May 27, 2009
Frankfurt is a city of contrasts. The shining towers that dominate the skyline house a major financial centre, an industry which needs to undergo major reforms if we are to avoid future financial crises. Over recent years, a handful of bankers and dealers in these skyscrapers have been able to play roulette with the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people. That’s why the PES is campaigning for more effective regulation, particularly on private equity and hedge funds. Don’t get me wrong: financial markets have an important role to play in the economy, but as the servant of real people, not their master.
But there is a different, social side to the Frankfurt too. The local branch of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) is impressively active and enthusiastic about taking Frankfurt, Germany and Europe in a new direction. They are working hard to make the local SPD MEP, Udo Bullmann, part of a new progressive majority in the European Parliament.
On Monday I went to Frankfurt to join Udo on the campaign trail. I laughed when I saw that all over the financial district, amongst the banks and investment funds, there were posters with my name on announcing the meeting on the social democratic answer to the financial and economic crisis which Udo had invited me to address. I don’t think the bankers will have been very happy to see that I was coming to town: the hedge fund and private equity industry has already decided that I am Public Enemy Number One for trying to regulate their activities.
At the Trade Unions House in the city centre we had an excellent discussion, involving Udo and around 70 local activists and covering a broad range of topics, including the role of the European Parliament and smart green growth. Udo tackled a number of the myths surrounding the EU, explaining that the right-wing regional government is using Europe as a scapegoat for its own failings. Over twenty activists had painted their faces with the flags of EU countries that have a minimum wage. The German flag was conspicuously missing: the SPD is fighting very strongly to change this, both in this European election and in the national election in September.
European conservatives and liberals often criticise minimum wages, saying they distort the market. And yet they remain strangely quiet when bankers in their skyscrapers pay themselves millions in ‘bonuses’ regardless of how well they have done. Why is it acceptable for unaccountable executives to earn thousands of times what they pay their workers, but unacceptable for ordinary people to be paid enough to live on?
In contrast, the PES manifesto sets out quite clearly “the need for decent minimum wages in all EU Member States”. We put people first.
Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen