Article from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Growing support for Germany's new left party
by Fiona O'Loughlin
THE DISASTROUS results for the SPD in the recent regional elections in North Rhine Westphalia will have a far-reaching outcome for the ruling parties. This defeat for the SPD was their worst in 51 years. Having been in power in this state for the past 39 years, they will no longer be represented in the state government. This is in what was their heartland a former mining area where the SPD had huge support.
It was pay back time for the working class. The government austerity programme Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV have caused huge hardship for the working class throughout Germany but particularly in North Rhine Westphalia. Unemployment in this region is one of the highest in the western part of Germany and attacks on living standards are the worst since 1945. Nationally, 11 million people are officially counted as poor with children making up 1.5 million of that total. The gap between rich and poor is widening with 50% of all households owning just 4% of the wealth. 5.2 million are officially unemployed, the highest number in post war German., The figure is probably closer to eight million if you take in to account people who just don't bother to register any more.
Chancellor Schroeder has reacted swiftly and called an early general election. This surprising move is a feeble attempt at damage limitation. The cuts within the Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV programme are only the start. In reality, the German ruling class want things to go much further. Schroeder hopes that by moving sooner rather than waiting, all of the cuts will not have impacted before the election. The poor state of the German economy does not give him much room for manoeuvre.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) is leading in polls. In the regional elections in North Rhine Westphalia, they had 44.8 % of the vote and an extra one million votes. The leader of the CDU/CSU Angela Merkel is described as the German Thatcher. While saying they will ease some of the cuts, their policies are in line with the agenda of German capitalism and big business.
The development of the new left party WASG (Work and Social Justice - the Electoral Alternative) could be an important focal point and channel for the huge anger within the German working class. In North Rhine Westphalia, where they stood for the first time they received a credible 2.2% - about 181,000 votes. They received 9% among the unemployed, making them the third largest party within this section of society. The statement by former finance minister Oskar Lafontaine who has resigned from the SPD that he would be willing to stand on a ticket that included the WASG has led to a lot of media coverage for the new formation. Since then, polls are showing the WASG achieving up to 18%.
This shows the huge anger and the desire of the German working class for a genuine left party. Some of the leaders of WASG seem intent on turning it into only a slightly more radical version of the SPD. Socialists and union activists including members of the CWI are campaigning for WASG to be a fighting party that is committed to a socialist programme and organising mass opposition to the neo-liberal agenda of the SPD and the other right wing parties.