“My daughter wants to become a policewoman. I hope not! I hope not!” shouts a man in Stuttgart’s Schlosspark (castle park) into the face of a policeman. The words “Shame on you!” was directed against policemen thousands of times in the last days in Germany’s new ‘city of resistance’. What is happening?
For months, the population of Stuttgart demonstrated in their thousands, twice a week, against the ‘Stuttgart 21’ project - the replacement of the main railway station by a underground station. They call this project the ‘graveyard of billions of Euros’ and resist the destruction of a part of the Schlosspark where 280 year old trees are planned to be cut down.
On Thursday, 30 September thousands supported a school students’ strike called by ‘Youth Offensive against Stuttgart 21’. This group, which was set up, amongst others, by members of the Left Party youth wing ‘Solid’ and Sozialistische Alternative (SAV - German section of the CWI) demands money is spent on education instead of ‘Stuttgart 21’ and wanted to underline with their strike action that protest demonstrations are not enough to stop the project. Since August, there have been twice-weekly demonstrations of more than ten thousand people, as well as many other additional protests, often of thousands. But this did not prevent the destruction of the northern wing of the main railway station.
There is an enormous sympathy for civil disobedience and there have been blockades and occupations. However, while these have been sand in the wheels of the project, so far there was not enough participation in these protests to stop ‘Stuttgart 21’.
When school students assembled at 10 am near Schlosspark, the ‘save the park alarm’ was set off - thousands of people and hundreds of the 2,000 school students received a text message on their mobile that the police had started to move into the park to drive protestors out of it so to be able to begin cutting down trees. Immediately and spontaneously, the young demonstrators left the opening rally and marched into the park.
The young people, together with demonstrators who, over the last weeks, always kept a presence in the park, started to organise sit-in blockades in front of police vans to stop the police from entering the park. They peacefully resisted the police by sitting down in front of them and by occupying a few police vehicles that carried crowd barriers and were not protected by the police.
The police fought their way into the park with extreme brutality, using batons, pepper spray and water canons against 14-year-old pupils and old-age pensioners. Despite this massive violence, the blockade continued for hours. The water cannons could advance only metre by metre. When people immediately in front of the water cannon ware dragged away, others joined the blockade. The blockades of the school students had the effect - the advance of the police was slowed so much that other people informed by the text messages had enough time to arrive and to join the blockades. So, more and more older people, workers, pensioners etc. joined the blockades.
The battle continued for the entire day, with probably more than 20,000 people demonstrating in the park. The media speak of 500 to 1,000 injured, amongst them 100 children and young people. Several people suffered fractures. One kid got a broken skull. Two people suffered severe eye injuries from water cannons that may result in them losing the sight in one eye. It was reported that one older woman died on the way to hospital after she was knocked down by a policeman.
Members of Youth Offensive and the SAV led the first blockades and played a crucial role in preventing the police raid the park before more protestors were able to come.
Photographs of the police brutality sent shock waves throughout Germany. There were spontaneous protests in many towns on the same day and in the following days. In many cases, SAV members helped to organise these protests and participated in them. The police operation was obviously an enormous political disaster and PR disaster for the forces behind Stuttgart 21.
Incredibly, to begin with, the authorities justified the police brutality by asserting that the police were attacked with heavy stones and pepper spray by young protestors. Only one hour after this statement was made, it had to be withdrawn, because no evidence could be given to back it up by the police and thousands of people saw with their own eyes what really happened - and video footage of the events were quickly posted on the internet.
There were additional scandals: the company which received the order to fell the trees is based in the constituency of Heribert Rech, the Interior Minister for Baden-Württemberg, who is responsible for the police that carried out this attack. The Eisenbahnbundesamt (Federal railway office) was instructed not to fell the trees because documents about the ecological consequences were missing, but this order was ignored. So this violent police operation protected an illegal measure in the service of a friend of the regional interior minister. This is symptomatic of the whole project: during the destruction of the northern wing of the main station, many regulations were ignored. The entire project is in the interests of the profits of construction companies, property speculators, banks etc. which are more or less entangled with local and state politicians.
