May 4, 2019 / 12:07 PM / 19 days ago

Germany's SPD becoming unelectable, works council chiefs say

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) are becoming unelectable after the head of their youth wing JUSOS called for companies such as BMW to be collectively owned, works council chiefs have warned.

FILE PHOTO: Kevin Kuehnert, head of the SPD’s youth wing, speaks during an SPD party convention in Berlin, Germany, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

JUSOS chief Kevin Kuehnert, 29, unleashed a storm of protest, including from party allies, this week when he said that “without collectivization, overcoming capitalism is not thinkable”, citing BMW specifically.

The uproar took on a new dimension with the publication on Saturday of comments from works council chiefs, traditionally among the party’s biggest supporters, who said the SPD was alienating itself from workers.

“For workers at German companies, this SPD is no longer electable,” Manfred Schoch, head of the general works council at BMW, told WirtschaftsWoche magazine.

Works councils are elected bodies dealing with management on issues such as working conditions and are a particular feature of Germany’s post-war economic success. Kuehnert’s vision for some evokes memories of Communist East Germany.

The backlash threatens to further erode support for the SPD, junior partner in conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition. The SPD is languishing in polls and risks heavy losses in European and regional elections later this month.

The party may even lose power in Bremen, a city state they have ruled for 73 years, in a May 26 vote. Kuehnert, who opposed going into coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, appeals to those on the left of the party but less so to the centrists and floating voters it needs to increase its overall vote share.

Mass-selling daily Bild splashed the backlash on page one of its Saturday edition and quoted the head of Daimler’s works council Michael Brecht as saying: “I share the view that it is becoming ever hard for workers to vote for the SPD.”

Brecht pressed the SPD to work out quickly what it wants to stand for: “For secure jobs and a sustainable industry policy, or for fantasies far from reality that in the end only cost jobs and increase social inequality.”

Bild also quoted the former head of Porsche’s works council, Uwe Hueck, an SPD member since 1982, as saying the party was still electable but adding that Kuehnert’s comments were absolute nonsense that could be excused by his age.

“If he had witnessed the GDR himself, then he would not say something like that,” Hueck said with reference to former Communist East Germany.

SPD leader Andrea Nahles told the paper: “Workers can feel assured: The SPD is not demanding nationalization. Every day, we pursue policies for good work, high collective wage agreements and secure pensions - all in line with the works councils.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by David Holmes

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