“There is Enough for Everyone: Overcoming Mass Unemployment – Distributing Work in Solidarity”/ A Call beyond the Election

Non-partisan initiative from scholars, unionists and artists for a “new type of full employment” combating mass unemployment

[This article published in: Frankfurter Rundschau online, August 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

It is incredible. More and more people in Europe are jobless. Those with work should be forced to work longer while at the same time other persons are involuntarily unemployed. We oppose this madness with a modern right to work, shorter working hours and a policy of soliarian “fair division” of work and income.

Mass unemployment is a madness with massive social costs and negative consequences for the persons afflicted or threatened by unemployment. Mass unemployment violates human rights and prevents a fair participation of everyhone in social life. The political significance of mass unemployment cannot be overrated. Mass unemployment is the central theme in the concrete capitalist world. Only when mass unemployment is solved can the latent dangers of radical rightwing- and anti-foreigner movements be reduced,

The ruling parties have learned nothing from the experiences of the past and tubbornly promote economic growth. What happens when economic growth is blocked? The expansion of the low-wage sector will only intensify without solving the social problems in Germany. The dominant policymakers are not seriusly occupied with concepts for radical reduction in working hours. It is no wonder that the majority of the population does not expect any reduction of unemployment from policymakers.

Germany in the international comparison is a rich country with great economic and social possibilities. Fewer and fewer persons produce more and more goods in an ever shorter time through increasinlgy efficient technology,. Better training and growing labor intensity. On the other hand, more and more men and women seek paid work to develop and maintain an independent material existence. An enormous gap opens up between the supply of jobs and the number of persons seeking work. Five million persons are jobless in Germany.

This gap cannot be closed with quantitative and even qualitative eocnomic growth. The old labor market policy fixated on economic growth has obviously failed. To reduce today’s unemployment, the economy must grow three, four, five or more percentage points. This growth was possible at a low level after the 2nd World War. Under today’s conditions, it is pure illusion. Whether this economic growth would be environmentally compatible in the long run is more than questionable. Women can no longer be forced back to the stove. Whoever relies only on growth to overcome mass unemployment comes to an ideological cul-de-sac.


Lengthening working hours would be the wrong way. Scarce paid work was concentrated with fewer and fewer persons. At the same time others were excluded from fair participation in work and family-wage incomes. With an extension of weekly working hours from 35 to 40 hours, personal capacity would be increased around 15 percent with one blow without any new workers. Consequently every 7th job wuld be endange4red. Therefore extending working hours is counter-productive in employment policy and produces even more unemployment.

Other reasons also speak against extending working hours. Maintaining our health is an essential part of a good life. Scientific studies confirm that long working hours lead to overstrain and endanger health. Back- and head-aches, nervousness, mental exhaustion, sleep disturbances, stomach pains and heart-/circulation problems increase among people with long working hours more than with their shorter working colleagues.

Lengthening working hours is hostile to families, women and children. Whoever wants a family-friendly worlde of work with gender justice cannot smultaneously urge longer working hours. We need sufficient time for life, laughter and love. Then partnerships and families could be experfienced as delight and children as happiness.


A glance beyond our national borders also shows that lengthening working hours is internationally a wrong way. A pressure to longer working hours with export world master Germany immediately exerts pressure on economically weaker countries and forces them to follow this false misguided logic, drag along in the competition and also expand working hours. A false signal would start from Germany triggering a spiral of lengthening working time. Who could evade this pressure? The consequence would soon be that people everywhere in Europe have to work longer. No one would be helped and everyone would be harmed.

When the number of unemployed is high, the scarce paid work must be distributed better. Average working hours would be lower than 40 hours with a fair distribution of current work volumes to all mena nd women seeking paid work. Therefore we demand a modern right to work, a new type of full employment with dhorter working hours. 30 working hours a week or a corresponding annual- or life working assignment are enough.

This is not a rigid norm but a new social orientation, a change of perspective and a new goal for politics, parties to collective bargaining, businesses and individuals. The personal needs and desires of people in different phases of life should be considered along side the respective conditions on the labor market. Generational democracy for men, women and children is part of the new view of working time. For example, when children are small or snerior need care, men and women could work shorter hours and longer hours at other times. On the average, 30 working hours a week could be a social goal. With further progress of labor productivity, the average working hours could be lowered even more in the long term.

