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Commentary :: Labor
The Battle for Jobs
26 May 2015
Everyone could work less instead of terminating people. Ways could be organized through shared activity for using the gained freedom in services of everyday life... Breaking with the disastrous logic of competition and money is in the interest of the life, peace and happiness of people today.

By Lorenz Glatz

[This article published on April 30, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,]


The imminent plant closure of the tire manufacturer Semperit was announced in December 2014. Semperit is a continental German company. Once a showpiece of Austrian industry, the firm fell into red numbers in the 1980s and was “taken over” by its larger German rival with a subsidy considerably above the purchase price. This was a common practice at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties in many nationalized banks and enterprises. Privatization and internationalization make Austria “Europe-fit” and ready for the EU connection.

The continental company Semperit shriveled more and more. In 1995 the personnel were cut in half and accepted substantial wage- and salary cuts for the firm’s survival. Now the firm will “take away 5 million tires from the market” to stay competitive (Der Standard).

While politicians in the eighties spoke out on dismissals and plant closings, Austrian chancellor Uranitzky was rebuffed by the firm’s board of directors like an annoying petitioner. From the works’ council, there were threats that workers would prevent the transfer of the machines to the cheaper East by laying down their bodies. Today no one expects anything significant from the politicians. In the workforce, “powerlessness, anger and future fears” dominate. Many depend on credits; many fear they will not find work anymore. “We want work” was the slogan that greeted company-representatives and confronted politicians (Der Standard 12/12/01).


This slogan is not a peculiarity of the Semperiters. Rather it is the central thread that unites most people since labor power is harder and harder to sell on the markets. The slogan reflects the fact that after a few hundred years of capitalism the lives of most of us force us to have money and gain money only through work – any work, work matters most. For some, the substance of work becomes increasingly irrelevant. Whether and how work is good, whether it isn’t superfluous or is dangerous or deadly has hardly mattered for a very long time and often can’t be estimated for workers in the isolated case. In working life and in economic interactions generally, no one is responsible when this drives more and more people into aggression or depression and results in all possible forms of sickness and mishaps, even when this economic mode destroys the living space and foundations of life of humanity. At best black sheep are emphasized when a food scandal erupts in unsightly regularity or tragic failures when someone runs amok. In the economy, people must make money – whether as wages and salaries or as profit and dividends. The states can organize or mitigate less and less, the more they fall under the “dictate of the markets.”

The “standpoint of labor” was once the standpoint of people who wanted to be liberated from their oppression. Today the large majority take this standpoint on a wide-ranging palette from left to right with different accents and different radicalism. Work is stressed without any concrete definition. Only that work brings money is important. Whether bread is made or people wait for interceptors – “secure the jobs!” – “fight for jobs!” are more than ever standing matters of politicians and unionists of every shade and color. Businesspersons and company representatives speak this way and are n ot always cynical. Even if saving as much work as possible is their challenge, they are also aware that after rationalization profits depend on how many workers they attract.


The world is not in order when work is seen in such a dangerously narrow-minded and abstract way. The technological innovations of computerization over years have made more work superfluous than can be created through growth.

People cannot really ward off the question about the benefits or harm of many old products and the great flood of new products. They can only press the still solvent public with gigantic marketing expense (20% of all the work performed by us!). The squandering of human life time and natural resources is a scandal while there is no time for many things that would really be good for many like healthy food, education, culture and nursing. The computer boom and cell-phone hysteria, Internet and the “experiential world” have not changed the fact that profit-production “ends work.”

Inventing and spreading more and more “personal services” that are increasingly precarious is not a way out. In most cases, this only means persons who don’t need to be exploited any more must serve money to survive (no life without money!). Money is distributed increasingly unequally.

Opening the infrastructure that was traditionally organized or at least closely regulated by the state for competition and profitable investments is obviously not a remedy for the lack in profitable investment possibilities. The consequences of profit-maximization quickly destroy business. Untrustworthy communication institutions, ruined streets, lower water quality, collapsing electricity plants, colliding trains and exploding airplanes show very quickly how the logic leads directly into catastrophe.


