The new head of the union calls for a "restructuring of the economy and society. The plan: an ecological transformation of energy, transport and agriculture.
Verdi boss Frank Werneke wants an "ecological transformation that is socially just" Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa
The diversion at the federal congress of the service sector union Verdi in Leipzig was only brief. On Wednesday afternoon, several dozen young Verdians entered the hall singing and waving flags. Their request: radical reduction of working hours! Verdi should stand up for a 30-hour week with full wage and personnel compensation.
Even if the delegates showed their gratitude with benevolent applause for being torn out of their consultation marathon for a few minutes: Germany’s second-largest union will not be adopting this demand for the time being.
Nevertheless, its newly elected chairman Frank Werneke left no doubt in his first keynote speech that Verdi, even under his leadership, continues to claim to be the most left-wing union in Germany. The 52-year-old successor to Frank Bsirske spoke out for nothing less than a "massive restructuring of the economy and society.
His speech on Wednesday morning, which lasted more than an hour, included many familiar demands – from the reintroduction of the wealth tax to overcoming Hartz IV ("Fixing things around is not enough!"). But Werneke also set some new accents.
Housing policy, for example: Speculations with land must be fought, he demanded. If other measures are of no use, speculation must also be "tackled with expropriation.
Werneke was the first union leader to endorse the demand for a parity law.
In addition, 100,000 new social housing units would have to be built annually. But that alone would not be enough to effectively counter the housing crisis. It is also a question of limiting the market power of the purely profit-oriented private housing groups in favor of public and cooperative housing associations.
Werneke expressly welcomed the rent cap as planned by the red-red-green state government in Berlin. "Housing is a basic social right that must not be subjected to the logic of the market," he said.
Climate policy also took up a great deal of space. Like his predecessor Bsirske, Werneke also sided with Fridays for Future, with which Verdi would "continue to work closely in the coming period." "We now need an ecological energy, transport and agricultural turnaround," he demanded. What is needed is an "ecological transformation that is socially just." He described the climate package adopted by the grand coalition as "a clear disappointment."
Werneke strongly condemned the fact that the vast majority of European governments, instead of fighting the causes of flight, are increasingly focusing on isolation and the deterrence and deportation of refugees. "In this way, those in power are accepting thousands of deaths off the coasts of Europe," he said indignantly. "We deeply condemn this inhumane foreclosure policy of the European Union!" The solidarity of Verdi, on the other hand, belongs to the people in need and the people who are on the run.
Werneke also found clear words for the AfD. He said that "extreme right-wing social populists" were at work in the party. When it comes to jobs, affordable housing and social security, they try to turn locals against refugees. Instead of fighting the poverty of the poorest, they stirred up fears, envy and hatred. That is why they are "deceivers."
In reality, the distribution conflict "does not run between people of different origins, but between top and bottom, between capital and labor," Werneke said to great applause. Verdi stands "for a free society based on solidarity, in which people of all faiths and backgrounds can participate materially, culturally and politically.
Werneke was the first union leader to join the call for a parity law. "We want equal participation of women in political mandates," he said.
Verdi itself is setting a good example – and already exceeds the quota: of the 932 federal congress delegates, who are still meeting until Saturday in the Leipzig trade fair center, 557 are female. The federal executive board elected on Tuesday includes six women and only three men.