Porsche chief on side of the class warriors

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The Independent Online

Porsche is not a brand that many would associate with anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Porsche is not a brand that many would associate with anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Yet Wendelin Wiedeking, the multi-millionaire chairman of the luxury car maker, attacked Deutsche Bank fiercely last week while defending the class-war rhetoric of Franz Müntefering, the head of Germany's ruling Social Democrats.

Mr Müntefering has sparked an impassioned political debate by describing foreign investors as a "plague of locusts" and claiming that capitalists resemble Cerberus, the multi-headed guard dog of the underworld.

Eschewing such biblical and classical allusions, Mr Wiedeking said the Social Democrat had, like the Pope, the right to criticise capitalism. While the leading British political parties compete to show they are business-friendly to win votes, Mr Müntefering has vehemently criticised the "growing power of capital" and repeatedly demanded: "We want a social state, not market radicalism."

Mr Wiedeking broadly defended these views. "In the social market economy, we must find a balance between capital and labour," he said. "Many business leaders fail to strike this balance. People are frightened and have no vision for the future. That must be the result when the head of Deutsche Bank announces first-rate results and then, to improve upon this, additionally boots out 6,000 employees."

Mr Wiedeking, who rescued Porsche from near-collapse to make it one of Germany's most successful and profitable companies, has made no secret of his closeness to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Social Democrats. He believes business leaders "have taken on a large amount of social responsibility" and criticises those who "have no other intention than firing staff". He adds: "These people have understood nothing."

Blaming such "capitalists" for record unemployment, stagnant domestic demand and low growth resonates with many German voters. Even the German right-of-centre Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) have treated Mr Müntefering's views with circumspection.

A former general secretary of the CDU, Heiner Geissler, has called for "a substantiated criticism of capitalism", and Edmund Stoiber, the head of the CSU, has attacked the Deutsche Bank for raising profits while cutting jobs. "That is tasteless, incompetent," he said. "It seems like an act of demolition."

In this climate, it is perhaps no surprise that leading German companies, including Porsche, are strongly opposed to the mandatory disclosure of directors' remuneration. Reputedly earning around €10m (£6.8m) annually, Mr Wiedeking is thought to be one of Germany's highest-paid businessmen.