for and train new employees for a long time. Unlike international competition, they were usually able to quickly increase production. This was seen in exploding profits.

The “social partnership” had actually been deemed dead a few years earlier. Especially after the lost strike of IG Metall in the East in 2003 and the breach of uniform collective agreements in the public sector in 2005, the German elite allowed only union representatives to sit at the side table. After the financial meltdown – which was also a huge problem in legitimizing capitalism – people changed their minds. Probably also as a reward for his cooperative role in the crisis, the then head of IG Metall, Berthold Huber, celebrated his 60th birthday in March 2010 with a dinner at the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Now the crisis is back – and Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz (SPD), is also counting on the commitment of union leaders. The fact that he first approached the Law Firm with these and business associations at the beginning of July under the slogan “Joint Action” is probably to emphasize the great importance of these meetings. On the union side, however, the title evokes rather unpleasant memories. Because the “concert action” initiated by the then SPD minister of economy, Karl Schiller in 1967, led, first of all, to the toning down of wage demands by workers’ organizations. They stayed in the alliance for ten years, only in 1977, and finally allowed it to break a year later.

The union leaders’ hopes of being directly involved in the political decision-making process through “concerted action” have not materialized. At the same time, a “moderate” wage policy, based on the recommendations of the so-called economic experts, led to a wave of allegedly wild labor disputes, ie, uncontrolled by the union apparatus, which fell into history as “September strikes”.

Already today, trade unions are in a conflict zone: on the one hand, they sit at the same table with Scholz and the employers during the »concert action«, on the other hand, their task is to represent the interests of the employees. In a recent interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, IG Metall CEO Jörg Hofmann also referred to his experiences with the historic predecessor: “As workers no longer felt unions represented them due to high inflation, it had come from 1969. Blows. In response, IG Metall and other unions called for double-digit wage increases. You can see that a wage policy that is too moderate is bad because the pendulum will then move too far in the other direction. ‘ Therefore, the new edition of “Joint Action” should not concern the remuneration policy.

At the inaugural meeting in early July, all parties stressed the importance of the autonomy of collective bargaining, ie the independent negotiation of wages and working conditions by trade unions and employers’ associations. But the idea had already been put in place so that unions could limit themselves to one-off payments, perhaps free of taxes and fees, in the coming rounds of collective bargaining. So the message is clear this time too: workers should forgo permanent wage increases to keep inflation from rising further.

It is likely that Chancellor Scholz did not call for “concert action” primarily to persuade the unions to make concessions. Rather, it is an ideological instrument used to claim that capital and labor share the same interests in times of crisis. In this regard, Scholz eloquently invoked the “spirit of community” and said: “As a country, we will only survive this crisis well if we shake hands, if we find solutions together.” And again: “This is an important Message for me: We stand together. And we want all citizens to survive this time well. (…) Companies and employees. «This marks the end of the class struggle.

But there is only one side to it: the employees. Instead, capital uses crisis to attack social achievement. For example, the president of employers, Rainer Dulger, who calls for a reduction in social security contributions, “dynamization” – that is, increase – of the retirement age, and “reform” – that is, lowering – of social systems. Or the chairman of the German Industry Federation, Siegfried Russwurm, who, supported by former SPD labor minister Sigmar Gabriel, is demanding longer working hours.

The conflict of interest between entrepreneurs and employees was not resolved during the crisis. On the contrary: the distribution conflict is escalating. “Organized action” serves this concealment. Unions should not get involved.

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