The shaky government of Angela Merkel plans to cut 80 billion Euros by 2014 – mainly through cuts in social spending and the destruction of jobs in the public sector. 79 percent of the population according to an opinion poll think that this cuts programme is socially uneven and unjust – no wonder given the fact that big business and the super rich got tax gifts in the beginning of the year and these will not even be reversed. This is one reason for the mounting unpopularity and divisions within Merkel’s coalition; currently opinion polls show the government’s support languishing well under 40%.
The demonstrations, planned some months ago, were called by a broad coalition of the Left Party, the public sector union ver.di, other trade union bodies, social movements and left groups. Sozialistische Alternative (SAV), the German section of the CWI, is part of this coalition and printed many thousands of posters, leaflets and stickers to help mobilise. However the leadership of the trade unions did not do much for the mobilisations. Some unions did not even support the demonstrations. This is the reason why the potential for a mass protest against the austerity programme was not seized. But 45,000 is a good beginning and could mark the overture for a hot autumn in Europe’s strongest capitalist power.
The demo in Berlin was dominated by anti-capitalist slogans and reflected the growing radicalism amongst a layer of young people and unemployed. The Left Party had a relatively big contingent with about 2,000 participants – despite the fact that its mobilisation campaign was limited. This also shows the potential which exists if the party leadership did put all it’s energy into building a strong protest movement on the streets. But the political outlook of the Left Party leaders became clear in the speech of Gesine Lötzsch, the new party chairwoman. After putting forward the demands of the party for a higher taxation of the rich and against social cuts she called on people to continue protests but “above all (!) to remember who was with them at the next elections” - something which surely did not go down well with many protesters.
One of the speakers in Berlin was the socialist trade unionist Mustafa Efe from the Daimler factory in the city. He is the organiser of a group of critical members of the IG Metall union called “Alternative” and is currently threatened with expulsion form his union because he and the group stood independently against the right-wing majority of the union in the recent works council elections (winning 25 percent of the vote!). Mustafa said that the trade unions had to become fighting organisations again, called on the unions to organise a European-wide fight back against the cuts and demanded the metal industry to be put under public ownership and democratic control as the trade union’s statues demand (but has been “forgotten” by the leadership).
The demonstration in Stuttgart saw a higher participation of public sector workers as the ver.di trade union had concentrated its mobilisation there. In a shameful way SPD and the Green Party also tried to present themselves as part of the protest movement and had speakers on the platform. But people have not forgotten that it was a SPD/Green government which began the destruction of the social security system back in 2003 with the introduction of the notorious ‘Agenda 2010’. So the SPD regional parliamentary leader was shouted down and was pelted with eggs.
SAV members were present on both demonstrations as part of the youth contingents, with their trade unions, selling papers, shouting slogans, collecting signatures against the expulsion of the Daimler workers from their union, raising money for the demo organisers’ alliance. We called on the trade unions to start a mass campaign against the cuts programme preparing a one-day general strike in autumn and, at the same time, put forward a clear socialist programme against the crisis of capitalism.