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Work is vegetation

“The authoritarian conscience essentially boils down to the willingness to obey the orders of authority persons to whom one submits. It is glorified obedience. The humanist conscience is the willingness to listen to the voice of one’s humanity and is independent of commands given to us by other people.”

The working class is history – and it doesn’t get any better

The German reporter and author Julia Friedrichs is currently in many media and panels with the book" Working Class " and gives numerous interviews. What could be due to good networks. Or that she has struck a nerve with her subject.

Like Friedrich’s previous books," Working Class " deals with distributive justice in Germany. Which indicates that Friedrichs has a point. If one had to describe the social climate like weather at the moment, it sounds like “uncomfortable with cold rain”. And as always, there are those who sit in the dry, and those with whom it drips through the ceiling.

Work is vegetation

People who superficially have nothing in common

There is, for example, Sait, which cleans the Berlin underground stations. His work is often not pleasant, he has to wipe up vomit, brush away urine laughter, pick up cigarette butts and wake up sleeping people so that he can clean. This is often unpleasant for him, but there is no other way. For the work he has been doing for decades, he gets 10.65 euros per hour. Together with the merit of his wife, the family is just getting through.

Or Alexandra, and Richard, The two musicians have completed their studies very well, Alexandra has a PhD. The house, in which the couple lives with two children, belongs to them, but they live very secluded. This means that it is currently owned by the bank and you have to pay the installments. At first glance, you have nothing in common with sait.

Work is vegetation

“Our lives are determined by a great feeling of insecurity”

Alexandra and Richard are honorary staff. You are not allowed to work more than 14.67 hours a week for a music school, otherwise you could sue for your job. Their workload is spread over six different music schools, 110 students and six days. For three quarters of an hour for piano or clarinet lessons, you get between 21 and 27 euros. During the holidays or when you are ill, you earn nothing. You have no reserves. “Our lives are determined by a great feeling of insecurity,” says Alexandra.

Friedrichs has talked to you and several others for years. As the title suggests," Working class " deals with the working class. Or not. The term is not only worn out. The classic male malocher, who comes out of the factory dirty and satisfied in the evening and brings home a wage at the end of the month, hardly exists anymore.

But people like Sait, to whom the workers ' description still fits halfway, Alexandra and Richard. They belong to the new “working class”, Friedrichs suggests as a designation. Which is a bit unfortunate, because it means “working class” in German. In Anglo-Saxon usage, the term makes more sense. This means half of all Germans who live without significant reserves of what comes in, even if their lives are very different.

Panic fear of disease

A quarter of an hour after Sait started cleaning the first station at 6:30 a.m., Alexandras and Richard’s daughter got up, and shortly afterwards the second-grader had to go to school. Said is already on the road again. It has 40 minutes per station. He leaves the bums alone, if possible, so that they leave him alone. Sometimes he is afraid. Two people per shift would be safer but are expensive.

Richard and Alexandra do not leave the house until noon to leave their various places of work. The daughter is already home, the son comes an hour later. Their work sometimes lasts until eight, nine o’clock in the evening. Everyday life is strictly clocked, including that of the two children.

Alexandra was already terrified of illness before Corona. “Nothing must happen to anyone,” she says. Then the system that maintains the family with many lists and great discipline would collapse. She tells of a mother who delivered a schoolgirl burning with fever to her “because the lessons are already paid for”.

Like a long report

“Working Class” reads like a long report in parts. Friedrichs repeatedly supplements the narrative with numbers, asks experts, looks for memories in the past, as it was before, that is, in the 1980s. She tries to find out whether the flute teacher of her childhood was also an honorary power. “No,” she learns – from a retiree who has just returned from a cruise. Alexandra and Richard hope that eventually they will have paid off the house. You are expected to work as long as you can.

Only every second person born in 1980 would be able to earn more than their parents, Friedrichs points out. Equal opportunities are paralysed. The story of the 1970s that everyone can achieve and enjoy modest prosperity through work is no longer true. The distribution of wealth in Germany would meanwhile correspond to that of the USA, she learns from the wealth researcher Dr. Markus M. Grabka.

The German society has cracks, diagnosed Friedrich, if not the one, general, wide crack. The cause is small changes over a long period of time, “small cracks in the tissue,” writes Friedrichs. These could lead to a major injury, as with your favorite soccer player, whose Achilles tendon eventually ruptured.