The “social cushioning” of dismissals and “securing” the jobs that are left are often given as union “success” or “goals” in this situation. At the same time it is increasingly clear with this ”crisis of work” that unions and works councils in the “battle over jobs” must defend their own clientele at the expense of others. There are also losers in every “victory”: colleagues of other “locations,” “foreigners” or perhaps persons in the neighboring division. In such a world, customs guards, police and even the army chase the “losers” who crave “our jobs” from the bankrupt countries at border-crossing points.

For some, a short-lived success can be realized occasionally at the expense of others and the future. What will come of all this? An increasingly mad competition on the labor markets, unbearable stress with all the participants, a swelling stream of “economic refugees,” impoverishment, isolation and humiliation – a psycho-social situation in which “incapacity,” “betrayal of one’s representatives,” dark intrigues of “greedy capitalists” or the “Jewish world conspiracy” spread as explanations of the misery in which foreigners become enemies and the disaster of individuals changes suddenly into a new racist, nationalist or religiously motivated “we” which like the circumstances it creates is lived out in moaning, chasing and ultimately pograms, genocide and war.

This development that intensifies after the deflating of the “development”- and “progress”-promise reached Europe again since the 1990s and wasn’t only “far behind in Turkey.” In the antagonisms of a globalizing capitalism, this development thanks to its blind automatism leads to a world spiral of terror and retribution whose beginning we now experience.


Breaking with the disastrous logic of competition and money is in the interest of the life, peace and happiness of people today. The return of the (supposedly) better times of stormy growth and full employment is an illusion. If it weren’t an illusion, it would be a tremendous acceleration of the ecological catastrophe.

Concrete developments give us the alternative: either persons and regions are “spit out” into social marginalization without changing anything in the pressure of the raced for money so conditions dramatically worsen or we begin withdrawing a few parts of life through cooperation from the exploitation- and money pressure.

For example, it is not a natural law that unionists and works councils always appear as contestants of competition on the labor markets. Why shouldn’t a workforce take action against dismissal plans – in favorable circumstances and with adequate size? Everyone could work less instead of terminating people. Ways could be organized through shared activity for using the gained freedom in services of everyday life (like child care, thrifty shopping, repairs, ride sharing etc). Why doesn’t a debate arise in one or another union how such initiatives – with the means of one’s infrastructure – could be realized in reliable un-bureaucratic ways with more people participating in the projects without much money and without the pressure of having to force others off the road on some markets?

Why should youths and the unemployed who all too often chase after the mirage of a job chance or are forced aside in the hopeless pseudo-independence of a murderous competition not fall to community solutions and use the scandal of fallow investments and empty spaces and halls for actions so they could be at least partly used for their necessities of life?

There are certainly many starting points for a community’s “exit” from the pressures of competition and money-making. Activities and things that really enrich life and activities that are only a weak to suicidal substitute satisfaction for stolen life time and mental mutilation first become visible in an exit.

All the attempts assume trust deeply engrained in brains, a thought-pattern that has become unrealistic, and the will to make experiments. Nothing happens without consciousness, reflection, articulation and breach with consumerist- and commodity thinking. The logic of conditions and the power of custom only lead again and again back to the malaise.

Finding and testing such approaches must be promoted so the hopelessness of capitalist development is made a public theme and isn’t eclipsed by the dominant glossing over the facts like the “creating’ and “securing” of jobs.

Thanks to today’s means of communication, mutual dialogue, exchange of experience, collaboration and mutual support between projects and experiments are possible over great distances. They are also important for survival in view of the oppressive and all-too-often aggressive superior strength of “normality.” In this way, the “battle for jobs” will not degenerate to a battle for sheer survival with murder and homicide everywhere.


Joseph Stiglitz, “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy,” May 2015, Roosevelt Institute, 115 pp
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