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April 18, 2015
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Current Concerns  >  2010  >  No 16, September 2010  >  Community Service as a Complement to Paid Labor [printversion]

Community Service as a Complement to Paid Labor

by Hans Christoph Binswanger and Yolanda Kappeler

A large part of economic activities is being performed outside paid labor, that is, without payment in money. This can be work for oneself or for one’s family or community service, that is, work for others. The payoff is the outcome of the work itself. This work is mostly done outside the money realm, so it exists outside the urge and the compulsion for growth that makes it crisis-proof. In order to reduce the economy’s vulnerability it should receive higher appreciation.
The proportion of this work has diminished continuously and was replaced by services bought on the market. The exchange via the market has the advantage that it promotes the division of labor and the specialization and the boost in productivity going with it. But it also has severe drawbacks. They include the increasing automation and mechanization needed to increase productivity.
This renders services increasingly anonymous. Peoples’ interactions during working hours are impeded and the isolation is increased which can hardly be compensated for by communication after work. Another important drawback is that many services, which cannot be automated, are not done at all because wages are too high so that the prices for the services have become too expensive. It the services are not done at all, it is of no avail that they could be done more productive in theory!
Fostering community services could counter the trend towards automation and anonymization at the workplace. This would offer a chance to realize human and social values and to gain personal benefits, e.g. by providing insights into spheres which are outside of what an apprenticeship or academia can provide or by experiencing solidarity, consideration and human interaction.
Making use of community services is necessary and possible in many areas of social life, e.g. in healthcare, in security services, in culture and education, in environmental protection, in youth work, in the integration of foreigners, in guardians’ law or in aid for the handicapped.
Skilled and experienced persons can be integrated into the system if, in addition to the mandatory community service for youths, a voluntary community service is facilitated. This also enables complex services like development missions abroad or working as a class instructor.
It should be stressed that all work is done under support and supervision of qualified persons. The goal is to go on with necessary services which are neglected because they have become too expensive, to strengthen people’s personality and to gain knowledge and social awareness.
The following list is designed to point out examples for areas in society where community service is meaningful and important and where there is currently a lack of supply:

Guardian’s law

•    support for people who are dependent on help within guardian’s law or disability insurance
•    auxiliary services for the support of social workers
•    care for lonely people in hospitals, homes and prisons; support of people threatened by poverty; assistance for handicapped persons

Families, nursing

•    home services; auxiliary services in care for the elderly and sick
•    transport services, accompaniment; aid for people living alone

Public security

•    auxiliary services in the protection of public spaces, stations, ramps, school areas, sporting grounds, museums, exhibitions etc.

Environmental protection

•    support of environmental protection organizations; help in cleaning, works in re-naturalization; fixing natural damages; auxiliary services in ecological research


•    general agricultural services; mountain agriculture; aid for women in agriculture; help in ecological agriculture


•    support of sports activities; youth sport; sports for the elderly
Integration of foreigners
•    language courses; courses on political institutions and history; centers for encounter; support in practical issues of life


•    support of teachers; help in day schools; help in care for small children in daycare institutions; support for teachers in specialized schools; help in the education of youths with learning problems; supporting young foreigners with insufficient language skills; integration help; help in apprenticeships for young foreigners within programs for repatriation; support for games and theatre groups in schools and homes; education help and support for stressed parents; help in moderating support groups

Youth work

•    support for youth meetings, camps, projects, parliaments, centers, for cultural activities of children and youths

Development work

•    support of missions within existing national and private organizations

Community service should be both mandatory and voluntary. One could think of the following rule: the mandatory community service is completed between the 18th and the 22nd year. Those who serve in the military or in alternative service are exempt. Alternative service, however, should be integrated into the community service as far as possible. The duration is ten months which can be served in two parts of five months each. In special cases (e.g. in invalidity), people can be exempt. Then, according to the financial conditions, compensation should be paid. Adults and retired persons can serve in voluntary service. This can be done in two forms:
•    as services in the various areas
•    in supervision and support for training courses for the young participants

The mandatory social service starts with an introductory training for the specific work. Further interdisciplinary courses serving mostly to enhance the social and communication competences are an essential part of the service. The courses are generally offered by people trained in the field of the specific institution or organization or possibly by voluntary teachers. In the area of the interdisciplinary training, the classes could include first aid, good manners and moderation, trust building behavior, conflict management, work techniques, presentation, project management and classes in crafts and arts. One could also think of classes in information technology given by the youths themselves to other persons in their age group.
Catering is the responsibility of the organization or institution for which the person works; in all other cases the expenses are compensated. The serving persons sleep at home, at the organization of institution or in special homes.
The accomplished community service, the courses attended and the auxiliary work in creating and performing a class is documented in a training document. It can serve to document additional qualifications for the job market.
The following conditions are essential for a voluntary community service:
•    no drawbacks in pension plans
•    compensation for non-retired persons
•    compensation of expenses

Unemployed persons and asylum seekers should be integrated into the community service.
All these proposals are meant as a basis for discussion. They will have to be adapted to the varying conditions in the various countries. It is essential that the community service is organized in such a way that it is of value for the involved persons not only in the sense that they may profit from it later in their lives, but also such that they benefit from it immediately and visibly.•

Extract from Vorwärts zur Mässigung. Perspektiven einer nachhaltigen Wirtschaft by Hans Christoph Binswanger, Murmann Verlag, Hamburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-86774-072-2

This chapter is a shortened summary of the memorandum “Community Service for All” presented in 2000 by the environmental liberal movement of Canton St. Gallen (now Umweltfreisinnige of Canton St Gallen). The proposal is focused on the Swiss situation but it should be possible to transfer it to all European countries.

Translation: Current Concerns