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German Joblessness Soars Past 4 Million; New Postwar High

February 8, 1994

BONN, Germany (AP) _ The number of jobless German workers has soared past 4 million, a postwar record that reminds some of the economically depressed pre-Nazi years. But the government said Tuesday there’s no need for alarm.

The new figures could hurt Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s chances for re-election in October. They could also signal to German unions that they will have to settle for small wage increases - or none at all - to avoid layoffs.

About 46,000 members of Germany’s largest union, IG Metall, staged another day of warning strikes Tuesday, but the union softened its demands and called on employers to do the same.

The Federal Labor Office said from December to January, the number of jobless workers leaped 340,000 to 4.03 million.

The unemployment rate for western Germany climbed from 8.1 percent to 8.8 percent, and in the east it rose from 15.4 percent to 17 percent.

The increase is more drastic than some observers expected. But others said it corresponds with forecasts that unemployment will reach 10 percent in western Germany, the country’s economic motor, by year’s end.

Unemployment has been setting postwar records each month for the past year as companies scale down to try to ride out western Germany’s worst recession since World War II.

According to the figures released Tuesday, west German joblessness last month was 21.2 percent higher than in January 1993.

The German Union For White-Collar Workers called the new figures ″an alarm signal for society and the state.″

Comparisons have been drawn by some between Germany’s climbing unemployment and the Weimar Republic years that saw the rise of Nazism. But current jobless levels are way below the 43 percent reached in 1933.

Bernhard Jagoda, chairman of the Federal Labor Office in Nuremberg, said modern Germany ″is not Weimar.″

Gisela Hawickhorst, spokeswoman for the Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said the new figures are disturbing but that joblessness will likely recede to about 3.6 million next year as Germany works its way out of the recession.

Still, the experts say much needs to be done to whittle unemployment down to more acceptable levels.

Major concerns like Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, Siemens and Thyssen are laying off. And it’s not just factory workers who are losing their jobs.

Jagoda said engineers, chemists, physicists and office managers are also joining the unemployment lines, as are new graduates from vocational training programs.

Speaking at a news conference in Nuremberg, Jagoda said the rise in east German unemployment came from layoffs by newly privatized companies and from reductions in government job-training programs.

Companies’ slimming-down measures caused the jobless jump in western Germany, he said.

In a speech prepared before the new unemployment figures were released, Kohl said unemployment was being worsened by, among other things, high wages and a lack of inventiveness.

He told an economic forum that unions and employers must change their ways: ″The old rituals of demands and counterdemands, strikes and lockouts are no longer the right answers to this year’s job-related necessities,″ he said.

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