Germany 350,000 protest

THE LAST number of months has seen a significant increase in the opposition to the Schroeder led governments vicious attacks on working class people. Following on from the 100,000-strong national demonstration against the so called 'Agenda 2010' austerity package - protests, work stoppages and strike action has become the tactics of working people in opposing these measures.

By Alan Lee

Agenda 2010 is essentially an all-out attack on all the past gains and hard fought rights won by the German working class. With the German economy in recession, unemployment standing at 10.1% and Germany unable to meet EU criteria in relation to indebtedness and the budget deficit the working class is being forced to pay for this crisis. Attacks on unemployment benefit, the health system, protection against redundancy in small companies, pensions, working hours, wages and holiday pay are proposed. This will see the unemployed become further impoverished and the number of working poor increase.

However when this is contrasted with the massive profits and wealth of big corporations such as Daimler Chrysler, Deutsche Bank and BMW who pay no tax, the SPDs agenda is laid bare. Make the poor pay. Once the party of the working class, the SPD is thoroughly the party of the capitalist class, viciously implementing its neo-liberal policies. This year alone has seen more than 30,000 members leave the SPD and the party at its lowest historical levels in the opinion polls. The need for a new workers party is posed to truly represent the interests of working class people.

Opposition to the cut-backs amongst the working class throughout Germany is evident. Despite the trade union leadership, which is closely linked to the SPD, who indicated they would not mobilise their membership to oppose Agenda 2010, pressure from below is mounting.

Rank and file take action

Since the end of the summer last year protests and strikes have taken place in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and in the city of Bremen. Amongst the metal workers in southern Germany strike action took place against a generalised attack on industry wide pay agreements and industrial relations legislation. Most importantly however the call for a national demonstration in Berlin on 1 November 2003 saw opposition increase to another level. Socialist Alternative (SAV, the sister party of the Socialist Party in Germany) was at the forefront in calling for this demo. Over 100,000 people marched. What was significant about this demo was the fact that it was organised from below and broke through the resistance of the trade union bureaucracies.

This protest has given confidence to workers to step up the resistance to Agenda 2010. The trade union leaders have even been forced to call for another mass demo this spring and to step up the protests.

Most significantly across Germany, flowing from 1 November, 350,000 people have taken to the streets in protests, including work stoppages. In the middle of December 70,000 university students took to the streets in a number of cities to defend the right to a decent education. This movement of the students is broader than past movements as it is linking up with all those who are opposing the governments neo-liberal offensive. In Berlin an opinion poll show that 83% of the population were sympathetic to the students.

Co-ordinated action

In Kassel, a city in Hessen state, the trade union federation (DGB) called on the 9 December a cross sector local work stoppage. Out of a population of 200,000, around 7,000 people gathered in Kassel city centre. Workers from different sectors joined together on the strike with tram and bus drivers picking up workers, from factories outside industrial areas and bringing them into the demo.

University students who are also on strike against cut-backs in education and the introduction of fees called for the demo and linked up with the striking workers. Also school students organised in "Youth against Social demolition" (JgS) who in October organised a strike and demo against cut-backs of 1,500 youth, mainly apprentices joined this day of action.

The mood is clearly angry and these type of actions are a positive start but further more developed and co-ordinated action is necessary. Socialist Alternative (SAV) has consistently called for the trade union movement to take more decisive measures such as state-wide general strikes and more pointedly a national one day general strike.

The fact that over 350,000 across Germany have engaged in actions shows the potential for such a strike. The response amongst people when this is raised is hugely positive.

It is clear that these protests and strikes are only a start. This year more demos, strikes and a generalised increase in resistance will follow. This will not be in a straight line. There will be set-backs and defeats. The trade union bureaucrats will try to limit these movements but as has been shown workers and youth can and will organise from the below in order to defend their interests against the attacks.

This struggle also needs to be linked to the struggle for a new fighting party of the working class that can challenge the very nature of system and put a socialist future on the agenda.

More articles about Germany from the SP archives of are available in our sitemap

This article is from the January 2004 edition of Socialist Voice. Back issues are available here.