A political disaster
While practically the authorities were successful in raiding a part of the park and cutting down the first 25 trees, politically it was a disaster for the ruling circles. On the following day, another of the regular Friday evening demonstrations was scheduled. It turned out to be the biggest demonstration, so far, with around 100,000 participants coming to show their determination to continue the struggle against ‘Stuttgart 21’ and to protest against the police brutality against children and young people. This would be a mighty demonstration anywhere but was especially so in Stuttgart, a city of 600,000 inhabitants.
Speaker after speaker condemned the police violence. Many gave eye witness reports. Florian Tuniotti spoke for ‘Youth Offensive’, winning huge applause. Florian, who is also a member of the SAV in Stuttgart, explained what happened the day before. Florian made clear that it was a conscious decision to start the police action at the same time as the school students’ strike, to provoke clashes in an attempt to put the blame for violence on the demonstrators and to divide the movement. This failed. The movement is more massive than before and now ‘Stuttgart 21’ is a national issue. Last weekend, solidarity protests took place in many German cities, with 400 protesting in front of the Deutsche Bahn (German rail) headquarters in Berlin, 150 in Cologne and more in other places.
SAV members and supporters from ten different cities travelled to Stuttgart for the demonstration and stayed the whole weekend. A youth school was cancelled and members asked to come to Stuttgart instead. Well over 350 papers were sold and more than 1,500 Euros for the fighting fund were raised within two days. Many people expressed their interest in socialist ideas and three new members joined over the weekend.
The movement in Stuttgart is a mass movement of a peculiar character. It involves extremely broad layers of the population and, particularly, as a single-issue movement, there exist many illusions, for example in the Green Party and its role in the next regional elections, scheduled for March 2011. At the same time, the movement has put questions of direct action on the agenda and thousands are prepared to participate in or support blockades like last Thursday’s. It is so obvious that the regional and city governments (fully backed by Chancellor Merkel) and the rail company Deutsche Bahn are acting against the will of the majority in such a completely and blatantly undemocratic way that for many people wider political issues are now on the agenda. This was reinforced by the police brutality. Elderly men in sober suits are calling the police “green pigs” and elegant women who probably voted for the conservative party, until recently, are donating money or food for the ‘Robin Wood’ activists who have occupied some of the park trees and who have lived in tree huts twenty meters above ground over the last few weeks. Thousands of people wear the green campaign badges and discussions are taking place everywhere.
Need to democratically organize mass movement
While the spontaneous element of the movement and the fact that it is not controlled by any bureaucratic apparatus is a certain advantage, this also means that the movement reaches certain limits as the struggle intensifies. It is clear that demonstrations are probably not enough to stop the project. Certainly demonstrations will not stop and have not stopped the first demolitions of a part of the old train station and the first trees being felled. This is because the movement is massive but not organized enough - and also not big enough yet. Had there been five thousand protestors prepared to blockade the demolition crews, alongside 100,000 people in the park instead of 20,000, the police would probably had to stop their attack at a certain point. To build a movement like this, more people have to get actively involved in neighbourhood, school and workplace committees and be prepared. The movement also needs democratic structures and coordination, which is not the case up until now. But above all the trade unions must stop their shameful passivity. Workers participate in great numbers in the demonstrations. A SAV trade unionist said that from his workplace more people participate in demonstrations than ever before - but as individuals and not organized, as the trade union leaderships do not act. It is necessary for activists to step up the campaign in the unions for workplace assemblies, an information campaign, mobilisation for demonstrations and blockades and also strike action against Stuttgart 21. When the next attempts to cut down more trees takes place, young people will be there again to block the police – and their worker parents should be there, as well. It is the responsibility of the trade union leaderships to make sure this happens. Nationally, the Left Party should be campaigning to support the Stuttgart protests, as a challenge to both wasteful “prestige” projects and the arrogance of the ruling class, which has shown again how it brutally suppress oppositions to its schemes.
We call on all sections of the CWI, trade unionists and youth activists to send messages of solidarity to the Youth Offensive and the SAV in Stuttgart at: