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by Kathrin Vogler
Sunday, Sep. 19, 2004 at 2:33 PM
"A view of the person underlying the reforms should be opposed by the peace movement: the person as an isolated being competing unscrupulously for better living conditions in a state that sees its task more in establishing peace from above.."
By Kathrin Vogler
[This article originally published in: Forum 2004 of the Network of the German Peace Movement is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.friedenskooperative.de/ff/ff04/3-61.htm.]
Germans are prospering, more than ever before if one believes the statistics and the appearance. The streets are clogged with brand new limousines glittering in chrome. Computers, videos, DVDs and mobile phones are in nearly every household. One or two foreign trips every year seem normal. Lifestyle magazines offer prospects whose prices make normal wage-earners’ heads spin.
Germans are suffering. The unemployment figures stagnate in double-digits in the east, on the coast and in the Ruhr area. Children and youths are the largest group among receivers of income support. Over a million children in Germany live at the subsistence level. Teachers and social workers discover that more and more children do not have regular meals at home. Recycled-clothing shops and soup kitchens have boom seasons while more and more shops are vacant in the downtown areas. Hundreds of thousands including young people have more debts than they can repay from their income.
The current social reforms of the German government intensify these contradictions. They only seem just on the surface. It makes a difference whether a pensioner with 500 Euro per month as a chronically sick person must spend 1% of his/her annual income on co-payments or while the same percentage is demanded from a top employee with 5000 Euro. For the pensioner, this may mean that the monthly taxi ride to the grandparents must be cancelled. Perhaps the wealthier one will have to look for a less expensive model in his next car purchase. Even childcare distribution benefits the higher-income persons. The communes measure the contributions for kindergartens according to the income of the parents. Whoever earns much also pays much. However an employed person can often deduct these costs from taxes. Persons with low or no income do not have this possibility. Whoever earns a good amount can also claim the costs of household help for tax purposes – assuming they exceed a fixed minimum amount. In contrast, the finance minister seeks to criminalize average wage-earners who employ their cleaning ladies off the books three hours a week.
Sickness becomes a poker game. “Can I treat the cough for a few days so I don’t have to see the doctor the next quarter. Everyone must pay for many services that were paid by health insurance schemes in the past – from homeopathic medicine to glasses. The poor are affected more intensely since opticians and dentists do not calculate their fees according to their clients’ income.
This tendency is called privatization. Privatization also occurs in social services, not only with the railway and the postal service, energy supply and the waste industry. The communes and labor agencies are urged to publically eliminate social projects and give contracts to the least expensive providers. Outsourcing replaces overall social responsibility. “Personal responsibility” and private care replace solidarity of the economically strong with the weaker. The higher standard of social policy is relieving work income from social expenditures. Thus the businesses are mainly relieved from future social projects. Those prospering can provide for themselves anyway. On the other hand, everyone who doesn’t have anything left at the end of the month is burdened.
When one speaks with people in stable working conditions about the current social cuts, one often discovers that some have no idea about the conditions of the poor in Germany and the fears of his unemployed colleagues over the merger of unemployment assistance and income support. The myth of respectable income support garnished again and again in a media-effective way with stories of “laziness and parasitism” hides the miserable reality that income support does not make possible a life in dignity and social participation for different social groups. The life-worlds of the “established” and the “excluded”, the “ins” and “outs” are deeply divided. The SPD (Socialist party in Germany) has simply crossed off marginalized people in the general striving for the “new middle”.
A view of the person underlying the reforms should be opposed by the peace movement with all our possibilities: the person as an isolated being competing unscrupulously with other persons for better living conditions in a state that sees its function more in an establishment of peace from above through pressure and power than in solidarian equalization of unjust conditions. What political and world-views should guide us in envisioning a solidarian and peaceful society? Justice and peace are inseparable Siamese twins both on the local and global levels. Therefore peace groups should be engaged for jobs and against social cuts.
What are involved here are our own best interests, not abstract political debates. It cannot be indifferent to us when fellow activists in the peace movement not only find no serious jobs for years but are now publically harassed. We must be concerned when the engaged female student can no longer attend our meetings because her tuition fees would become oppressive if she studies too “slowly”. We are directly affected when the people who financially promote peace work must save their money for the dentist or for glasses.
Lastly we know where the funds for greater social spending can be found. How many kindergarten places equal one Euro-fighter?
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