Chancellor Merkel comments on industrial labour in Germany

0 Posted by - October 20, 2010 - Blog, Conversations, Editorial, Word

What follows is an account of what German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a group of young Christian Democratic party members on Monday. The verbatim excerpt below (in italics) is revealing.

In the interests of entertainment, I have recreated Merkel’s comments as a dialogue with a fictitious, pesky and well informed attendee at a fundraising event. Imagine the two of them meeting in a large room filled with well-dressed socialites, Chancellor Merkel moving slowly through the crowd with her handlers and encountering rather unintentionally this bespectacled and nebbish character — indeed, a party pooper — whom she tries to evade and does, eventually, successfully slip away from after a very brief exchange.

Chancellor Merkel: In Frankfurt am Main, two out of three children under the age of five have an immigrant background. We are a country which at the beginning of the 60s actually brought guest workers to Germany.

Tobi (the party pooper): Woa .. Chancellor Merkel, I am so delighted to meet you. My name is Tobi and I couldn’t help but overhear … I wasn’t sure what you meant by “actually”? Do you mean as a kindness? Because, surely you remember, that Turkish workers were brought to Germany to feed an industrial labour shortage after the war. The Turks weren’t even the first “guest workers”, the Italians were in 1955 followed by the Spanish, Greeks and finally Turkey in 1961, and then the Portuguese and Yugoslavs after. There were “recruitment bureaus” in various countries including Turkey to identify unskilled workers who were transplanted to industrial zones throughout Germany.

The bureaus were closed during the recession in the 70s, but in the 1980s Germany cultivated guest worker populations, this time from Eastern Bloc countries – again from Yugoslavia, also Hungary and Poland. We didn’t “actually” bring Turkish guest workers to Germany, it was a carefully planned program to create industrial growth with migrant labour.

Chancellor Merkel: Now they live with us and we lied to ourselves for a while, saying that they won’t stay and that they will have disappeared again one day. That’s not the reality.

Tobi: (whispering in the Chancellor’s ear) Madame, are you drunk? (Tobi leans away, but is still whispering …) As you know, those original agreements forced workers to return home after a year or two. The goal of these agreements in part was to prevent settlement. There was tremendous pressure on workers to eventually return to their countries. They were kept in factory dormitories and generally isolated from mainstream German society because the idea was to discourage any inclination to stay — and because of this pressure, worker communities were encouraged to form communities with strong cultural ties to their home countries on the expectation of repatriation.

This is widely known, which is why I asked if you were drunk — I’m sorry, it was rude.

Chancellor Merkel: (starts to say something, but is cut off …)

Tobi: Excuse me, Chancellor, but please let me finish. I fear that I’ve embarrassed you, or perhaps both of us …

What was astonishing about your statement is that the reason workers stayed in Germany for longer periods — that they were allowed to stay, that their “rotations” were extended — is because German industries found it too expensive to retrain new workers. It was more efficient to keep them here! But you’re right, there was never an expectation that they would stay forever — not on the part of government, the public, or the workers themselves. Like you said, Germany hoped they would disappear.

Chancellor Merkel: This multicultural approach — saying that we simply live side-by-side and are happy about each other — this approach has failed, utterly failed.

Tobi: Chancellor Merkel! Of course the multicultural policies were a failure because they weren’t multicultural policies! You’re embarrassing yourself! Where in this living happily side-by-side that you speak of is there room for, as you say, hoping that they won’t stay and “that they will have disappeared again one day?” What a policy!

You’re forgetting that it wasn’t until 2000 that Germany extended citizenship to the families of guest workers. That’s right! Second and third generation members of Turkish migrant workers, born in Germany, did not have German citizenship!

[The Chancellor begins to ease away from this irritating social encounter, but Tobi has also had a few drinks and pursues.]

And another thing! Without citizenship these people were denied many of the social and economic benefits that come with citizenship. Which meant in turn that they had to rely even more on their own community for survival — the state being largely irrelevant to their well-being. It also meant that they couldn’t vote. Who can feel included in a country when you can’t vote? Chancelor Merkel! Chancellor Merkel! …

* * *

Tobi chased after the Chancellor, but at this point, she successfully slipped away, some of her handlers blocking Tobi’s pursuit. The Chancellor returned to freely working the room in comfort, while Tobi, hopes dashed for a real connection with the Chancellor of Germany, was made to feel even worse when event organizers threw Tobi out of the building for being drunk. So ends the little tale.

This has been a “Truth” Report exclusive, a semi-regular, playful and hopefully provocative inquiry into the world around us as we find it in the news.

Further reading:

The chancellor’s words were plucked from the video of her speech at The Guardian’s website. The dialogue format hints at a vision of the world where politicians have conversations with the public rather than give speeches — or lay them, as the case may be. Here it is from The Guardian’s website:

We are a country which at the beginning of the 60s actually brought guest workers to Germany. Now they live with us and we lied to ourselves for a while, saying that they won’t stay and that they will have disappeared again one day. That’s not the reality. This multicultural approach – saying that we simply live side-by-side and are happy about each other – this approach has failed, utterly failed. [great applause]

“Germany: Immigration in Transition” By Veysel Oezcan, Social Science Centre Berlin 2004

Spiegel Online International

“Citizens versus permanent guests: Cultural memory and citizenship laws in a reunified Germany” Nergis Canefe 1998

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