There will be nothing between “lovely jobs” and “lousy jobs” soon

Neither Alexandra nor Richard are members of a trade union. They thought of stepping in when colleagues went on strike, but still cannot identify themselves. As solo self-employed you do not feel represented. Sait became a member in 2010 because he wanted to save holidays in order to have every other year longer free. “The unions are so small, “he says, showing a distance of a few centimetres between the thumb and forefinger,“because people are afraid.”

Friedrichs documented the gesture with statistics. Since the 1980s, the number of trade union members in Germany has halved, with less than half of employers still bound by collective agreements. Since the 1990s, wages have been falling, but rents have been rising and there are more precarious working conditions. There are “lovely jobs” and “lousy jobs”, in between is always less.

What was considered an entry-level job is today a precarious workplace

People like Sait and Alexandra, who have practically nothing in common except statistics, are difficult to bring together. But that alone is not. What used to be considered an “entry-level job”, for example, is now usually an insecure job at a distributor or subcontractor.

Foreign workers, who in the well-paid professions are called “consultants”, in management “Flex Force”, elsewhere “external”, “free” or simply “temporary workers”, have become a business model. For employees there are no common conditions and no common narrative anymore, as a result there is no community and also no rise in the company.

Since Sait is no longer employed by the Berlin transport company BVG, but by an external company, he pays for the ticket with which he travels to work himself. When he hears that the Germans spend an average of 600 euros per month for a child, he falls out of the clouds. “Who earns so much? Drug seller?“he asks. His wish is 12 to 13 Euro hourly wage.

Alexandra and Richard are hesitant to recommend a career as musicians to their son. The 14-year-old Jonas is gifted and has already won several music awards. Alexandra writes to foundations, so that they can afford a second Instrument for him. She thinks about going out to clean in the morning.

The rich are doing fine

Friedrichs also visits the other end of the scale, for example a fund manager who works in a “family office”. “Familiy Offices” are the exclusive elite of financial advisors. They manage the assets of one or more wealthy families and have no accountability obligations like banks. They generate high returns that an average saver does not get.

Many middle and low-income workers, on the other hand, expect old-age poverty. In the 1970s, the relationship between the financial and the real economy was still the same, Friedrichs quotes. In 2000 it was 3: 1, today it has reached 4:1, according to other estimates even 10:1 or 50:1. The rich, it becomes clear, are doing well. Those who are now retired are doing well. Friedrichs talks to a journalist who entered the profession in 1980 and gets more in her old age than her working colleagues.

At this point at the latest, she is usually asked for her opinion on the basic income in conversations. She is a reporter, not a politician, she usually answers. Neither Sait nor Alexandra and Richard would want that, she appreciates. All three do not see themselves as needy and have manageable, feasible wishes.

Work is vegetation

Manageable wishes and more respect

Sait, for example, wants a material cabinet in which he can store his cleaning utensils. Driving from one station to another with the often foul-smelling cleaning bucket is unpleasant for him. He wants to work, not be paid by the state and be a role model for his children. He only wants a little more recognition for his work and a sustainable wage.

Alexandra wants to have the opportunity to be employed as a music teacher, so that an illness does not turn into a disaster and the income is certainly enough for the rates. Not too many years ago this was normal. There are things that hurt her, too. When she is asked what she actually does for a living, it is like when someone in the subway wantonly drops a bottle on the floor, which Sait has just wiped.

Friedrichs talks to sociologists, economists and politicians. “The problem exists,” everyone confirms. Some, also, that it was foreseeable. The wealth gap is falling apart and there is a great generational injustice. The market, so much is visible, has not directed it. Even US President Joe Biden recently admitted that “the trickle-down effect has never worked.” Wolfgang Schmidt, the right-hand man of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz speaks of historical bad luck, globalization, a policy of small steps and “wait and see”.

Society with pre-existing diseases

Friedrich’s focus is primarily on long-term developments, especially the time “before Corona”. The virus pandemic has confirmed what it describes. The lower classes, it is now clear, have paid the most for this pandemic. Not only financially, also with fear, illness, quality of life.

“Covid is particularly dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions,” was heard and read dozens of times last year. This is also true for societies with pre-existing diseases. Wealthy individuals have mostly made manageable losses or gains. Alexandra, Richard, Jonas and Sait are worse off.

The topic of distributive justice has come into focus. Whether it remains there, whether in addition to clapping and quoting studies, there is also an echo in politics, is unclear. “No, it won’t, “Sait said in spring 2020.” One of the saddest findings of my research for me was that he was right, “Friedrichs told “Deutschlandfunk”.