Unemployment is relatively low on the average in countries with shorter working times. Nowhere in Europe do employees work so briefly as the Netherlands. The average working hours there (including part-time work) in 2004 were only 29.8 hours compared to 35.5 hours in the 15 old European Union countries. Simultaneously the unemployment rate in the Netherlands at 4.6 percent is the lolwest with 6.0 being the average. A similar picture appears in different combinations in Denmark and Sweden.

Solidarian reduction in working hours is a way of assuring employment and avoiding layoffs. In the German metal- and electrical industry, wage contracts were resolved in 1994 in which working hours could be lowered to 28.8 weekly hours to distribute scarce work to more persons and secure jobs. Over 20 percent of all businesses in the German metal- and electrical industry have already reduced their hours according to this model. Empirical studies show that the large majority of businesspersons and works councils have had positive experiences with shorter working hours securing employment.

In other branches, for example in large newspapoer houses, working hours were also already loweed to 32 hours. In child care facilities and schools, working hours were also lowered in a solidarian campaign to prevent colleagues losing their jobs.

From German and European experiences, we know how hoard it is to really create new jobs. Creating jobs is a great social project, a central challenge for today and for the next generations to make possible social and paid work participation. A great political, collective and individual effort and more power are needed to realize a radical reduction in working hours against the powerful capital interests.

When layoffs are avoided in a solidarian redistribution of paid work and the working hours free through reductions are used for new employees, working hours and income are distributed to more persons. The number of employees increases.

We urge reductions in working hours with socially graduated income equalization. For top income groujps, singles without entertaiment obligations or couples with two full incomes, the proposed exchange of money for free time seems feasible without wage equalization. In top income groups, a good life with more disposable time is possible on the basis of earnings from shorter wiorking hours.

Finbancial equalization should be arranged for lower income persons and persons with entertainment duties. We propose financing the wage equalization so the funds released through the reduction of unemployment will be used for equalizing payments to receivers of low and middle incomes.

Human work is not only and not necessarily paid work. Still the reduction and redistribution of paid work is an essential element for a new labor policy aiming at social solidarity and overcoming mass unemployment.

A new labor policy would also include

· a legal minimum wage above the poverty line,
· the possibility – publically supported – of creating jobs in socially useful fields,
· a family-wage basic income not tied to paid work.

A policy of redistributing work counters the existential fears of many people caused by mass unemployment with a positive project aiming at solidarity. Redistributing work is more than only a wage policy and demands new ways for creatively using increased time: for voluntary engagement, general education, artistic creations, spirituality and more time for children, sports and health care.


The new “fair division of work” is not a completely fixed prescription that can be simply applied. We do not underestimate the ideological reserves, political obstacles and practical problems of conversion. The political will to seriously tackle the scandal of mass unemployment is crucial, specifically in opposing the dictatorship of markets and their beneficiaries. Mass unmeployment is not one among many problems. It is the problem. Many questions are open and must be thamticized and solved in social, business and individual discourses. Several starting points and active steps could be listed:

· Reduction in average paid working hours should be on the agenda of politics, unions, management and the media, not lengthening working time. The realization of the 30-hour week everywhere in Europe is our goal.
· Voluntary part-time work in different forms should be made possible, upgraded socially, promoted financially and used by as many people as possible,
· Overtime should be reduced wherever possible.
· Interruptions of gainful employment, for example caring for children or seniors, continuing education, citizen engagement and original projects should be made easier and negative consequences for temporarily alighting individuals eliminated as much as possible.
· Employment bridges between old and young persons could considerably lessen unemployment – with trifling financial expense. These models should be redeveloped and expanded.
· Shorter working hours should be financially upgraded. When people surrender a part of their working hours and their income and make possible the entrance of others in paid work, this should be positively acknowledged and promoted materially. The basic idea is simple. The high incomes realized with very long working hours will be burdened more strongly by taxes and/or social security contributions (minus) and shorter working hours relieved of incoome tax and/or social security contributions (plus).

Beyond wages policy, a new soildarian working hours policy is a serious social-political challenge for

· global justice movements,
· a European and global policy of unions and
· a broad alliance of social movements, unions and new political initiatives.

Breaking the taboo surrounding the reduction in working hours and fair distribution of work and income is vital. The chances for success for a new solidarian labor policy are greater the more people do their utmost – as individuals, businesses, unions, churches, social movements and in politics everywhere in Europe.

We turn to conservative, Christian, social, ecological or socialist-oriented persons and organizations and urge them to set the social project of solidarian redistribution of work on the political agenda.