40,000 jobless Germans protest, inspired by French unemployed FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 10 Feb 1998 05:53:31 -0800 (PST)


http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe/globehtml/037/40_000_jobless_Germans_protest.ht
m

40,000 JOBLESS GERMANS PROTEST

Kohl ouster urged at rallies in Berlin

By Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe Staff, 02/06/98

BERLIN - As Germany's unemployment figures hit a new postwar high of 12.6
percent yesterday, thousands of protesters took to the streets across the
country, vowing to demonstrate until the government creates more jobs.

Aware of the protests, Chancellor Helmut Kohl introduced an emergency
job-creation package in the German parliament. But this measure, aimed at
moving the long-term unemployed to work in community service jobs such as
street-cleaning, was swiftly dismissed as ineffective by his political
opposition.

Germany's mounting unemployment - with the social unrest it is causing -
has emerged as the dominant theme leading up to the national elections in
September in which Kohl is seeking an unprecedented fifth term as
Chancellor.

About 4.8 million people are now without jobs, according to the German
Federal Labor Office. And in the east, unemployment is far higher - over 21
percent.

Yesterday's demonstrations, which took place in 200 cities, drew about
40,000 people, according to German television. But they nonetheless did not
augur well for Kohl, as demonstrators plan to keep unemployment in the news
with regular protests until the elections.

''This is only the beginning,'' promised 57 year-old Ingrid Hannemann,
waving a stick with a cabbage attached to it. The German word for cabbage
is kohl.

And many of those demonstrating in Berlin yesterday called for Kohl's
ouster this fall. Germans, who remember all too well how double-digit
unemployment in the 1930s ushered in the Third Reich, are increasingly
concerned about Kohl's inability to restructure the economy and bring the
joblessness down.

''We had this once before, when they voted for Hitler,'' said 53 year-old
Felix Bertram, an unemployed hotel and restaurant manager. ''It can't go on
like this.''

Yesterday's protests were notable for their spontaneity if not their size.
In a country where demonstration are carefully planned - and approved by
the authorities - in advance, these protests were swiftly organized by
unemployed workers inspired by recent demonstrations in neighboring France.

Such a display of initiative in a country that encourages conformity
indicates the desperate mood of the times. ''People are more willing to
protest now,'' said Uwe Kantelhardt, of the Coordination Center of
Independent Unemployment Groups. ''The situation is more severe.''

German politicians have been unable to solve the country's rising
unemployment, spurred in part by global economics, the fall of the Berlin
Wall, and the ensuing unification.

The country's social welfare system used to work well. Companies paid high
wages and consented to rigid work rules so that workers could pay the high
taxes demanded by the German government for generous health and
unemployment benefits, among other things.

But the collapse of the Wall brought with it a cheap labor market for
German companies. Many opened factories in neighboring Poland with the
knowledge that workers there would not demand the benefits Germans do,
which include six weeks of vacation a year. German unemployment benefits
are also generous: initial average payments reach $900 a month.

At the same time, Germany's unification cost taxpayers more than $600
billion. And Germany must now cut its public spending below 3 percent of
its gross domestic product to qualify for membership in 1999 in the
European monetary union.

But workers say a solution has to be found. ''Something has to happen, jobs
have to be created,'' said Burckhard Schwerdt, 36, unemployed for nearly a
year. ''We will take more severe action if the government doesn't respond
to this demonstration.''

[This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 02/06/98.]

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