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“Social peace is certainly not threatened by a day’s warning strike”
© Source: IMAGO/Willi Schewski
Mr. Suess, many people, especially in the comment columns on social media, have no understanding for the strikes. Instead, many vent their anger and frustration there. Is there really little solidarity with the strikers?
I’m not sure if that’s true. A large part of the population shares the goals of the public sector strikes. This is also shown by the latest surveys: According to the ZDF political barometer, 77% of those questioned understood the strikes of the past few weeks. Of course, when the train doesn’t run, it annoys everyone. But these arguments are about much more – and many people understand that.
Nevertheless, not everyone understands the strikes.
Yes, the personal impact is much greater when daycare centers or hospitals are on strike. If there is a strike in a mechanical engineering or steel company, it does not have such a big impact on individuals.
Do you think the strikes are justified?
Exactly the groups of employees that we classified as systemically important during the pandemic and that we particularly appreciated morally are now on strike – again and again with reference to appropriate pay. The strike is not about radical redistribution, but about an attempt to compensate for inflation.
Dietmar Süss is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Augsburg. He has researched labor disputes over the past century, the development of trade unions and solidarity among workers.
© Source: Klaus Satzinger-Viel, University of Augsburg photo office
However, inflation is also hitting other sectors where unions have not called for strikes. Couldn’t the strikes cause resentment and even pose a threat to social cohesion in the country?
I don’t see this danger at all. I think that’s how employers talk. Social peace is only created when employees have the right to take to the streets to make their demands. Social peace in the Federal Republic is threatened by many things, but certainly not by a day’s warning strike by the trade unions. Especially since labor disputes in the Federal Republic are contained and regulated compared to other European countries.
How important is public opinion in such a wage conflict?
The struggle for public opinion has always been an important part of the conflict in collective bargaining disputes: industrial disputes are usually presented by employers as exaggerated, illegitimate demands – trade unions do public relations work to promote the goals of strikes. This is not unusual and is part of a democracy.
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As a historian, you have also examined past labor disputes in the Federal Republic. Is the description of the announced warning strike as a “mega strike” justified at all?
The announced warning strike is an unpleasant, widespread event that we will all feel. But I can imagine a completely different concept of a “mega strike”: During major strikes in the 1970s and early 1990s, the public sector went on strike for several days. The Federal Republic is a long way from unlimited general strikes in the public sector, a real “mega strike” or even violent strikes, which we know from other countries like France.
Does a strike only benefit the strikers?
No, very important goals of socio-political and labor law improvements in Europe, but also in Germany, can be traced back to the policy of strikes and labor disputes. In the end, many more people than just union members benefited from these struggles.
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© Source: dpa
Can you give specific examples?
Co-determination in companies through works councils has been hard fought for by trade unions or the equalization of workers and employees. These are results of labor conflicts that now apply to many people.
Unions have fewer and fewer members these days. Is solidarity among workers declining?
As alliances organized in a spirit of solidarity, the trade unions really have to struggle to win members and mobilize them again and again. At the same time, the concept of solidarity is full of contradictions – there is no all-encompassing solidarity. The solidarity that is reflected in our social system in the Federal Republic has not lost any of its persuasive power. That’s why I’m reluctant to say a farewell to solidarity.