How is the crisis being perceived in Switzerland?

2. The social crisis in Switzerland

Firstly, not all the interviewees interlace the topic of the „crisis“ with the topic of the welfare state. This connection is even less visible between crisis and labour market. The tension on the labour market is not being connected to the crisis.

When asked about the arrival of the crisis in Switzerland, the majority of the interviewees began to talk about the financial system, for instance about the salvation of the big bank UBS and the crisis of the Euro. The crisis is more likely to be perceived as a Euro crisis, a banking crisis, a stock market crisis or a financial crisis than as a social crisis. Nevertheless some interviewees detect several aspects of a social crisis. I suppose that an indicator whether a person does perceive some social problems that relate to the crisis or not is their social standpoint and/or their implication in social struggles. Furthermore, the social network to which one person belongs can affect her point of view.

In general, people who pertain to a leftist or social organization pay more attention to phenomena of social crisis, however, not all of the people pertaining to this category do so. These phenomena of social crisis aren’t very common and visible in Switzerland. In order to perceive them, one has to get an insight in different realities of life and focus on people who aren’t integrated in the so-called capitalist normality. If one is sensitive to power relations in a capitalist society one is more likely to see different forms of exploitation. In contrast, the people who have leading positions in industries or deal with the standpoint of companies and the banking sector pay less attention to these phenomena. They speak about the crisis in macro-economic terms and are less concerned with the situation of workers and people depending on social benefits. For instance, the secretary of a Swiss union comes up with topics such as unemployment, work suspensions, precarity and off-shoring. She points out that the crisis particularly affects women, young and elderly people.

The woman who is married to a man from North Africa and who works with immigrants perceives the problems in getting a job for unskilled people from abroad in the last five years. She relates this difficulty to the crisis; before, it was easier to get a job, for instance as a construction worker. The people who experienced long-term unemployment speak about the reduction of social services hitting most of all unemployed people, mothers with children, immigrant mothers and poor people. They also mention the foundation of Dock AG in Basel in the year 2011 through which long-term unemployed can be forced to work at Dock AG, and if they don’t comply, they are denied social benefits. There is a tendency that people can’t find jobs in the regular job market anymore and are forced to work in this ‘second job market’. It works with the slogan ‘reintegration’ but it is a way to make money with the poor and exploit them even more.

Some of the interviewees relate the deterioration in the market to the crisis, but in a limited way; they also emphasize that exploitation, unemployment and bad working conditions already existed before the current crisis. Two interviewees – the sociologist and a member of the union of unemployed people – don’t see much change due to the current crisis, but an increase in unemployment since 1990. The sociologist thinks that the social crisis arrived longer ago, the member of the union speaks about a crisis before the crisis. So we can state that for the social sphere, the crisis doesn’t have a clear starting and ending point, but is rather a process that started earlier by affecting certain people living in Switzerland. To consider the phenomena of crisis we need a broader framework than the current economic crisis. Compared to the interviewees presented before, some other interviewees don’t realize that in Switzerland there are people who cannot provide themselves with enough food, a place to live or medical assistance. We often heard statements like this: “Here in Switzerland, we do well.” These people aren’t noticing that this “we” doesn’t include all people living in Switzerland.

In the interviews, we can find some reasons for the comparatively low worsening of the social conditions in the current crisis. One interviewee mentions the social peace in Switzerland in the aftermath of the social partnership between employers and workers associations that were initiated in the 1930s. The guy who works at the swiss railway relates social peace with a specific Swiss quality, work discipline and a “give-and-take” from both sides of industry. Following this point of view, Swiss wealth results from only few conflicts between employers and workers, such as just a few strikes in the recent past. At the same time, it is important to see that the amount of unemployed is hidden within the statistics. The sociologist points to the fact that in Switzerland, there aren’t a big number of unemployed people in an international comparison, but many people get social aid and invalidity insurance. The social welfare system in Switzerland is divided in three parts: Unemployment money, invalidity insurance, and social aid. The unemployment rate is being kept low by transferring people in the invalidity insurance. In this way they don’t appear in the statistics any more. For this reason, the sociologist stresses that international comparisons can give a false impression. Another important factor is that although most women work, they only work very small percentages in part time jobs. They don’t count as unemployed and even the women who don’t work are usually not registered as unemployed.

In our investigation people related little to women or reproduction. Women were mentioned in the interview with the union member as a buffer for the crisis, which means that generally, women lose their jobs or give them up voluntarily in a situation of crisis whereas men keep their jobs. But there is also the wide field of reproductive tasks like housework, child care and so on. We didn’t analyse this topic in our current inquiry, but it is surely a field of development and changes, also related to the crisis, above all when we define crisis as a process that didn’t started before 2008. Structural changes in capitalism go hand in hand with changes in gender relations. This is the case concerning deindustrialization in Europe. In the heavy industry, a sector with a traditionally big proportion of male workers, many jobs were lost.

Relating to this modification scholars speak about a crisis of masculinity and a reconfiguration of gender relations. In the crisis of masculinity, a traditional male subjectivity is at stake. The idea of a male breadwinner, although it was rather a symbolic reference than a reality in a large part of families, lost its force of attraction. A necessity to redefine masculinity arises, which partly brings up difficulties, but also possibilities, for instance having a closer father-child-relationship.

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