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Commentary :: Labor
Generation Written Off
21 Oct 2011
Masses of young people are no longer reserved about a social system that writes them off and denies them work and existential security. "Prosperity for all" is no longer a promise of the dominant economy. "The left is right" means the global finance-driven market in its "neoliberal" state proves to be as brutal as the anti-capitalists have always described it.

By Arno Klonne

[This article published in: Ossietzky 20/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Ascribing a characteristic feature to the up-and-coming generation was a popular game in the entertainment pages up to "Generation Gulf Two." Stubborn optimists now forget the fun in that. Youth unemployment has spread in almost all European countries like a biblical plague. The official numbers that are often embellished do not allow an easygoing discussion of this theme. In the average of European Union countries, more than 20 percent of youth seeking work are without a chance of being employed. In Spain, praised until recently for its "modern" economic policy, half of the young generation are jobless. The legend beloved by politicians that training deficits are the main cause for exclusion of youth from the world of work is not disseminated any more by serious social research. According to the trend, unemployment strikes the well-educated upcoming generation more and more. Unemployment is not a short-term, business cycle problem. Most youth who are now without a job will fall into long-term unemployment.

Germany (like Austria and the Netherlands) is in a comparatively favorable position. This is connected with its dominant position on the world market and with social-political achievements realized through union pressure: apprenticeship for young persons in enterprises and promotion of the so-called "second labor market" with public funds. But these advantages are now being quickly removed through "flexibilization" of the labor market, withdrawal of funds from the Federal Labor Office and legislative measures that have nice-sounding names like "Law for increasing efficiency of labor market instruments." Unfortunately Germany in the future will approach the overall European state of youth unemployment. What are the alternatives? Cancelling the general replacement of human labor by technology and creating masses of new work needs are neither expected nor desired. Even with further expansion, the communication industry will not be a jobs miracle. More jobs are urgently needed in the social services but jobs are also "rationalized" there, working hours extended and payroll costs lowered. Whoever wants to do something against unemployment becoming the permanent fate of a large part of the upcoming generation cannot avoid the insight: radical reduced working hours is imperative. This must be nationwide and binding to avoid "filthy competition" among businesses and fear among employees.

Not without reason, the early workers' movement demanded introduction of the eight-hour workday "guaranteed legally and internationally." Guaranteeing the twenty-eight hour work week in the countries of the European Union by the people as the lawgiver - as a goal of the unions - would be a signal to the rebelling "generation given the slip."


By Arno Klonne

[This article published in: Ossietzky 20/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet.]

On Sunday, Frank Schirrmacher delivered a gloomy message to his FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung newspaper) public: "I am beginning to think the left is right." A prominent British journalist, conservative to the bone and Margaret Thatcher's official biographer, Schirrmacher declares in the subtitle: "Doubt increases in the middle class camp whether their whole life was led rightly."

It is not only the rioting in English cities that brings intellectual representatives of the "middle class camp" to question their free enterprise certainty of faith. Outrage breaks out everywhere - even in countries that seem orderly n a capitalist-parliamentary way and not only in despotically-ruled societies with a catch-up need in economic development. Who knows whether the very successful German export nation will keep its place in the sun in the long run? Unrest in Germany cannot be excluded for all time. Unrest is threatening even to the co-editor of a newspaper that flourished on the strength of its financial pages.

The wave of social protest reaching more and more states is multifarious and everything other than obvious in its political conditions and themes. However it has a clearly recognizable driving force: the rage of masses of young people who are no longer reserved about a social system that writes them off and denies them work and existential security. "Prosperity for all" (Ludwig Erhard) is no longer a promise of the dominant economy. "The left is right" means: In its "neoliberal" state, the global, finance-driven "market" proves to be as brutal as the anti-capitalists have always described it.

What should be done now? Outrage breaks down when it doesn't develop any ideas about how society can be organized differently, what are the next steps and how the social pecking order can be changed. It cannot be satisfied with only questions to "the left" and with "being right in the end." "The left" (Die Linke) will not gain answers to these questions from Frank Schirrmacher. He hopes solutions will be devised in the "middle class camp" that wil make the seams of the capitalist economy stable again. He wants a Ludwig Erhard so the FAZ can announce: "The left was wrong."


By Stephan Hebel

[This article published by Frankfurter Rundschau 10/11/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Nearly everything that politics does in the financial crisis consists of hectic reactions to the next threatening catastrophe that "the markets" give us. Asking about political ideas while politicians rush from trouble-spot to trouble-spot may have an illusory effect but is necessary.

How long can this go on? Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy stood before the press and proclaimed the results of their crisis discussions: debt brakes and economic government. Those were the keywords. A tax on financial transactions was also urged.

That was the middle of August. On a Sunday evening, they stood there and this time spoke of the recapitalization of the banks. By the beginning of November, Europe's banks must be stabilized.

What became of the financial transactions tax between these two dates? What has become of the debt brake, the economic government and the European coordination of all these projects? This is hard to say because they were not stressed any more.

Our governments are not rotten. They are not liable. They even work very hard on bailout-umbrellas for Greece, stabilization mechanisms and the bailout of the banks again today. Almost everything they do consists of frantic reactions to the next threatening catastrophe that "the markets" give us. Our governments have become "crisis reaction forces," a term used in the military. "The markets" dictate the speed of their action - a breakneck speed. What the governments do has little to do with politics - if politics is understood as the formation of social and economic conditions in the sense of public welfare or common good.

Conditions do not seem to allow any time for such a great demand. Computers trade with stocks and in a matter of seconds either produce profits for their owners or turbulences for everyone. While Europe sleeps a few seconds, rating agencies downgrade whole countries and upgrade the interests paid by states with the money of their people. The world of automated speculation on everything has led to an unparalleled de-acceleration. At the same speed, the crumbling financial capitalism forces ever new reactions of politics.

The governing can be praised for always being equal to the challenges in the past and managing the crisis halfway successfully. But whoever is satisfied with that also accepts the defeat of politics altogether.

This defeat cannot continue. Europe's societies have to reconquer creative political possibilities. This is not only a challenge of principle. Politics' role as promoter and then the repair operation of the markets lead directly to the destabilization of these societies. The need for politics is not abstract. Our pensions are caught in the treadmills of the markets. For decades, consolidation has meant nothing but state- and social cuts. The exhaustion of many people who lose power in the hamster wheel corresponds to the burn-out of politics.

Is it illusory to ask about political ideas and visions while politicians hurry from trouble-spot to trouble-spot? This may have an illusory effect but is necessary. As the burn-out patient in his foreign-determined haste loses relation to himself - to his/her desires and abilities - so politics loses relation to its goals.

Many politicians are responsible, not only "the markets." They promoted the dominance of the economic through ideologically-driven deregulation. They also adjusted their own conduct to the rules and speed of the economy. In the intoxication of speed, they often lost the sense of measure. To give only one example, they no longer ask whether four or five billion are rightly invested in a train station so the hurried customer saves a few minutes of running time and the real estate market gains urban space.

What should the Europe of the future look like? No one demands a final answer. Still Merkel, Sarkozy and many others see this reflection as necessary. They may now have a few political ideas to which they hearken back. Politics could be made out of the promise to re-regulate the markets. Then they need not tackle the dumb suspicion they fomented themselves of rescuing the lazy Greeks with our fine money.

Instead the rulers of the two most important states are not agreed on what return-favors they should demand from the banks for their next bailout. Truly, we witness a burn-out of politics.


Ferry, Jon: "Occupiers shouldn't blame the rich or Boomers," The Province, October 18, 2011
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