March 2018, Week 4


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show HTML Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Portside <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mon, 26 Mar 2018 02:34:42 -0400
text/plain (25 kB) , text/html (40 kB)

 		 [Jacobin’s Loren Balhorn sat down with German labor sociologist
Klaus Dörre to find out more about the strike, what the workers
really gained, and what it might say about the German labor
movement’s future. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 GERMANY’S 28-HOUR WORKWEEK   [https://portside.org/node/16831] 


 Klaus Dorre, Loren Balhorn 

Jacobin [https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/03/germanys-28-hour-workweek]

	* [https://portside.org/node/16831/printable/print]

 _ Jacobin’s Loren Balhorn sat down with German labor sociologist
Klaus Dörre to find out more about the strike, what the workers
really gained, and what it might say about the German labor
movement’s future. _ 

 Workers from nearby Mercedes Benz and General Electric production
plants participate in a warning strike in demands for better pay and
more flexible working conditions in Marienfelde district on January
10, 2018 in Berlin, Germany., Sean Gallup / Getty 


German metalworkers’ union IG Metall made international headlines
[https://www.ft.com/content/e7f0490e-0b1c-11e8-8eb7-42f857ea9f09] last
month after a twenty-four-hour “warning strike” compelled
employers to sign a deal with the union giving its members the right
to a twenty-eight-hour workweek.

The deal — which covers 900,000 workers in the southwestern state of
Baden-Württemberg — is seen as a landmark in European labor
relations, granting workers who want to reduce their working hours
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/10/shorter-workweek-vacation-free-time-labor] the
right to do so for a two-year period. It came after 15,000 workers in
eighty companies downed tools as part of a campaign for a better
work-life balance and also included a substantial pay raise.,

But is it too good be true? _Jacobin_’s Loren Balhorn sat down with
German labor sociologist Klaus Dörre to find out more about the
strike, what the workers really gained, and what it might say about
the German labor movement’s
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/06/amazon-germany-union-strikes-works-councils] future.


To start, maybe you could just lay out what exactly the IG Metall
strike earlier this year achieved. Is it true that all 2.26 million
members and 3.9 million employees in Germany’s metalworking and
electronics industries now have the right to a twenty-eight-hour
workweek? And if so, is there any precedent for this elsewhere in
German industry?


The wage settlement concluded between IG Metall and the employers is
quite innovative. Alongside a substantial wage increase which takes
full advantage of the legally defined space to negotiate profit
distribution as defined by German labor law, current employees can
also opt for a shortened, twenty-eight-hour full-time workweek in
order to take care of an ailing family member, raise children, or
simply to balance out
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/35-hour-workweek-france-vacation/] strenuous
shift work. Moreover, all workers will receive the same contractually
defined bonus pay, which partially makes up for lost wages due to
reduced working hours. Employees can also choose to have this bonus
paid out on additional free days.

The reduction to twenty-eight hours, however, is an individual option,
and workers are entitled to return to a normal position for two years.
In exchange, employers can demand workweeks of over forty hours for a
limited amount of time. Such a rule is unique in this form. For the
first time since the 2003 failed strike
[http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/30/business/union-leaders-end-a-strike-for-shorter-hours-in-eastern-germany.html] for
the thirty-five-hour workweek in eastern Germany, working hours have
been made an issue of collective bargaining policy. It is difficult to
overemphasize this development’s importance. Previously, such
examples were few and far between — one exception is the
semi-privatized railway system, Deutsche Bahn, where employees can
choose between higher pay and two hours less of work on a week-by-week

It’s also important to note that the option of reducing individual
working hours is tied to important social problems
such as taking time to care of dependent family members. This accounts
for a development Marx predicted in the _Grundrisse_
as society reaches a certain level of material prosperity, real wealth
begins to be defined as the amount of free time
to individuals and society as a whole. Many of today’s highly
skilled workers want more than a good wage and an interesting job.
They want more “disposable time,” that is to say, more time to
live their lives. This has to be a central focus
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/luce-eight-hour-day-obama-overtime] of
any progressive trade union politics.


