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The Example of Sket (December 21, 1992)

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In tearing down their factory, members of the Sket team are practicing for the future: one day, the installations used for recycling the construction rubble and decontaminating the soil are supposed to compensate for a portion of the lost sales to Eastern markets. But that could take a long time. This year, Sket is struggling to reach sales of 365 million Marks, against a loss of 240 million Marks.

Klaus Oberländer, Marx’s predecessor on the board, had still planned for around a billion in sales. But the former director general of the Kombinat doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of this miscalculation.

Oberländer announced his resignation in February of this year. The press had repeatedly denounced him on account of his red background in the leadership of the SED Works Cadre. Now he’s in Singapore looking for new contracts for Sket in the Asian markets.

His people in Magdeburg still mourn for “red Klaus.” He used to shake everyone’s hand amiably as he rushed through the halls.

The workers thought that the former boss would be able to keep the whole operation together. The reduction of the workforce from 30,000 to 6,000 employees went off without protest while he was in charge. An “accompanying socio-political program” that he had hammered out with the federal state [of Saxony-Anhalt], the city, the Treuhand, and the works council ensured that nobody in Magdeburg was released into unemployment.

A hiring freeze, early retirement, partial privatizations, personnel placement companies, and the job-creation company made it possible for there to be deep cutbacks in the workforce without company-related layoffs. “In the final analysis, we always had a strategy of consensus,” says the head of the works council, Wieblitz.

Initially, the works council had welcomed the new Marx as “a man of promise.” The engineer, previously the head of the Salzgitter Machine Building GmbH, was outfitted with the highest recommendations from colleagues in the West. The Magdburgers discovered too late that metal workers over there [in the FRG] were in fact happy to get rid of a “grave digger.”

The cool number-cruncher did not fit into the charged atmosphere of the East. His numbers were right. But he had not correctly calculated the mood in Magdeburg. At the beginning of November, when Marx presented his restructuring plan at a Thälmann Square purged of Meister Proper, he was booed by 5,000 angry Sket workers.

His calculation was simple. Sales would barely grow until 1995. By then, Thälmann workers would have to bring themselves up to Western productivity levels – 200,000 Marks in sales per person. The rest is pure math: in order to achieve this, the company would only need about 1,800 employees. Four thousand people in Magdeburg, Dessau, Genthin, and Grüna would have to go. Marx turned the workforce completely against himself with the good advice “not to think that we are something special here in East Germany.”

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