Labor unions have long been a force of good for organizing in the interests of the working class. The German union IG Metall has recently won the benefits of both higher pay and a shorter job week, which is a reminder to me of a valuable concept: The gains from technology can be used to reduce the number of hours employees have to spend at their jobs while retaining similar incomes for them. The progress from a lot of technological advancements can be shared with the general population — the upper echelon of the income scale doesn’t have to be the primary beneficiaries of it.
Also, the German codetermination laws (which provide some institutional role for workers to be involved in selecting representatives for a supervisory board of directors) have a decently good effect on ameliorating the tension between employers and employees inherent in state capitalism. Those laws are another beneficial support for German employees, but I still consider democratic worker cooperatives – where the employees together are made the collective employer – to be a superior approach for improving the well-being of workers generally.
Industrial workers in south-western Germany have won the right to reduced working hours as part of a deal that could benefit millions of employees across the country.
Workers will be able to reduce their weekly hours from 35 to 28 for up to two years to look after their families.
The deal covers almost one million workers in Baden-Württemberg state and also gives them a pay rise.
It could be extended to the 3.9 million workers in Germany’s industrial sector.
What has been agreed?
A reduced working week to care for children, the elderly or sick relatives was a key demand by IG Metall, the country’s biggest trade union representing metal and engineering workers.
But their demand that those workers were still paid the same even if they reduced their hours was rejected in their negotiations with the employers’ federation, Südwestmetall.
In return, the companies will have the possibility to increase to up to 40 hours the week of those willing to work more.
The employees will also be given a 4.3% pay rise from April, against their demand of a 6% increase. The pay deal stretches over 27 months and also sees additional one-off payments.
The agreement could be used as an example for other sectors, such as construction, telecommunications and chemical industries, where workers have also demanded more flexible working hours.