To give us a sense of IG Metall’s relative strength, could you tell
us how much economic damage the strike managed to impose on their


Economic impact was not the decisive factor. Nevertheless,
twenty-four-hour strikes can prove highly disruptive in workplaces
producing along a just-in-time model. The _Handelsblatt_, for example
— a business-friendly newspaper here in Germany — came to the
conclusion that IG Metall’s tactics “bordered on extortion.”
More important than the immediate economic impact, however, was the
union’s massive membership mobilization. Roughly 1.5 million workers
participated in the one-day strikes, and also unleashed a powerful
dynamic for other demands. At the third-party supplier Bosch in the
town of Waiblingen, temporary workers chanted “_Übernehme,
Übernahme!_” — a play on words both demanding full-time
employment as well as threatening to take over the factory.

These moments offer a brief glimpse of what could be possible. Germany
is characterized by deep, widespread dissatisfaction — particularly
among workers in productive industry. For them, these strikes were an
opportunity to vent their frustrations. It’s important to remember
that Germany has become one of the most unequal countries in the
industrialized world over the last two decades. General wealth is
highly unequally distributed: 0.1 percent of the population owns 17.4
percent of the country’s estimated 9.5 trillion euro in total
wealth. The poorer half of the population, on the other hand, owns
only 2.3 percent of that wealth. Despite rising wages in recent years,
incomes remain extremely unequal. If we take market revenues as a
basis, the poorer half of the population only earns 17 percent of the
national income (compared to 30 percent in 1960, for example).

Nevertheless, highly trained and well-organized core workers in the
export industry can maintain or even raise their real wages.
Precarious workers and women in low-wage and service sectors in
particular, on the other hand, have faced disproportionate losses.
Roughly half of wage-earners earned less in 2015 than fifteen years
ago in real wages. Additionally, rents are on the rise in the major
cities, while costs for childcare and education are increasing. Even
halfway well-paid workers don’t have enough to lead the kind of
family life they aspire to.

In this sense, there are plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied —
working hours included. The volume of paid working hours in 2016 still
remained below that of 1991. While a worker in 1991 worked an average
of 1,554 hours per year, by 2014 it was only 1,366 hours — a
reduction of 12 percent, coupled with starkly polarized working hours.
Highly trained workers often face work weeks of fifty, sixty, or even
seventy hours, for which no overtime is paid in most cases. Precarious
workers, on the other hand — primarily women — work an average of
twelve hours a week, although most would prefer to work more and
longer. If we were to also take the desired working hours of the
unemployed into account, unemployment in Germany would be at least
twice as high as official statistics claim. The “German job
miracle” is based largely on the fact that unemployment has been
erased by expanding insecure, poorly paid labor relations. That IG
Metall managed to turn working hours into a collective-bargaining
issue despite these diverging needs and interests cannot be praised


Tell us a little bit more about IG Metall. What industries does it
represent? How well organized is it? Does it represent the norm for
German trade unionism, or rather the exception?


IG Metall most certainly remains the strongest trade union in Germany
and Europe as a whole. Its strongholds are located in Germany’s
industrial heartland: the high-value automobile industry, the end
producers, the major third-party suppliers and machine-building. Here,
the trade unions participate in and benefit from the strength of the
German industrial model, which intensifies economic imbalances in
Europe and the global economy at the same time.

Representing 30.5 percent of gross value production in the EU, Germany
is the continent’s most important industrial nation by far. While
industry’s proportion of gross value production has gone down in all
other EU member states since the turn of the millennium, in Germany it
has actually slightly increased. Together with Austria, Germany is
also the only European country in which industrial employment has
actually risen by roughly 6 percent since 2008. The core of the
industrial sector is made up of machine-building and the automobile
industry. Both industries are characterized by their high share of
exports, representing 62 percent and 64 percent of total goods
produced, respectively.

