February 26, 2009 / 6:54 PM / 11 years ago

Cashier is flashpoint in capitalism debate

BERLIN (Reuters) - A Berlin cashier who was sacked from a supermarket after 31 years of service because her employer accused her of stealing 1.30 euros ($1.65) has become a flash point of a debate about unchecked capitalism in Germany.

Leaders of Germany’s major political parties criticized the supermarket’s decision to fire Barbara Emme, especially because the 50-year-old who has become a German cause celebre denies the charges that she kept bottle deposit receipts worth 1.30 euros.

Wolfgang Thierse, vice president of parliament and member of the Social Democrats, on Thursday called a court decision on Tuesday that upheld the cashier’s sacking “barbaric” and warned cases like this “destroy people’s confidence in democracy.”

Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union, said the case raised questions about capitalism, which has come under attack in Germany in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“I don’t understand how a cashier can be fired because of 1.30 euros while managers who lose billions of euros can keep their jobs,” Seehofer told a rally in Bavaria on Wednesday.


Even Chancellor Angela Merkel was asked about the case at a news conference with a group of foreign journalists on Thursday after the case has drawn extensive television and print media coverage in recent weeks.

The case of “Barbara E.” is starting to loom over Germany’s upcoming election campaign in a way that has similarities to “Joe the Plumber,” an ordinary Ohio voter who became a lightning rod in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Emme told Bild newspaper on Thursday after she appeared on a late night ZDF television talk show on Tuesday evening.

“But unfortunately no one offered me a job. That’s not surprising considering the nasty accusations hanging over my head. It’s going to be hard to find a new job because of that.”

Bernd Ahlers, head of the supermarket chain, defended the company’s decision to sack the cashier. He said the company had lost confidence in her trustworthiness because of the incident.

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