Responses to Neo-Liberalism
Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd
Chapter 9: German Unions Facing Neo-liberalism: Between Resistance and Accommodation
Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten INTRODUCTION In the autumn of 2010, only two years after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers ushered in the financial crisis, it seems the German economy was in the process of recovery: exports were taking off again and officially registered unemployment was about to reach its lowest level since the early 1990s. But the balance sheet for the unions has not been so healthy. They realise that, while government and employers in late 2008 were receptive to involving them in corporatist crisis management, their more far-reaching goals were dismissed. From the viewpoint of the German unions, the crisis has confirmed the failure of neo-liberal policies. As the president of the Confederation of German Unions (DGB) pointed out at its 2010 congress, ‘Neo-liberalism, deregulation and privatisation were enormous errors. They have led the economy and society down a blind alley’. Consequently, he called for a ‘new order’ to create a society that was characterised by ‘understanding, fairness, solidarity and with good jobs for everyone’ (Sommer 2010, our translation). The character and contours of such a ‘new order’, however, are far from clear. During the past three decades, unions in Germany have mainly focused on defending the principles of ‘Rhenish capitalism’ (Albert 1993), a model which has its roots in the post-war development in western Germany. The German union movement, which emerged in the post-war years, is largely dominated by one large confederation, the DGB, and its comparatively few affiliated unions. Their point of reference has been a...
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