Germany's jobless stir into action

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The swelling army of Germany's jobless will take to the streets this week for the first time in decades, highlighting their plight by marching on Bonn and the big industrial cities.

In an echo of the protests sweeping France, Germany's 4.5 million unemployed are trying to raise their profile with a series of spectacular events, climaxing on election day in September.

Germany has not seen such a mass movement since the war, and it is still questionable whether today's well-heeled jobless can rouse themselves from their torpor. But according to opinion polls, three out of four unemployed are prepared to vent their frustration by joining the protests.

Not since the rise of Hitler have there been so many jobless in Germany. Last month, their number broke through the 4.5 million barrier - nearly 12 per cent of the workforce. Figures due out this Thursday are expected to show that 300,000 were added to the dole queue in January.

Every month, government officials make optimistic forecasts about corners being or about to be turned, only to be confounded a month later. The latest government predictions now concede that the current trend will not be arrested until the spring.

A promise made by Chancellor Helmut Kohl two years ago to halve unemployment by the turn of the millennium seems forlorn. As elections approach, one out of five eastern Germans are out of work, and the recent boom has failed to create openings in the west. Mr Kohl's administration is seen to be paralysed. Proposals for an "Alliance for Jobs" between the government, unions and employers have come to nothing.

The opposition Social Democrats are calling for massive investment in the labour market. "All that costs money is unthinkable," the chancellery retorted this weekend. Indeed, some of the latest rise stems from the abolition of make-work schemes that kept the numbers down. Without such projects, the real figure would be closer to 6 million, argue the unions.