THE LAND NEEDS A NEW VISION
The Battle over working hours. The Fairytale of job-creating growth is refuted by experience and academia.
By Angela Klein
[This article published in SoZ-Sozialistische Zeitung, 2/28/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=2267.]
A new study of the Institute for Labor Market- and Social Research cited by the Koln Stadtanzeiger newspaper on January 14/15, 2006 analyzed the development of employment conditions in the 1990s and concluded that the average economic growth of 1.4% in this time period was not enough to create more jobs. At least two percent economic growth was necessary. The Institute estimates that the economic situation is only responsible for a third of the jobs. With that, the bottom is knocked out of the credo of all governments and economic ideologies that raising the gross national product can combat unemployment.
Increased productivity must make a society rich, one imagines. If less time needs to be spent in producing the necessary foods and goods every day, one has more time for other things. However this logic is not true in capitalism because production is for the market instead of for satisfying needs. There is the incessant pressure to produce goods to sell them - even at the price of suspending domestic production because of western exports. For this production, working hours cannot be long enough and wages cannot be low enough.
Working conditions have worsened correspondingly. The Institute's study shows a decline of jobs paying social security contributions since 1991 from 30 to 26.2 million. Around 5 million full-time jobs were eliminated, 3.5 million of them in productive branches of industry. Marginal employment more than doubled; the number of independent persons and assisting family members rose 25 percent.
We only need a quarter of our whole work volume to produce all necessary goods. Thus we must reflect on how to deal with our potentially excess work capacity. The government and the economic bosses demand that we work more, at insecure conditions and lower wages so the businesses can sell more, put out rivals on the world market and make more profits. What did we gain from this? The race for the worst working conditions can only end in a general crash.
We could also begin a macro-social discussion on how our need for goods and services can be covered with a more rational work arrangement that distributes the necessary work on all shoulders and uses the surplus time - a great amount of time - to care for our social environment, become retrained and share in forming the social will.
The development of science and technology and productive forces in general has doubtlessly reached a state where creatively active persons with all-round training can guide them. We cannot create the productive progress that we need to develop an environmentally friendly lifestyle. The postulate "Work as cheap as possible and at the worst possible conditions" leads us back to the 19th century.
We are far removed today from the 1985 watchword "More time for Living and Loving". While politics and the economy on all channels preach the neoliberal anthropology where society only consists of individuals competing with each other, the unions have long lost control over working hours out of powerlessness, lack of imagination and adjustment to the new conditions. No alternative vision going beyond the circle of the directly affected that could mobilize the population is part of the defensive battle of the Verdi-union. Surveys on the popularity of the strike have the most varied results these days - depending on political opportunity and the interviewees. No one denies that the propaganda of the opposition still works.
If we want to win the battle over working hours, we must start a long-term and macro-social struggle. Verdi-union has undoubtedly missed important opportunities here - through a poor wage agreement in public service in 2005 and the failure to energetically bring this theme to the social forum and win supporters for a common battle. What does not exist can still become reality.