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Working in Dignity: "There will be no poor among you" (Deut 15,4)

"Around 6 million jobs are lacking in Germany. What moves politicians given this reality to assume that unemployment can be reduced by demanding more from the unemployed and applying more pressure?..How can the structural job deficit be overcome through reorganization.. How can jobs be created by abolishing jobs in the social infrastructure? How should persons in the low-income sector live?"
Working in Dignity

There will be no poor among you (Deut 15,4)

By Jurgen Klute

[This address at the Ecumenical Church Day May 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.ekd.de. Jurgen Klute is an industrial pastor in Herne, Germany.]

I work as an evangelical industrial- and social-pastor in the heart of the Ruhr province in a region where people and different institutions and organizations have labored for several decades in coping with the great upheaval from the old heavy industry to the service society. The official unemployment reaches 17% in some parts of the Ruhr. Nearly 40% of the unemployed fellow-citizens are so-called long-term unemployed, persons jobless for more than a year and often for many years. This problem is not very different than in vast parts of the so-called New Germany.

On this social background, hardly anyone denies that reforms are necessary or overdue. However the reforms that are currently discussed are hardly understandable or realizable on this social background.

The reforms emphasize promoting and urging. The assumption is that the unemployed were urged too little in the past. However whoever knows the reality in the Ruhr province and in East Germany knows that hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs and jobs in the classical service areas were dismantled in the last 90 years alone. As a consequence, around 6 million jobs are lacking in the whole country. A central question results: What moves politicians given this reality to assume that unemployment can be reduced by demanding more from the unemployed and applying more pressure? The large part of the unemployed is now suffering under the situation of exclusion through unemployment.

Another question directly follows. Current reform proposals assume a second essential cause of unemployment: organizational problems of employment administration. I admit employment administration needs reform. Nevertheless the question is raised how can the structural job deficit in our society be overcome through reorganization?

At the beginning of 2003, the legal package "Modern Services on the Labor Market" took effect. Past experiences do not give the affected cause for optimism. Reporters from the unemployment centers tell of great uncertainty among the jobless and also among the employees of the employment offices. Information deficits and occasionally information chaos prevails in the employment offices. Co-workers at the employment offices complain that the "Labor Market 2000" reorganization was abruptly dropped through the new laws. Most unemployment centers and counseling agencies in our region that did important and good work for years will only be supported to the end of 2003. Then they must be closed because the support programs will end.

Employment- and training initiatives and organizations that developed a great "know-how" over many years worked successfully, played an important social role and fulfilled important psychological functions like the unemployment centers and counseling agencies are threatened in their existence by the new laws. Their objectives can no longer be realized. Many ask what does the destruction of social infrastructures have to do with reforms? How can jobs be created by abolishing jobs in the social infrastructure?

Development potentials for a so-called third sector that can organize socially necessary work - for example personal services that are not always marketable - lie in this social infrastructure. Re-development of a basic structure of a third sector is politically vital, not abolition. What hinders politicians and our society from taking up this impulse given again and again by many experts? Many hopeful examples are threatened in their existence.

In conclusion, I'd like to raise a few fundamental questions. In Deut 15,4 we read: "But there will be no poor among you (for the Lord will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess)." This is the most elementary social-ethical standard for judging a society, not only from a Christian perspective. The SPD (Socialist party in Germany), the CDU (centrist-conservative party of Kohl), the Greens and the PDS (party of democratic socialists) don't have a problem in agreeing with this Old Testament demand. From this starting position, I cannot understand the discussion on low income mainly intended for the unemployed. How should persons in the low-income sector live? Who should decide in our society and on what law who must scrape out a miserable existence in the low-income sector and who should not? What is really the ethical basis for the demand for a low-income sector for part of the men and women of our society?

After the US and Japan, Germany represents the strongest and most efficient national economy worldwide. Why can't every citizen at an age fit for work be offered sensible dignified work with reasonable income?

The question discussed most frequently today is: How can the costs of labor be lowered? Shouldn't the question be: How can all men and women in our society share in work and income so they can live a good life filled with meaning? Or formulated differently, How can the enormous technical progress that led to the dismantling of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a vast increase of productivity in the last decades be finally translated in social progress so unemployed fellow-citizens can be re-integrated in our society?

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