German steelworkers demand the right to take two years' worth of "work-life balance" 28-hour work weeks to look after children or aging parents


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/14/ig-metall-union.html


#2

They’re lucky they don’t live in a sh*thole country where workers have been convinced that the “right to work” actually gives them options like this.


#3

When I was a kid, 55 years ago, our local paper used to have a “Labor” section. As well as a “Business” section.


#4

And people wonder why I have no desire to return to the States.


#5

That couldn’t possibly work in the United States. If we did that, we wouldn’t be competitive with other countries like, um, Germany.


#6

“which makes the companies both more profitable and more equitable”

Got any objective proof for the “more profitable” part? Not snarking, simply curious as that is a very bald faced statement to expect others to take on faith.

I’d expect if doing this always resulted in more profits, it would be a very widely done practice. (Outside of Trump style companies of course since the people who run such seem to be stupid in ways thet defy my ability to categorize along with what I call “Zombie Corp.” companies where no one at all seems to be in charge or capable of making decisions beyond voting the CEO and Board members massive raises routinely).


#8

After working for the same company for 10 years doing very remote-able work, I “earned” the opportunity (read: developed a strong persoanl relationship with my boss) to take a lump of vacation time (~30 days) to spend with my newborn kids, and then the right to work half and half remote/onsite after that. I was lucky to be at my job long enough to accrue vacation that quickly, and that my daughter was born toward the end of the yar, so I was able to bank way over my rollover limit. And that’s at an early childhood focused non-profit. America has a ways to go on this front. NY’s parental leave policy is a step in the right direction, though it kicked in just after my makeshift paternity leave ended.

I actually think part time work is really great for new parents, allowing your to keep a toe at work, and give you a minute to miss your kids, while not feeling like there are huge swaths of their formative years you’re missing. It saves a boatload on infant care too.


#9

“Large German companies are required to give board-seats to representatives from their workers’ unions, which makes the companies both more profitable and more equitable, so it’s unusual for German workers to go out on strike…”

Because strikes hurt profits?


#10

I would guess it’s a variant on Henry Ford paying his workers enough to afford his own product (before Ford cars were toys for the wealthy). If unions are strong and have mandated board representation across a wide range of companies then wages and benefits in the country tend to be higher (though not ruinous to the company). This means that many (but certainly not all) consumer goods and services companies in the country become more profitable because more workers can afford their products.

Cory puts his own hyperbolic stylistic spin on it, but that’s nothing new.


#11

Ermmmmm.

Germans call their employers Arbeitgeber. The employees are Arbeitnehmer.

The mindset. One does not even.


#12

I suspect the statement comes from comparing Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen/Audi to Ford and GM, who are no longer considered the powerhouses they once were. GM’s Handlung of Opel is in fact considered a part of why Opel was the sick man amongst German manufacturers.

Now I know it’s not concrete, but it wasn’t my claim. My only claim is that Germany’s health care, vacation and work week norms ensure that I have no desire to return to the States.


#14

I think employees should have part ownership in the companies they work for, and the books should be open to all. Then no strikes, and all sides in the negotiation have all the information on what can be gained and what can be lost.


#15

For someone that doesn’t speak German; all Google Translate gives me is: ‘Employer’ and ‘Employee’; which doesn’t mean much.

Care to elaborate on the point you’re making?


#20

@gdfg nailed it. Sorry, I somehow assumed it would be easier to recognise the two parts of the compound words.

Arbeit Geber and Arbeit Nehmer should be a bit easier to translate, word for word.

There is one really absolutely terrifying, famous example of a phrase perverted. I hesitated to put this here, since I don’t want to Godwin the thread, and from the perspective of cultural history there are some connotations to this proverbial phrase which are, in fact, positive. But trust German history to ruin even the slightest positive thoughts.

The English Wikipedia lacks some information, present in the German version, putting it in a bit more context. Please note that Swiss, Dutch and US-American Calvinism follow similar lines of argumentation, as far as I see it: through the fruits of your labour, you can reach honest earthly wealth, which is also an expression of heavenly grace.

Interestingly, the German phrase apparently originated in roughly the same time as Marx and Engels wrote about similar ideas with a very different conclusion.

The evolution of ideas is sometimes very interesting…


#23

the historically interesting bit is, that the German welfare state has emerged out of the 19th century paternalistic capitalism / industrialisation.

Thus Arbeitgeber (employers) are those “granting” work and Arbeitnehmers are those “gratefully” receiving work. Thus reflecting a serious power imbalance.

There are those in Germany who argue that unions such as IGM (who have statutory representation on company boards) have gone to the other side and sold out the workers by only focusing on large employers with a large unionised workforce. While a growing section of the population works in casual / temporary jobs–which systematically tries to exclude them from the legal agreements negotiated by the unions.

The interesting figure in relation to German employment is the changing number of workers who are employed by large companies with union representation. I.e. the growing casual / part time work force…

So IGM fighting for 28 hrs is interesting, but ignoring that less and less workers will benefit from union protection might also be worthwhile.


#24

Yes.
Same problem everywhere… that strong unions are tied to specific industries and/or workplaces. So that any benefits they are able to obtain does not necessarily filter trough to employees of other sectors.
In an ideal world the entire concept of trade unions would be re-invented so that they were huge organisations, that would admit members regardless of where they work.


#25

Unions are declining but are still important political players in Germany. There are no conclusive numbers but between 20% and 25% of the total number of employees in Germany are organized in trade unions. That’s nothing to sneeze at …


#26

The move by IGM to make this a arguing point is seen by many as a campaign to get more young people into the union. Since I actually know some people working for them in Frankfurt, I assume I will find out at some point if this was case, and of it worked. In matters of social policy, however, this is great timing. Parenting was always high on the list of important talking point of the unions, at least in the PR side, or Verhandlungsmasse side. Remember the Samstags gehört Vati mir posters? Since 1956, the IGM and DGB pushed for regulation of working hours? The 5-day, 35h-week for workers developed true momentum in the 1970s, but the first posters with this text are from 1956!

Only relatively recently, Elternzeit and Elterngeld are more widely accepted in German society as an option to share the work (and, importantly, the experience) of parenting. The 28h week comes around the corner at exactly this moment. However, the argument to sweeten it up for them Arbeitgeber is productivity… Well, what’s the talking point again? :wink:


#27

I think that due to the word structure, the German terms are more loaded that the English ones, where the one giving employ and the one receiving employ are simply employER and employEE. Using a two syllable suffix (actually a compound word) makes it harder to distance from the original word.

This is less about the mentality of giving and taking, and more about the way Germans hated ambiguity in their language and tried to avoid using Latin or other Fremdwörter in the past.


#28

All of this is true and interesting, and I am the last person to argue against statutory provisions to improve work life balance.

But my point is a very different one. The number of workers whose statutory rights are protected by IGM or other unions is falling. The working reality of an increasing number of German workers is that, they are employed on temporary / casual contracts which are designed to circumvent statutory labour provisions / agreements. A very similar thing is happening among civil service employees. E.g. a shrinking number of teachers are still Beamten afforded all the protection while and an increasing number of people doing the exact same work are just employees with minimal pension etc.

My point is that, in Germany (as in amy other countries), a two class employment system is emerging in which some peoples’ rights are strong and well protected while others are exposed to the full force of an unprotected labour market.

My argument is not that IGM is wrong to make the case for 28hr week but, that they are wrong to ignore that a shrinking number of people are protected through them.

The issue is less, whether or not young people want to join the union and more, whether or not their working reality is recognised and represented by the union i.e. whether / how the union can protect those with casual / temporary contracts.