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Full Employment as a Grand Delusion

by Iris Gleicke Saturday, Feb. 03, 2007 at 1:39 PM

The third labor market isnot a panacea. However it is the only possibility for bringing a large number of persons into meaningful employment..Whoever wants to stop right-wing extremists must take the bottom out of their arguments and expand the labor market


The East German SPD Bundestag delegate Iris Gleicke urges her party to abandon the grand delusion. Full employment is not possible anymore

By Iris Gleicke

[Under the title “Time Presses – Germany Needs a Third Labor Market,” the East German social democrat formulates her theses in 15 points. Her position paper published in Spiegel, December 29, 2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,,1518,druck-457022,00.html]

1. Social democratic reform policy has always been oriented in the model of the emancipation of the working population and the just participation of everybody. Up to today the labor market reforms marked by traditional social policy aimed at binding those who either lost their job or found no training or employment for the most different reasons into the regular work process.

2. After the collapse of industrial structures in East Germany, the classical instruments of the second labor market originally conceived to bridge temporary unemployment like the job-creation-schemes usually led to new unemployment after the second year, not to new employment paying into social security. At the same time “retraining careers” arose – first in East Germany – at whose end often stood and stands unemployment. Still today the impacted face the completely grotesque situation of being trained for non-existent jobs.

3. The transformation of the German alliance for work and the Hartz reforms was and is joined with an enormous misunderstanding. These reforms were reactions to the distresses of the welfare state. They aimed at optimizing work placement and bringing back those who fell unnoticed in income support. The Hartz reforms aren’t a “grand delusion.” Rather the principle of “promoting and demanding” is right because the idea of just participation is based on the fundamental insight that individuals should secure their existence with their own effort.

4. The idea that full employment can be brought about by lowering non-wage labor costs, relieving businesses, by creating so-called favorable conditions for a self-supporting upswing, and retraining employees has proven to be a grand delusion. This idea was long defended by social democrats. Today we must soberly admit the desired goal was not reached despite all partial successes and cannot be reached in the long run. That is a bitter discovery. It must be openly confessed. New effective ways must be tested and implemented.

5. The belief that all willing persons can gain a place on the regular, so-called first labor market, has proven to be a mirage that moves further and further away the more desperately one pants after it. Those who cherish this illusion brand unemployed persons as too dumb, too uneducated or simply too lazy to find work. Those who in truth are victims of the continuing rationalization process of the market economy are made culpable. They have failed, not the system, they are told.

6. Coping with the rationalization process and the globalization forcing that process with moral judgments is an absurd project. The capitalist mode of production is neither good nor evil but a rational and very efficient organization of the economy. This mode is successful in producing increasingly top-flight goods affordable for everyone. Thus society is assured of broadly distributed prosperity on a high level.

7. If a large number of people in Germany remain excluded in the long run from this prosperity and from social participation, this is a flagrant injustice that must firstly be identified as an injustice and secondly not tolerated.

8. Recently, the programmatic debate in the SPD concentrated on the “empowering” welfare state. In contrast to the traditional welfare state, this state should empower individuals to provide for themselves. This should be supported since the independent capacity for securing material and intellectual needs enables persons for real autonomy and freedom.

9. While this debate is necessary, it is not enough to bring about adequate education possibilities and reclaim a greater transparency of society. Those at the bottom are not reached. In the so-called lower class that can be identified by “precariousness,” these debates are seen as murmuring that has nothing to do with their life reality. Here persons excluded from genuine participation depend on the empowering welfare state because of the lack of genuine alternatives.

10. One of these alternatives is the creation of a nationwide third labor market. Viable permanent models offering extensive opportunities must be developed. The nation, territories and communities are obligated like the German alliance for work. Real possibilities, not only theoretical possibilities, must be opened to persons willing to work to improve their situation through their own toil. There are already models in the non-profit sector like the Leipzig local transportation project and helping the unemployed. These projects aim at leading persons through temporally limited measures to the first labor market. Where this proves unrealizable, the impacted must find conditions of labor law on the third labor market comparable to those on the so-called first labor market. Only work that doesn’t stand under the threatening guillotine of permanent time limits offers perspective and fulfillment. The third labor market may not be designed as a 3rd class labor market.

11. This idea is in no way new. However its conversion was blocked by a whole array of obstacles. The arguments are well known. Businesses would be disadvantaged and regular jobs endangered by such a third labor market since the care of green spaces by the unemployed would endanger local gardening businesses. That this work is simply not done because the communities as a rule lack funds apparently does not interest anyone. The result is a full-blown scandal. The time has come to get excited about this scandal and end it.

12. That old persons vegetate in completely understaffed senior-citizen homes while there are enough willing persons who could make a meaningful contribution and at least soften this distress on the third labor market is and remains an intolerable scandal. That youth centers cannot hire persons in charge while educators sit unemployed at home and wait for a call from the employment office that never comes is an understandable absurdity. The list of examples for urgently necessary work that cannot be done despite a host of unemployed standing outside all day long could be easily extended. Alongside this million fold degradation of people, we no longer make the effort to face the dramatic social costs.

13. The third labor market is not a panacea or cure-all. However it is the only possibility for bringing a large number of persons into meaningful employment restoring their dignity. This distinguishes it from the profoundly reactionary idea of alms disguised as “citizen money” and distributed with great generous gestures that permanently excludes the “beneficiaries” from just participation.

14. LaSalle once said, the most revolutionary act is to loudly say what is. The dream of a classical full employment as a basis of a universal well being within reach for everyone was nice while it lasted. No party, no union and no willing employer will be able to change this in the foreseeable future. Bidding farewell to this dangerous illusion is vital because it undermines the credibility of social democratic politics and the heart of our democratic social order. Declining voter turnout and weariness with political parties are the heralds of a frightening threat. For a long time, Nazis and Neo-Nazis have exploited the psychosocial consequences of mass unemployment. Their arguments gain their strength from unquestioned slogans and from the real fear of falling completely into hopelessness and resignation given a hermetically sealed labor market. Whoever wants to stop rightwing extremists must take the bottom out of their arguments and expand the labor market with a third nationwide sector.

15. Let us say what we are and do what we say. Social democrats will be rightly judged by this claim. We stand for equal opportunities and just participation. We will never accept a permanent social top and bottom. That must be clear in our programs and our conduct, our thoughts and our acts. The time presses!

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