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Back to the Streets for Anti-Reform Germans

DW staff (tkw)
August 16, 2004

The German government's concessions to its planned employment market reforms have done little to change the frustrated mood among the public. For the second Monday running protest action is planned across the country.

Protesters vow to keep marching until the reforms are droppedImage: AP

With protest organizers expecting rallies in as many as 150 towns across Germany later today, demonstrators remain clearly dissatisfied with Schröder's reform package and equally unimpressed with his efforts to appease them with the promise of some slight amendments.

Last week's rallies, the first in what protesters have dubbed "Monday demonstrations," were largely staged in the former east Germany, in a total of 55 towns with thousands of participants. But this week, the movement has spread to all parts of the country, and action is expected in numerous cities in western Germany, including Cologne, Dortmund, Stuttgart and Hamburg.

In the east, organizers have announced planned action in towns and cities spanning the entire length and breadth of the region, and they vow to continue with the Monday demonstrations until the reform package is dropped altogether.

Insufficient information

At issue are controversial plans to change the system of welfare and unemployment benefit payments. As it stands, the jobless are granted different rates of payment depending upon how long they have been out of work. Under the new plans, the lower rate will be scrapped, and brought in line with the less generous welfare benefit.

The government is at great pains to stress that the reforms will not push German citizens into a life of poverty, and has further responded to the wave of protest action by publishing ads in the nation's press to detail the implications of their plans.

Many feel the explanations are long overdue. Speaking to radio broadcaster DeutschlandRadio on Monday, Saxon-Anhalt's premier, Wolfgang Böhmer, said the public had not been given sufficient information about the reforms.

Wolfgang Clement Jahreswirtschaftsbericht
Economics and Labor Minister Wolfgang ClementImage: AP

And there are indications that he is not far off the mark. Last week, Economics and Labor Minister Wolfgang Clement amended the two most controversial elements of the 'Arbeitslosengeld II' package. He proposed starting payments from the beginning of January next year, which would ensure all recipients receive 12 payments in 2005. He also made concessions on how much money can be paid into savings accounts belonging to children of the unemployed before parents' jobless benefits are reduced. But those amendments have clearly done little to soothe the anxious public.

New criticism for Schröder

The opposition Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and the successor to the East German communist party, the PDS, have rejected Chancellor Schröder's claim that they have joined forces to create a popular front against his reform plans. In an interview with the mass-circulation daily Bild, CDU party leader Angela Merkel described Schröder's comments as "totally unfitting," adding that it would never have been possible to create 'Arbeitslosengeld II' without the agreement of the CDU.

Grundsatzprogramm für die PDS
PDS party leader Lothar Bisky opposes the government's reformsImage: AP

Speaking to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, PDS party leader, Lothar Bisky said, "I find it alarming that the chancellor should resuscitate the language of the Cold War." He said there was no need to form a popular front, but that plain common sense was enough to recognize that the planned reforms were poison for the structurally weak regions eastern and western parts of the country.

Speaking at a state party conference at the weekend, Schröder accused the PDS of stirring up resentment against the reforms. He also slammed the CDU, saying they were trying to back pedal on their decisions to support the unemployment and welfare system overhaul.

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