The industrial sector is stabilized to a significant extent by the
fact that the export industries are well-attuned to meet growing
demand from Asia, and China in particular. German products are both
required for industrial catchup as well as eagerly bought up by the
rapidly growing middle class. This has allowed industrial production
in Germany to increase, despite remaining a high-wage country. 40
percent of industrial workers are employed in technology-intensive
sectors, which also represent the most important motors of economic
growth. It is also striking that the trend towards outsourcing
production has gone down noticeably, despite comparatively high labor
costs (nearly 37€/hour on average, compared to 10€ in the Czech
Republic and 6.65€ in Poland). While 15 percent of companies
registered outsourcing in 2006, by 2010–2011 this figure had dropped
to 11 percent (compared to 25 percent from the mid-1990s into the
early 2000s). In 2003, 87 percent of companies engaging in outsourcing
indicated low wage costs as the primary motivating factor. By 2012,
this number had receded to 71 percent. In total, the wage costs as a
portion of industry’s total costs continues to decline. Including
costs for temporary workers, the figure lies well below 20 percent.

The relative stability and export strength of the industrial sector
means that co-determination and organized labor relations in the
sectors IG Metall represents are comparatively stable. While workers
in other sectors were forced to take disproportionate losses,
industrial export industry managed to maintain or even raise effective
wages. Comparatively strong unions and works councils played a
significant role here. The fact is that the industrial sector and its
core — machine-building and the automobile industry — remain the
center of gravity of organized labor relations. To illustrate this,
you only have to look at the fact that roughly one-fifth of all IG
Metall members are located in one enterprise: Volkswagen. Germany on
the whole, however, has also witnessed a dramatic decline in levels of
trade unions’ organizational power. The trade union organization
rate stands at 18 percent. In the year 2000, 60 percent of employees
in the western states and 39 percent in the eastern states were paid
according to industry-wide collective bargaining rates. By 2014,
industry-wide agreements only applied to 47 percent of western and 28
percent of eastern German workers.

It is for this reason that the unions’ interest politics
increasingly take place in two separate worlds. Organizations like IG
Metall are capable of acting largely in what I call the “first
world” of regulated collective bargaining, in which
industry-specific agreements still represent the norm. Beyond that —
that is to say, in the “second world” of largely deregulated work
— unions are forced to fight tooth and nail from workplace to
workplace. The border regime between these two worlds triggers
countless smaller conflicts around company and workplace contracts
which adhere to their own internal logics. Only the most dramatic of
these conflicts make it into the newspapers, and thus rarely appear in
strike statistics.

According to available figures, contract battles leading to strikes
have tripled over the course of several years, going from 82 in 2007
to 214 in 2014. Over half of these conflicts take place in the service
sector and involve relatively small numbers of strike participants,
although a fraction take place in the core industrial sector. This
could also be seen in the most recent pay dispute. IG Metall is
capable of leading disputes and strikes in the “first world” of
regulated collective bargaining, but the union’s organizational
domain also encompasses a “second world” characterized by insecure
employment, low wages, and meager organizational power. This is
especially the case in the country’s eastern states, where hourly
wages for flexible employees had dropped below 6€ in some places
prior to the introduction of the federal minimum wage in 2015.

In light of declining unemployment levels and skilled labor shortages,
younger workers in particular are no longer willing to accept the
status quo. The disciplining power of the precariat is also on the
decline. Wage sacrifices in return for job security are no longer
accepted automatically, particularly in the east. IG Metall’s
twenty-four-hour strikes showed how widespread dissatisfaction can be
translated into conflict-oriented strategies and, in this way, win


If I’ve got my recent German labor history correct, IG Metall also
struck for a thirty-five-hour workweek in the 1980s. What is different
today that made them feel confident aiming for twenty-eight hours?
Doesn’t that go against common sense in times of austerity and
corporate cost-cutting?


