“ONLY THE FIRST GUSTS OF WIND OF A HURRICANE”

Unemployment in Germany is increasing again. A second economy is necessary.
Interview with Frithjof Bergmann

[This interview published in: Junge Welt, 8/10/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.jungewelt.de/2005/08-10/023.php.]

[Frithjof Bergmann is a professor philosophy and anthropology at the University of Michigan. In 1984 he established the first “Center for New Work” in the US-auto city Flint and thus created an alternative to mass layoffs. Today he advises non-governmental organizations, unions, businesses and governments worldwide.]


Q: More than five million unemployed were registered in Germany in 2005. Is this the peak of unemployment in your opinion?

F. Bergmann: No. The idea that layoffs in production can be compensated by new hires in the service sector is strongly emphasized in Germany. However an enormous number of jobs are lost in this area. The sale of a commercial bank in Germany where thousands upon thousands lost their jobs is one example. Unemployment is increasing again. We are only seeing the first gusts of wind of a hurricane.

Q: Economic growth is presented as a solution in the co0ncepts of most parties, economic associations, studies of scholars and much of the media.

F. Bergmann: Look at the factors encouraging the dismantling of jobs, first of all automatization, second globalization and third migration from the country to the cities.

The counter-acting proposals discussed in Germany are like attempts to put out a forest fire with a glass of water, working a little more, lowering non-wage labor costs and loosening wage agreements. The debate in Germany is absurd. People close their eyes to the magnitude of the problem.

Q: Practical necessities from which no government can allegedly withdraw are often stressed in the public debate. What alternatives exist?

F. Bergmann: When the dimension of the problem is admitted, a revolutionary reorganization is the only answer. The answer of “New Work” is that two new forms of work should be developed and institutionalized. One of them is communal, post-industrial production, the manufacture of many goods in neighborhood shops. With increased intensity, more and more should be produced in a decentralized way, above all consumer goods in communal production sites. In South Africa, we are testing this in slums and remote villages.

Q: What ideas would be helpful for Europe?

F. Bergmann: The second form of “new work” involves supporting people find work that corresponds to their personality, the work they really want to do. Start-up funds must be made available. A fraction of what flows into the economy as subsidies would suffice.

Q: Doesn’t this go beyond marketable work?

F. Bergmann: One of the problems since the so-called turn of 1989 is that the market is regarded as an ultimate natural law. In the meantime the whole third world was forced to transform their economies into market economies. The results are disastrous. Violence has increased; the gap between poor and rich has deepened.

Q: Can the industrial states learn from the third world?

F. Bergmann: This is absolutely necessary. The situation in Germany has deteriorated because this economic system is as it is, not because errors were made.

Superficial cosmetics cannot change the dynamic of the system. This dynamic goes in the direction of reducing jobs and increasing social polarization. We need a second economy as I outlined in the two forms of “new work.”