New Demands or the Demands of New Groups? Three Case Studies

  • Berndt Kirchlechner


The concept of ‘new demands’ has played an important role in the discussions of the labour struggles which have broken out in various European countries since 1968/69. Political groups and sociological opinion have been divided on the question of whether the striking workers were making demands which called traditional trade union economism into question, whether they were fighting for qualitative or quantitative changes; in short, whether the content of the struggles was ‘new’ or ‘old’. We too are among those who used this concept to distinguish the demands raised by West German workers since the strike wave of September 1969 from those of the preceding period. Our intent was to underscore the novel arguments introduced to justify the workers’ claims. Demands which in their content, their quantitative extent or in their justification respected the rules of the capitalist logic of profitability, we called ‘old’. They made the capitalist’s ability to pay the measure of labour’s claims; and they did not challenge such consecrated axioms of the capitalist theory of the just distribution of wealth as the notion that remuneration must depend on some calculation of the individual’s contribution to production. We called those demands ‘new’, on the other hand, which implicitly or explicitly abandoned this logic by making the workers’ essential needs the standard against which they measured themselves. Into this category fell the demand to abolish wage differentials, and the attempt to prevent capital from recouping increased wage costs by increasing piecework norms, introducing new technologies or the like.


Assembly Line Political Group German Worker Foreign Woman Mass Worker 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1978

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  • Berndt Kirchlechner

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