The fight for the thirty-five-hour workweek in the West German
printing, metalworking, and electronics industries was viewed by
sympathetic observers across Europe as setting the standard for a new
era. Pivotal here was also the demand’s symbolic value — for the
first time in history, it seemed possible to modify the old labor
movement slogan of “eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation,
eight hours’ rest” in favor of increased labor-free time. Despite
the rise of the recreational industry and commercialized mass culture
– what Marx described
[https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch48.htm] as the
“realm of necessity” in _Capital_— was obviously in retreat.
German labor sociologist Claus Offe, for example, argued at the time
[https://books.google.de/books/about/Arbeitsgesellschaft.html?id=oKVIAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y] that
formal wage-labor had lost its “subjective quality as the organizing
center of life activity, social external- and self-assessments, and
moral orientations,” concluding that the conflict between capital
and labor could no longer function as the center of relations of
domination in developed societies.

In the context of this anti-productivist turn, conflicts around
working hours appeared as an intellectual link between trade union
struggles and the themes of the new social movements, which had begun
addressing the crisis of social reproduction. During this phase,
reduced working hours were viewed as an open door into the “realm of
freedom”, a first step towards what André Gorz called
[https://www.amazon.com/Paths-Paradise-Liberation-Andre-Gorz/dp/0861047621] the
“path to paradise.” From a feminist perspective, the struggle also
offered the chance of abolishing a cultural model and with it a time
regime in which the male breadwinner household had simultaneously
reproduced an emptiness of private life, social devaluation of care
work, and the partial exclusion of many women from the public sphere.
Unfortunately, these hopes were not fulfilled. The reduction of the
working week instead became a whip to drive forward flexibilization
and rationalization. It is for this reason that demands for a
collective reduction in working hours, such as a twenty-eight-hour
workweek for all, cannot really be achieved at this time.


From a socialist perspective, shortening the workweek like this also
opens up opportunities for workers to better allocate their time for
reproductive labor in the home and elsewhere. One could almost argue
it represents a social-reproduction
[https://www.blubrry.com/jacobin/30374357/behind-the-news-what-social-reproduction-theory-offers-us/]feminist demand
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/08/living-not-just-surviving/]. To
what extent, if any, do explicit ideas around social reproduction
influence the union and its membership?


There have been some pretty harsh feminist criticisms of the
collective-bargaining agreement, which in my view are only partially
justified. It is true that Germany’s export successes are based, at
least in part, on a systematic depreciation of care work, nursing,
education, and other related occupations. This situation cannot be
remedied by the most recent agreement alone, and certainly must become
a central field of working-hours policies in the future. What the
feminist critique misses, however, is how important it is to make
working hours a central topic in collective bargaining. It also
ignores another major problem: the total failure of the academic left.

For the time being, there are hardly any noteworthy public audiences
interested in working-hours politics — which of course must always
also be (intersectional, inclusive, and
democratic) _class_ politics. The collective bargaining fight for
reduced full-time working hours only left a marginal impression on
both academia as well as the academic left in Germany. In order to
overcome the kinds of middle-class prejudices which denounce these
strikes as the actions of privileged labor aristocrats and old white
men, we will have to engage in tedious, long-term political and
theoretical work. We have to make it clear to people that anti-racist
and anti-sexist movements’ biggest victories always came about at
times when democratic class struggle in the interests of waged workers
were at least somewhat successful. This is just, if not even more so,
the case for the central issue of reducing working hours.


Now that IG Metall has pushed through what appears to be a major
victory, what impacts will this have on the rest of organized labor
and the German working class in general? Are similar demands on the
horizon for other sectors?


We’ll see. The agreement has definitely gotten a lot of attention in
other trade unions. This poses a challenge for the Left, however: for
example, it is utterly unclear if the wage agreement and discussions
around the thirty-five-hour workweek will also be applied in the
eastern German metalworking and electronics industries. Employers have
indicated that they don’t want to. For future working-hours
reductions, it’s important that works councils be granted
co-determination rights in personnel allocation, otherwise it may just
lead to labor intensification. There is an interesting wage agreement
signed by the service-industry union Ver.di which took care of this in
an exemplary way. What is ultimately decisive, however, is that in
light of digitalization and ongoing economic imbalances in the
eurozone, a politics of working-hours reductions must continue. In the
medium term, we need a radical collective reduction of working hours
to thirty-two, thirty, or even twenty-eight hours per week. To do
this, we need concepts that can ground the German left’s currently
somewhat abstract debate about “inclusive class politics” and make
it concrete.


