Without class-struggle tones there is no trade union congress. And no labor leader. Yasmin Fahimi, who was elected the new chairwoman at the federal congress of the DGB in Berlin on Monday, took on the wealthy in her first speech. One hears all the time that everyone is getting poorer because of the pandemic and war and energy prices. That is wrong. “The rich were able to increase their assets by 100 billion euros during the pandemic,” complained the DGB boss. And the stock corporations paid out 70 billion euros in dividends this year – 20 billion euros more than in 2019, the last year before Corona. Fahimi’s conclusion: “The reintroduction of the wealth tax is overdue, and in the current situation an additional special wealth tax would also be justified.”
At this point there was the strongest applause from the almost 400 delegates of the Labor Parliament, as the federal congress of the eight individual trade unions, which takes place every four years, is also called. The DGB trade unions have around 5.7 million members – and the number is getting fewer every year. “We’ve seen better days,” admitted Fahimi. During the eight-year tenure of their predecessor, Reiner Hoffmann, the unions lost 400,000 contributors.
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The 54-year-old Fahimi is expected to officiate for at least eight years. With a very decent 93 percent of the votes, she was elected on Monday morning. For the first time in the more than 70-year history of the DGB, a woman is leading the umbrella organization. In the afternoon, Chancellor Olaf Scholz came by and congratulated his comrade, who served as Secretary General of the SPD in 2014 and 2015.
“Honour and challenge at the same time” is the leadership of one of the largest trade union federations in the world, said Scholz, who, knowing her work in the SPD, attested to Fahimi’s “courage and energy”. According to Scholz, the trade unions stand for cohesion and community, as well as for international solidarity, which is a new requirement in these times of war. The Federal Chancellor justified the arms deliveries to Ukraine and explained the turning point he had proclaimed, including a drastic increase in military spending. At this point, the DGB boss has a different view. The goal of the traffic light government to spend two percent or more of the gross domestic product on defense in the future “I think is arbitrary and fundamentally wrong,” said Fahimi and warned against an “uncontrolled rearmament”.
The additional expenditure for the Bundeswehr should certainly not be at the expense of investments in transformation and the welfare state, said Fahimi and received the Chancellor’s approval for this. The change in the economy and society will only succeed if it is fair and socially just, that is also a question of respect, said Scholz, who announced a nationwide collective bargaining law for the award of public contracts and a reform of the works constitution law. “We will strengthen co-determination and make the works councils fit for new requirements.”
Fahimi had previously made this topic the focus of her keynote speech. “Let’s create a change that will benefit everyone, including the weakest.” The trade unions did not question climate protection and the energy transition, but the expansion of renewable energies “must not come at the expense of our people”. In this context, Fahimi warned against a boycott of Russian gas. “Our colleagues can afford neither income nor energy poverty.” The wage-price spiral sometimes invoked by economists does not exist, the current inflation rate of more than seven percent explained the DGB chairwoman with supply chain problems and speculation on the energy markets.
Scholz announced an initial meeting of the “Alliance for Transformation” in the Chancellery in the coming weeks. Framework conditions, for example for the decarbonisation of industry, are to be discussed there with associations and trade unions. To this end, the government wants to expand the short-time transfer allowance and put more money into training and further education. “As a state, we will show that transformation is successful because we are determined to take everyone with us on this path.” work together with the trade unions and the new DGB chairmen.
Fahimi and her three colleagues on the executive DGB board were all elected with well over 90 percent of the votes. In her application, the social democrat emphasized the value of the unified union. “We are independent of the state, companies and political parties.” As the daughter of a single mother, “biographical challenges are not unfamiliar to her,” including her scientific interests, said the graduate chemist, who was born in Hanover. Her father was from Iran and died in a car accident. Fahimi worked for the IG BCE for many years and in various functions, the union chairman Michael Vassiliadis is her partner. In 2014 she became general secretary of the SPD, from 2016 to 2017 she was state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labor and since 2017 she has been a member of the Bundestag. With the election as DGB chairwoman, she resigned from her mandate.
IG Metall chairman Jörg Hofmann had previously explained to the delegates why he and the seven other chairmen of the DGB trade unions had proposed Fahimi as Reiner Hoffmann’s successor: Management experience, the ability to integrate, union stable smell and age were selection criteria, and one also had wanted a woman. Apart from the GEW, all DGB unions are male-led.
There had been irritation around Fahimi’s nomination last January: Hofmann had proposed Vassiliadis as the new DGB chairman, but Verdi chairman Frank Werneke rejected it: “The DGB has a wide range of political and cultural aspects that/ the Chair must reflect this diversity. I didn’t see that with Michael Vassiliadis.” Then Hofmann came with Fahimi – and Werneke agreed.