For two and a half months, warning strikes and rallies have been taking place in the social and educational services nationwide. The third and, for the time being, last round of negotiations ends in Potsdam today. Workers fight for better contracts, higher grades and less workload. But the negotiations that Verdi, GEW and the German Association of Civil Servants are conducting with municipal employers will not solve any of their problems.
Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, day-care center teachers and social workers have proven themselves to be “systemically relevant” workers. They have been working the whole time at great risk, many of them are sick with Covid-19. In the working-class districts and social hotspots, they bear the brunt of childcare, child and youth welfare, refugee assistance and assistance for the disabled. But their conditions have not improved in seven years since the big daycare strike of 2015. Due to the great stress and poor pay, the day-care centers now lack more than 173,000 employees.
Thousands have taken to the streets nationwide in recent weeks. Several hundred social workers came to Hanover on May 2nd for a day of action, and on May 4th there were more than a thousand educators in Frankfurt am Main. 10,000 educators gathered in Gelsenkirchen on May 11, over 2,000 in Hamburg on May 12, and another 2,000 demonstrated in Munich.
Large rallies also took place in Kiel, Stuttgart, Leipzig and elsewhere. Hundreds of underpaid employees of charities and church organizations protested in Marburg. They are not directly affected by the current negotiations, but also work as social workers in schools, in centers for the disabled and as street workers.
Despite a boycott by the big media, the social workers and day care center employees managed to make it clear to the public that things cannot go on like this. “The day-care centers are bursting at the seams, we have no staff,” as a teacher in Frankfurt put it. Another added: “I can’t take it anymore, I’m already exhausted by 11 a.m..”
A daycare manager in Bremen said: “I wish that the politicians would work with us for at least one day. Then maybe they’ll see that this isn’t just talk from us. The situation is damn serious.” Many report on twitter about fears for the future: “I love my job, but I don’t think I can do it until retirement age.” Practically everyone agrees, if necessary, to strike longer and more severely.
The emergence of social and educational workers is part of a larger movement that is also increasingly affecting care workers. A strike at the university clinics in North Rhine-Westphalia has just been extended until May 26th. At the North Rhine-Westphalian university hospitals, over 98 percent voted for the indefinite strike. In Frankfurt am Main and in Stuttgart there have already been joint demonstrations by social workers and nursing staff.
This movement is by no means limited to Germany. Nurses are currently on strike in Madrid and California, demonstrating through Vienna and at the forefront of the social uprising in Sri Lanka. In Finland, nurses went on strike for two weeks in April. In Washington, nurses demonstrate for a colleague who is accused of being solely responsible for a tragic medication error. The willingness to go on strike is also increasing in industry and logistics.
The protests of the educators in the day-care centers and in social services are part of this growing movement. The workers’ demands for relief and better pay resonate with the working population. As a Forsa survey commissioned by the dbb shows, 87 percent of those questioned believe that the demand for better pay is correct, and 81 percent would support time savings in social and nursing services.
However, the negotiations in Potsdam, which have been extended to today’s Wednesday, will not bring a solution, on the contrary. It is the third and last round of negotiations, which will take place this week from May 16th to 18th. The negotiators from Verdi, the GEW or the dbb represent the same political program and belong to the same parties (mainly SPD, Greens, CDU) as their counterparts, the representatives of the Associations of Municipal Employers (VKA), with whom they sit together in Potsdam.
Politicians have once again increased the pressure on daycare teachers and social workers. The federal government has decided to prepare for open war against Russia and the working class, especially public sector workers, should bear the cost.
While the traffic light coalition has pulled a special fund of 100 billion euros out of a hat for the Bundeswehr, the demands of the public service are allegedly “not feasible for cost reasons”. Karin Welge (SPD), President of the Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations (VKA), explained this to the German press agency dpa.
Welge continued that municipal employers should be able to offer “reliable structures” especially in view of the effects of the Ukraine war and the higher energy prices. “We cannot afford a general upgrade in the sense that each pay group gets more,” says the VKA President.
Politicians are already preparing measures to quell opposition from the working class. In Saxony, a mayor responded to a warning strike with a lockout. The mayor of the city of Öbisfelde-Weferlingen reacted to the all-day warning strike on May 13 by shutting down all of the city’s day-care centers and after-school care centers for the day and releasing all employees without pay. In doing so, he also prevented the establishment of emergency care and punished those who did not collect Verdi strike money.
In Hesse, the state government has informed the day-care centers that it will increase the number of children per skilled worker from 25 to 30 with immediate effect due to the refugees from Ukraine. This is their answer to the demand for “exoneration”.
The unions have no answer to these attacks. Verdi leaders Frank Werneke and Christine Behle (both SPD), who are conducting the negotiations in Potsdam, share government politicians’ views on the war against Russia. Even if today’s negotiations fail, they are not prepared to call on the working class for real industrial action.
On the contrary: the Verdi demands are suitable for choking off the labor dispute as quickly as possible with a rotten compromise. The demands are aimed at achieving better pay through higher classification in the pay scales. In addition, an extension of the times for preparation and follow-up work is required, as well as better conditions for the qualification of lateral entrants, who make up an ever larger part of the workforce. Mini-compromises can be reached on all of these questions, which are thwarted twice and three times elsewhere.
The demands also distract from the fact that unions are not defending public sector workers against skyrocketing inflation. As a result of the billions in gifts to banks and corporations during the financial crisis and the corona pandemic, as well as the sanctions against Russia, inflation officially rose to 7.4 percent in April; for energy and food it is already significantly higher.
The introduction of a sliding scale of wages is therefore urgently needed throughout the public service, although this alone would not mean upgrading the educator profession.
There is no question that the working class is ready for a struggle. But it must no longer allow itself to be patronized by Verdi, GEW, dbb & Co. Significantly, Verdi boss Frank Werneke emphasized on the first day of negotiations in Potsdam: “We have no interest in a week-long strike from our side.”
The strike in social and educational services can only be successful if the workers organize themselves in independent action committees, unite with nurses and other sections of the working class, also internationally, and take control of all decisions into their own hands! The Socialist Equality Party calls for contact with the International Workers’ Alliance of Action Committees and pledges to give its full support to any such move. Register using the form below.