On the new wave of social protest in Germany
Germany is struck by a new wave of social protest. Beginning on 3
August, 2004 now the sixth week in turn so-called “Monday rallies” with
tens of thousands of participants are taking place in 150-200 German big
and small cities. The term is referring to the famous manifestations of
the year 1989, when mass rallies forced the then GDR government to
listen to the people’s demands for more freedom and democratic rights.
To the indignation of the present Social Democratic-Green government the
marchers of today want the government to listen to their protests
against a package of measures to dismantle the welfare state, unseen in
the whole history of the Federal Republic of Germany. For 2 October a
huge nation-wide demonstration in Berlin is planned.
focus of the protests is the so-called Hartz IV law, adopted by all
parliament parties, but the PDS, in July, 2004 and due to come into
force on 1 January, 2005. This law is the fourth part of a whole
package, worked out by a tripartite commission of capital, labour and
science representatives, chaired by Volkswagen personnel manager Peter
Hartz. The commission was called by the government to reform the German
labour market and to fight unemployment, which is remaining on a
nation-wide high of 8-10 %. Hartz IV implies a series of harsh measures
designed to pressure the long-term unemployed to make more efforts for
finding a new job. In fact, they amount to brutal worsening of their
overall material conditions. The main changes are:
The time an unemployed can
receive an earnings-related benefit (Arbeitslosengeld) (around
two thirds of the last net earnings on the basis of individually paid
insurance contributions) is reduced to a standard 12 months for
everybody. Until now the maximum was 32 month for people over 55 years
of age and the corresponding working years and insurance
After 12 months everybody
falls into the category of long-term unemployed entitled to a new
standard pay called “unemployment benefit II” (Arbeitslosengeld II
– ALG II), which is on the level of the present social welfare
pay, the subsistence minimum. The amount is 345 Euro for the West
German lander and 331 for the lander in the East of Germany plus
modest extras for housing and heating. Until now after the time of
Arbeitslosengeld run out, people got an unemployment benefit of
around 50 % called Arbeitslosenhilfe, dependent, partly, on the
income of the spouse and of proven efforts to actively look for a new
job. Now, in fact, Arbeitslosenhilfe will be cancelled and the
former unemployment benefit merged with the social welfare pay on the
latter’s low level.
Receiving ALG II is
only possible on the following conditions:
First, the income of the spouse or – with singles – every kind
of property (flat, car, land, savings, life insurance, pensions
insurance…) is fully taken into account. Only after having sold and
consumed most of this, one has a right to ALG II. Trade unions
statistics say that more than 300 000 people in East Germany will get
nothing under this condition.
Second, any job offered by the state and private job agencies
must be accepted, irrespective of pay below standard levels,
qualification or location, even if a long distance from the worker’s
residence. Otherwise ALG II will be cut or stopped altogether.
Until now the unemployed was entitled to a new job paid on standard
level and corresponding in general to his/her qualification.
Municipalities, welfare organisations and others are requested to
create work opportunities on a pay of 1-2 Euros per hour thought as an
additional income for ALG II recipients. These must also be
accepted by everybody.
unions, welfare agencies, big parts of public opinion and the PDS are
unanimous in their judgement that Hartz IV will not contribute to the
solution of the unemployment problem but worsen the social situation by
a degree unseen in German post-war history:
Hartz IV is an austerity
program entitled to reduce social expenditure at the expense of the
unemployed. It will not create any jobs with living wages, but further
fuel wage dumping and destroy normal jobs.
Hartz IV is annihilating
people’s qualification. By forcing everybody to accept any job,
qualified people are pushed into low level work from where there is no
Hartz IV is reducing mass
purchasing power and domestic consumer demand, which is detrimental to
growth rates of the German economy fuelled presently by exports alone.
Hartz IV will widen the
gap between rich and poor in Germany by breathtaking speed. According
to trade union prognoses the number of poor people can rise in 2005
from 2.8 to 4.5 million. The number of children forced to live on
social welfare level will increase from now 1.5 million to 2.0
million. People will more quickly arrive at the brink of poverty
because of cutting the times of receiving earnings-related
Hartz IV is a gross
violation of human dignity. People are sanctioned for loosing work to
live on not by their own failure but by the failure of the welfare
state. They are arbitrarily forced under inhumane social conditions in
a country where the number of millionaires is one of the highest in
the world and is constantly rising.
“Monday rallies” have started – as in 1989 – in East Germany and have
reached here the broadest scale. While public acceptance of the
marchers’ demands is 67 % in Germany, it is 85 % in the East. The
The number of people
concerned by Hartz IV is much higher here with the unemployment rate
the double of the West’s (18 – 19 %) and the people depending now on
Arbeitslosenhilfe also considerably higher.
Pressing the unemployed
into looking for a new job by cutting their benefits is felt a bitter
mockery here, where there are about 35 unemployed on one free job.
amounts of ALG II for East and West Germans is seen by the
people in the East as continuously treating them as second-class
citizens. Having lived in the socially more equal GDR society, they
are more sensitive to facts of social injustice.
movement has grown from the grass-roots level and is organised by local
and regional alliances of unemployed associations, citizen’s rights and
welfare organisations, helped by some trade unions.
the main task is to bring to people’s minds our ideas contrary to
Schroeder’s anti-social “Agenda 2010,” concentrated in our “Social
agenda”, thus demonstrating that the neo-liberal course of the
government is not without alternative.