Recently, your academic research has focused on the growth of
right-wing populism among some sections of the German working class.
Do these kinds of actions help to cut against that trend?


I certainly hope so! Current developments are definitely dangerous. As
we’ve already seen in other countries, ethno-nationalism enjoys
above-average levels of support among German workers, union members,
and the unemployed. The nationalist populists of the Alternative für
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/06/germany-afd-cdu-immigrants-merkel-xenophobia-neoliberalism] (AfD)
entered the parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote last year, but
received 19 percent of workers’ votes and 15 percent of union
members. A similar picture emerges if we look at explicit party
preference as opposed to tactical voting. Compared to all other
parties, the AfD
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/09/germany-elections-afd-cdu-die-linke-merkel] exhibits
the broadest spread of incomes among its supporters, but also counts
the highest portion of workers as well as low-skill, white-collar

We have known that significant potential for misanthropic,
right-populist attitudes exists in German society for quite some time,
nor are inclinations toward such orientations among unionized workers
a new phenomenon. Studies proving the spread of far-right or
right-populist attitudes in the trade unions had already provoked
controversial debates in Germany around the turn of the millennium.
Ever since, the general approach was to claim that far-right positions
face decisive opposition among _active_ trade unionists and could be
effectively countered with increased democratic participation. One
irritating finding of our most recent study, however, suggests that
this certainty is no longer true. Trade unionists responsible for
raising the organizational level in their workplace are sometimes the
same ones who organize the buses to take people to right-wing
demonstrations held by groups like Pegida.

In terms of their subjective self-understanding, we are dealing with
mutually complementary facets of a democratic revolt — manifested
through the trade union in the workplace and the company, and through
Pegida and the AfD in society as a whole. To give you an example from
our study: when asked if Pegida represented a movement for democracy,
one sympathizing shop steward replied, “I think so. Theoretically,
Pegida could appeal to anyone. The shadow of Nazism might hang over
the movement, but they bring up issues that affect every normal
working person.”

To counter these kinds of attitudes, we need a politics that clearly
articulates that trade unions do not belong to the establishment. The
twenty-four-hour strikes for reduced working hours gave us a glimpse
of such a politics, but momentary flashes won’t be enough. The
unions, IG Metall included, have to learn to behave more like social
movements once again. We are still quite a way off from that. The
German unions were one of the loudest voices urging the Social
Democratic Party to join a new grand coalition with Angela Merkel
This approach is fatal, as it could lead to a situation in which
Social Democracy disappears as a political factor for the sake of
immediate, short-lived victories. Die Linke
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/01/germany-elections-cdu-spd-merkel-schulz-coalition] can’t
compensate for this loss
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/10/die-linke-afd-merkel-german-election] for
the time being, and the far right is exploiting the situation to
occupy the social question from the right — an extremely dangerous
[https://jacobinmag.com/2018/03/germanys-abortion-rights-movement-afd-fascism] situation.
German society is now facing, once again, a looming national-social
threat. So far, the willingness to confront this threat in the trade
union movement remains underdeveloped.

_If you like this article, please subscribe
[https://jacobinmag.com/subscribe/] or donate
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/donate/] to Jacobin._

	* [https://portside.org/node/16831/printable/print]







 Submit via web [https://portside.org/contact/submit_to_portside] 
 Submit via email 
 Frequently asked questions [https://portside.org/faq] 
 Manage subscription [https://portside.org/subscribe] 
 Visit portside.org [https://portside.org/]

 Twitter [https://twitter.com/portsideorg]

 Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/Portside.PortsideLabor] 



To unsubscribe, click the following link: