‘Relevant to the system and budgeted to death’: Childcare staff demand better working conditions

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“Come in and burn”, “We’re at our limits”, “Battery is empty, I can’t take it anymore”, “Relevant system and budgeted to death” – these were the slogans of the child care workers who demonstrated. took to the streets on Wednesday, May 4. Around 26,000 kindergarten teachers across Germany took part in the one-day warning strike. At the rallies, they wrote demands such as “More personnel!” “Better to pay!” “Smaller groups!” in pencil on the sidewalk.

Kindergarten workers on strike (Photo: WSWS)

The crisis of chronically under-budgeted establishments is palpable. At Frankfurt’s Hauptwache, where striking child care staff in the Rhine-Main region met, educators described to this WSWS correspondent the constant stress, understaffing, overwork, fear of COVID-19 contagion and concern about lost wages in the face of rising inflation.

“Somehow the store is supposed to keep running, but the staff we need is missing,” said educator Felix. “There are epidemics among children all the time. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, colleagues have been constantly sick or in quarantine. The coronavirus pandemic was bad, but we worked through the process.

Caro de Dietzenbach reports the many illnesses among colleagues and deaths among acquaintances: “They were perhaps older, but they could have lived several years longer.

Hanne from Frankfurt clearly explained the challenges that the nursery staff face on a daily basis: “We have up to 25 children per specialist. With the very small, preschoolers, there should actually be three of us looking after 12 kids, but it’s always a struggle. Very often this is simply not possible, and sometimes you are on your own.

Timo d’Offenbach objected that during the confinement period, absurdly, one could see “that everything would work much better with small groups. It was clear to everyone. But no lesson is learned. Now the groups are packed again.

While a specialist has up to five years of training (most unpaid), much of the daycare staff today is made up of lateral entrants (i.e. untrained people). “In our case, it’s almost half of the staff who work without specialized training”, confirms Caro. “Very well, but we are jointly responsible for what they do.” Side-entrants also earn much less, she added: “They worry about inflation the most.”

Caro said the government of the green-black state of Hesse (a coalition of the Green Party and the conservative Christian Democrats, CDU) was misusing the wave of refugees from Ukraine to suspend the rules: “We are now supposed to ‘temporarily exceed’ group sizes in kindergartens, up to 30 children in a group. This supposedly does not require additional specialist teachers. Other strikers also confirm that their establishment has received such state government instructions.

“We put up with everything for two years,” says Janine. “Now, when politicians should be actively supporting us, we are being let down.” At the same time, however, there is enough money to rearm the army, she notes. “Really bad,” Hanne says of the German government’s decision to provide an additional €100 billion to the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces). She adds: “Politics aside, for education we need a lot, a lot more money, that’s quite obvious!”

In a survey last year, two-thirds of child care workers surveyed said they regularly had to work unpaid overtime, and about 30% said it was impossible for them to meet their own standards for work. work. On average, there was a shortage of at least three skilled workers per child care centre, which equates to more than 170,000 skilled workers missing from 57,600 child care centers nationwide.

Speech at the Hauptwache in Frankfurt, Wednesday, May 4, 2022 (Photo: WSWS)

Reports from child care workers clearly show what is wrong with child care. “It’s just a child storage facility now,” as one educator recently said. This week’s protests also show child care workers have popular support. However, in order to push through the necessary social changes, it is now necessary to create independent rank-and-file committees in every crèche and every welfare center so that the workers take the fight into their own hands, together with the parents, most of whom are the workers themselves.

Services union Verdi, on the other hand, which has called for warning strikes, is using the collective bargaining struggle to “vent” and avert an impending political battle against the government. This turns rallies into very loud but apolitical whistle protests.

In effect, the union acts as the fourth wheel of the wagon of the ruling federal “traffic light coalition” made up of the Social Democrats (SPD, red), the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP, yellow) and the Green Party, which seizes the opportunity offered by the Ukrainian crisis to accelerate the return of German militarism. With the support of all parties in the Bundestag (federal parliament) and the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), the German government supplies massive quantities of arms to fight Russia and pushes ruthlessly for war, despite the antipathy of the working population.

The population must “make sacrifices”, demanded German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) on March 27 at Bellevue Palace, when he announced the sanctions against Russia in these terms: “The whole truth is that many trials await us.”

Verdi leader Frank Werneke (SPD) supports the war campaign of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government. He publicly described the sanctions against Russia as “appropriate and necessary”, Sunday February 27 in Berlin.

Verdi’s management is deeply integrated into the German economy. Werneke’s predecessor, Frank Bsirske, bequeathed to him not only his position as chairman of Verdi, but also his well-paid post on the supervisory board of Deutsche Bank. Verdi’s second president, Christine Behle, also sits on numerous supervisory boards, including at Lufthansa AG. Bsirske, for his part, is now a pillar of the “traffic light” coalition government in the Bundestag as a member of the Green Party who voted to re-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier as president of the 17th Federal Assembly.

Seven years ago, Bsirske used every trick in the book to strangle and sell a similar labor dispute demanding “improvements” to social and educational services. It was the daycare strike of 2015. Since then, nothing has improved, quite the contrary: the size of the groups is getting bigger and bigger, the staff is smaller and smaller and the income is devoured by the inflation.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Verdi used it to delay negotiations with the Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations (VKA) for two years. It was not until January 2022, seven years after the 2015 agreement, that negotiations on working conditions in nurseries officially resumed.

Verdi’s leadership takes into account the government’s will to war. She made that clear during the first two rounds of negotiations. The negotiations are supposed to set the framework conditions for around 330,000 employees who are paid according to the public sector collective agreement, and indirectly affect 1.2 million employees. However, Verdi made no serious demands for a sliding salary scale, to compensate for inflation, although inflation reached 7.3% in March and continues to rise.

Striking group protest standard: “Relevant system → Overworked, underpaid!” (Photo: WSWS)

The union is obviously reluctant in other respects. Its claims are vaguely formulated and leave room for various interpretations. It reads: “Improvement of groupings, adjustment of the duration of degrees, full recognition of professional experience, improvement of the evaluation of management activities and legal right to qualification.”

On several occasions, VKA chairwoman Karin Welge (SPD), who is also mayor of the city of Gelsenkirchen, arrogantly dismissed all workers’ demands and stressed that there was “no money for an upgrade at all levels”. She considers strikes in the current situation as irresponsible.

Nevertheless, this week, Werneke again assured that the warning strikes carried out by Verdi were deliberately “very targeted, very dosed, day by day, in the hope that the employers will move”. In 10 days, on May 16 and 17, Werneke and Behle intend to meet Welge for a third and final round of negotiations in Potsdam, reaching an agreement if possible and definitely continuing to bleed the personnel of the nursery.

While this is happening, strikes and protests are breaking out everywhere, including in other employment sectors for which Verdi is responsible: in North Rhine-Westphalia among nursing staff, who want to remedy the untenable situation in clinics with an indefinite strike, but also in public transport, bus, tram and commuter train operators as well as in logistics, at Paketpost, Amazon and the Lieferando delivery service. The unrest is growing alongside growing opposition within the working class around the world, which is taking a stand against war, the pandemic and social cuts.

the WSWS and the Socialist Equality Parties advocate the unification of these struggles with the goal of abolishing capitalism worldwide. Both in kindergarten and everywhere else, it is becoming clear that the defense of wages and living conditions requires a break with the unions, a rejection of their nationalism and a united international struggle for a socialist program.

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