Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

IN GERMANY hundreds of thousands of workers have been protesting against Chancellor Schroder's attacks on the welfare state. Socialist Alternative (SAV- the German section of the CWI) is calling for a one day general strike.

Mass protests against Schroder's cuts

IN THE last two months Germany has been rocked by weekly Montags-demonstrationen (Monday demonstrations) against the proposed government reform package "Agenda 2010" and new employment law Hartz IV.

By Chris Loughlin

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets as the protests reached a peak at the end of August, with 30,000 in Berlin (its first Monday demonstration), 25,000 in Leipzig where 10,000 had protested the week before and 15,000 in Magdeburg. The protests, which originally began in East Germany have spread right across the country, as German workers show their disgust at the neo-liberal agenda being implemented by the Social Democrats and Green Party. Much to the annoyance of Chancellor Schroder, the protests have taken the name and are being compared to the weekly Monday night demonstrations of 1989 that helped bring down the East German government.

According to IG Metal (Germany's largest metal and engineering union) if the Hartz IV law comes into effect as planned on 1 January 2005, half a million unemployed will be left without any state support. A drop in benefits is proposed and people will be forced to accept jobs anywhere in the country, jobs paying 2-3 an hour are considered acceptable. One of the main objectives of "Agenda 2010" and the Hartz IV law is to cut state spending and create a large low wage sector in the German economy.

Anger against the proposed cuts is especially strong amongst East Germans whose jobs were systematically destroyed during the 1990s in the name of "modernisation". Yet unemployment in the East is still over 20% (twice the national average of 10%) and in some areas is far closer to 50%, in every family or extended family you will find at least one person unemployed.

Startlingly the wealth of the poorest quarter of West Germans has more than halved since 1993 while the wealth of the richest quarter has grown by 25% in the same period. What's more the people who will really benefit from "Agenda 2010" are the rich. While the unemployed will collectively lose 10 billion through the proposed changes, each individual millionaire in Germany will gain 108,000 through tax reforms!

Germany, the second biggest economy in the world has been stuck in stagnation and recession in the last few years with 0% growth for this year. Employment is continuing to fall and analysts are predicting unemployment to go above five million during the winter. Schroder however, has no idea what to do other than to simply throw more people onto the dole and hope low paid jobs will appear over time.

A new political grouping in which Socialist Alternative (SAV - Socialist Party's sister organisation in Germany) has taken part, the Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice has been tipped to immediately poll 11% in elections if it decided to stand. In the 2004 "Data Report" issued by the Federal Statistics Office, 79% of East Germans and 51% of West Germans felt socialism is a "good idea" that was "only badly implemented" in the former Eastern Europe and Soviet Union. That's the judgement after 15 years of re-unification and in the midst of the current attacks on living standards, the opposition to capitalism is growing.

Socialist Alternative has argued for the building of democratic campaigning structures, involving workers, the unemployed and others. This has been linked to a combined strategy of building support from below for a one-day general strike, while simultaneously demanding that the trade unions call such a protest as the next step. A one day general strike, the first in the whole of Germany since the 1920s, would shake the whole of German society and move the struggle onto a much higher level.

The fact that Germany is being rocked by these protests also points to the rotten system we live under, which refuses to contemplate any concessions to working people. The protests have waned in the last few weeks, yet this is understandable considering no real action has been taken by the trade union leaders.

The events in Germany also point to the fact that struggle will inevitably develop under the present system. The drive for profit will constantly mean the erosion of public services and living standards. Germany also shows the limitations of capitalism. A country that has long been considered one of the most socially progressive in the world can no longer afford basic welfare rights. Only a socialist system planned for people's needs not profits can guarantee a better standard of living for people.

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