BERLIN (Reuters) - Thousands of German workers marched through Berlin on Saturday to demand the government do more to protect jobs, highlighting popular concerns about unemployment in the run up to September’s federal election.
Germany is facing its deepest recession since World War Two and unemployment has risen for the last six months running. Trade unions, aware of the looming election, are pressing the government to do more to safeguard jobs.
Franz Muentefering, chairman of the Social Democrats and a leading government figure, joined Saturday’s protest.
“We are here to oppose international financial capitalism. We must do all we can at the moment to protect jobs,” said Muentefering, whose Social Democrats share power in an awkward coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
The DGB trade union federation, which organised the protest, said 100,000 people took part. Police put the total at “several tens of thousands.”
The demonstration, which was peaceful, followed protests across Germany on the May 1 Labour Day holiday, when people vented their anger over the financial crisis.
“Fight the crisis, put people first,” DGB Chairman Michael Sommer cried out over a loudspeaker at Saturday’s demonstration.
Ingo Kaiser, a retired Volkswagen employee, joined the protest to support workers at the carmaker.
“Politicians must know that there is a serious risk of social unrest in Germany because of the worries about jobs,” said Kaiser, 63.
Earlier this year, Volkswagen switched to a short working week for the first time in 26 years, with scaled-back production at six plants in western Germany and one plant in eastern Germany affecting 61,000 workers.
Many German workers are angry a crisis they see as being rooted in the excesses of capitalism now threatens their jobs.
“Capitalism: its time is over,” read one banner.
Close to 300,000 jobs have now been lost in Germany since the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in September set off a new wave of financial and economic turmoil.
The global economic downturn has sapped foreign demand for German goods, sending the export-orientated economy into a deep recession. The government expects the economy to contract by 6 percent this year, and for unemployment to rise into 2010.
To combat the recession, the government has launched twin economic stimulus packages it says are worth a combined 71 billion pounds. One protest organiser called for a third such package, but Muentefering dismissed the idea.
“There will be no third stimulus package,” he said.
Writing by Paul Carrel