German workers are on strike, their demands seem ambitious, but we live in an age of automation, maybe it is time we saw more of the fruits of technology trickle down.
German unemployment stands at just 3.6 per cent. That is extraordinarily low. In the UK, unemployment is at 4.2 per cent and that represents the lowest level since the early years of the 1970s.
In the UK, however, despite unemployment standing so low, wages are rising at a snail’s pace, real wages are falling, and the so-called gig economy seems more pervasive than ever. Not that the gig economy is necessarily negative for employees, but it does rather erode worker’s rights.
It is not supposed to be like this. The brilliant economist John Maynard Keynes once envisioned a future, circa 2030, when we enjoy a kind of utopia. In an article entitled: Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren, He said: “When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”
If you were to watch the 1950s cartoon the Jetsons, you could be forgiven for assuming in the early years of the 21st century the skies would be littered with flying cars – a hard days work might involve two or three hours of toil. In one episode, George Jetson comes home from work shattered, bemoaning his tyrannical boss Mr Spacely. “Yesterday, I worked a full two hours,” he laments, to which his wife Jane replies “Well, what does Spacely think he is running, a sweatshop?”
Yet it hasn’t really worked out like that.
If anything, we seem to be required to work harder than ever.
But in Germany, a new battle is being waged between unions and management.
15,000 workers, members of the IG Metall Union, are striking. But the union’s full membership is 15 million, making it a tad powerful.
Their demands are for a six per cent pay rise, so far so very 1970s. But they also want to see workers provided with the option of working a 28 hour week, to take care of kids, elderly relatives, or simply because they want to, and for a period of two years, and then return to the previous working hours.
That’s quite the demand.
So are German workers simply fighting for the kind of world envisioned by Keynes, and forecast in the Jetsons, or are they being just plain unreasonable?