German unions defend welfare state

Charlotte Kates ckates at mosquito.com
Sun May 26 19:26:36 MDT 1996


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>Date: Fri, 24 May 1996 10:22:10 -0500
>To: labr.newsline%conf at mail.igc.apc.org
>From: Scott Marshall <scott at rednet.org>
>Subject: German unions defend welfare state
>
>**German unions defend welfare state**
>
>(Reprinted from the May 25, 1996 issue of the People's
>Weekly World. May be reprinted or reposted with PWW credit.
>For subscription information see below)
>
>By William Pomeroy
>
>LONDON - A long hot summer is looming in Germany. One of
>strikes and other forms of confrontation between trade
>unions and an employer-backed Kohl government out to slash
>the hard-won social benefits of working people. The
>succession of brief nationwide strikes by public service
>unions that began in the first week of May have been called
>"warning strikes" by union leaders, prelude to a general
>strike.
>
>At issue is the set of measures put before the Bundestag
>(parliament) by Chancellor Helmut Kohl April 26 that cuts
>nearly $40 billion from government spending, chiefly from
>the welfare state sector. Tripartite talks held by
>government officials with unions and employers broke down
>when vociferous union opposition was spurned by the other
>two participants.
>
>The proposed cuts include:
>
>* Pension fund spending including raising the retirement age
>for women from 60 to 63, sharply reducing pensions for
>ethnic German immigrants from the former Soviet Union,
>reducing from 7 to 3 the years of state contributions paid
>into student pension funds, and cutting the duration of
>pension fund-financed health cures from 4 weeks to 3;
>
>* Cutting sick pay to 80 percent of basic wages for the
>first six weeks of illness and to 10 percent for long-term
>illness (full pay for a worker while sick is one of the
>prized gains won by IG Metall in the 1950s);
>
>* Raising to 10 from the present 5 the number of workers
>employed by a company before the rules protecting workers
>from dismissal take effect (nearly 80 percent of German
>companies employ less than 10);
>
>* Curtailment of welfare allowances for children.
>
>In addition, Kohl has called for a general wage freeze. One
>of the measures put to the Bundestag is for abolition of the
>wealth tax.
>
>These steps are the wedge to tear down the welfare state, an
>outlook shared by the leader of the Green Party, Joahha
>Fisher, who says, "We are at the beginning of the
>dismantling of the welfare state."
>
>Kohl government channels have been conducting alarmist
>propaganda about the viability of the pension system and of
>the cost of other social benefits. It is argued that the
>proportion of working people to pensioners that was 3 to 1
>in the 1960s is now 2 to 1 and that by 2030 there will be
>one worker for every pensioner who could not sustain the
>pension cost. Says Kohl's finance minister, Theo Waigel,
>"The welfare and taxation state has reached its limit."
>
>Truth is, the failures of the German capitalist economy have
>aggravated state budget problems. Unemployment that soared
>to a postwar record 4.2 million early this year has cut
>severely into income tax revenues while adding greatly to
>dole pay.
>
>The greatest pressure for literally restructuring the
>welfare state comes from the need to meet terms of the
>European Union Maastricht Treaty agreed as basis for a
>member country to join the single European currency system:
>its budgetary deficit must be cut below the 3 percent level.
>
>The deputy chairperson of the German Trade Union Federation,
>Ursula Engelen-Kefer called government plans "totally
>imbalanced" and said the unions will "fight with all means"
>against the assault on the welfare state.
>
>The deputy leader of the Central Committee of Catholic
>Laity, Karl Nothof, castigated the Kohl measures which
>"spare the rich and penalize the poor." An opinion poll by
>the Forsa research organization early in May showed 72
>percent of people against the cuts and 90 percent believe
>the government is not doing enough to contend with
>unemployment.
>
>Dieter Schulte, president of the Trade Union Federation,
>called the government "a tool of employer interests."
>
>Klaus Zwickel, head of the huge IG Metall union, who has
>called the Kohl plan "a plot against labor and social
>justice," told a May Day rally that "we will not hesitate to
>use every available means of industrial strife."
>
>Within days those warnings were followed up by strike
>action. "Warning strikes" by postal workers, bus and tram
>workers began the struggle, with nurses and rubbish
>collectors, airport and bank workers next in line and the
>rest of the public service unions ready to follow. If the
>major industrial unions find it necessary to follow suit,
>the demand in Germany for "Hands off the welfare state" will
>be a powerful message to all Europe's capitalists who want
>to turn back the clock.
>##30##
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__________________________________________________________________________

    Charlotte L. Kates     ckates at mosquito.com        Collingswood, NJ

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