Los Angeles is not the only place perturbing the sermons of the preachers of history’s end and capitalism’s eternal youth. From Western Europe, too, come all sorts of tales of woe requiring the Panglossian refrain that “everything is for the best in the best of all possible capitalist worlds.” From Bonn comes news of a country threatened by strikes as well as suggestions that the Germans may by now be fed up with performing as Europe’s paragons of virtue. From Milan come stories of corruption on such a scale that Sicilians are soon likely to give the Milanese lessons in probity. From the Corsican city OF Bastia comes proof that the disaster at a sports stadium, which killed fifteen and injured more than a thousand, was the result of sordid pecuniary calculations. This tragedy occurred at a time when French Socialists are being driven to a political, not just psychoanalytical, examination of their relationship with money. Yet the Fact that Western Europe thus reveals the seamy side of its system in no way discourages its eastern neighbors. Indeed, judging by the Mayor of Moscow’s spirited defense of his own mafiosi, one is tempted to say quite the contrary. The new message reads: Profiteers of all lands unite.
A Misbehaving Model?
After years of successful union-bashing, it is almost taken for granted that wage and salary earners will swallow anything. It therefore came as a surprise when the German union of public employees took on the government and, after eleven days of coordinated strikes, forced it to grant salary increases of more than 5 percent, a barrier the government swore it neither could nor would break. The surprise deepened when union members then voted against the compromise reached by their leaders. This, while not relaunching the strike, conveyed the mood of the rank and file on the eve of the crucial trial of strength between the private-sector employers, who stuck to 3 percent, and the powerful engineers’ union, the more than 4 million strong IG Metall, which asked for 9 percent but was ready to settle for anything above 6 percent. Franz Stemkühler, its leader, dismissed accusations of “unpatriotic behavior” by saying he saw no reason why reunification should be a boost for business and a burden for working people. On May 18 the two sides struck a deal at just under 6 percent, roughly the same level the public employees received.
The skirmishes on the labor front were nevertheless followed with fascination in the rest of Europe because, since reunification, Germany has been a puzzle to its neighbors and the subject of contradictory assessments. Has it bitten off more than it can chew or are we dealing with the teething troubles of a growing empire? Should the relatively high rate of inflation and the budget deficit be taken as first signs of a broader European crisis, or are they merely transitional symptoms as Germany proceeds with its “creative destruction” in the east? And if the latter, how will it use its increased power: to federate Western Europe? to resume a Drang nach Osten (eastward expansion)? to proceed with both policies at once? The questions are unanswered because reunification has not gone very far. (“I am glad, at last we are one country,” says the Ossie. “So are we,” answers the Wessie. The joke, though stale, is still topical. The labor conflicts just mentioned were limited to the Federal Republic. The Ossies were affected, since their wages are linked with those prevailing in the west, but they remained interested onlookers.)
Yet the preoccupation of the Western establishment, and of its press, can be attributed to the part the Federal Republic used to play in the old order of things. It could always be relied upon to prop up NATO or insure the unity of the Common Market. The allegedly independent Bundesbank was the keeper of the interests of big business well beyond Germany’s frontiers, while the German workers were being presented to their supposedly more class-conscious British, French or Italian comrades as proof that collaboration with management is not only virtuous but a paying proposition. If this anchor of capitalist stability in the heart of Europe is weighed, where will the Continent drift?