The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Poverty Wages ... in One of the World’s Richest Countries

Feb 6, 2012

The media regularly goes into raptures about what they call the “German miracle.” Germany’s Gross Domestic Product seems to have grown by 3% last year, and once again unemployment is down. So, despite the crisis, all is well in the most powerful capitalist country in Europe.

All is well, in fact, for the profits of the German bosses, but it’s not the same for those who produce them. German workers absolutely don’t profit from this fine economic health. Several recent studies have shown that one in five German workers has very low wages, less than 10 euros ($13) an hour. In Germany, where prices are higher, that buys about a sixth less than it would in the U.S.

There is no minimum wage covering all jobs in Germany. Some industries, like construction and cleaning services, have minimum wages. But the downside is that a laid-off worker must accept any job, even in industries outside their own, and even if the pay is worse. So a number of workers must take two or three low-paid jobs to cope with the cost of living.

Today one third of workers in the western part of Germany and one half of workers in the eastern part work in businesses not covered by union contracts. As a result, their wages are often 30% lower than those covered by a union contract.

But even those covered by contracts aren’t assured of having decent incomes. A newly-hired worker in a confectionary shop in Bavaria gets 5.25 euros ($6.77) an hour. Butchers in Saxony and hairdressers in Schleswig-Holstein get 6 euros ($7.74). And in many occupations the wage is below 8 euros ($10.30), for example, in airport security, call centers, cleaning, farm work, etc. Moreover, in the eastern part of Germany, more than 20 years after the two parts were reunited, wages are a lot lower than in the west, in the private as well as the public sector.

When German bosses hire temporary workers, they don’t pay them what the job normally pays. After years of discussion, the German government has finally decided that temps will get wages of 7.89 euros ($10.18) in the west and 7.01 euros ($9.04) in the east.

And the bosses, believing they can get away with anything, have truly disgusting attitudes. For example, eight construction workers of Polish origin, working in Essen, fought for two months against their employer who didn’t want to pay them the promised rate. The boss wanted to pay them 64¢ an hour. Only their determination allowed them to finally win better wages.

A similar determined fight is necessary if German workers are going to prevent more workers from plunging into poverty.