Germany: Crisis and workers struggle

Only two months after the swearing in of the Red-Green government, that had been re-elected to office only by the narrowest of margins, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) threatened his resignation. Speaking to the Executive of his Social Democratic Party on December 10, he said: "Anyone who thinks they can do a better job should go ahead and do it."

One week previously he had noticeably complained about the "Cacophony" (disharmony) in the governing SPD / Green coalition.

In the federal parliamentary elections on September 22, the government led by Chancellor Schröder and Foreign Minister Fischer had barely managed to get by with a bloody nose. The German parliamentary term lasts four years – however, it is more than questionable whether the coalition will survive this whole period. Never before in the history of the Federal Republic has a government slipped so deeply into trouble in such a short space of time.

Economic crisis, a wave of bankruptcies and redundancies, record debts, financial collapse on state and local level, token strikes and strike threats in the public services, demonstrations and protests against armament and war preparations. In workplaces, in the trade unions, in schools and universities, something is brewing. At the same time, government and capital are in an open conflict over what to do next. The development of consciousness among workers, the unemployed and young people, which up until now only progressed gradually, is gaining pace significantly and coming more and more to the surface. In the current pay dispute for public sector employees on federal, state and local level, the union leadership sees itself forced to adopt a fighting tone. With the workers and young people of Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe having returned to the stage of class struggle in an impressive manner over the last 12 months, the polarisation of the classes is gaining pace in Germany too. The current privileged and removed leadership of the labour movement will from now on be less and less able to restrain militancy and stall resistance.

On the verge of a new recession

Germany is the third most powerful economy in the world. It is the number one in the European Union: Germany contributes 20% of the Gross Domestic Product of the EU. But what was once an economic giant is now wobbling. In the following year, Germany will for the fourth year in a row be bottom of the EU table in terms of increase of GDP. The downturn on the stock market also overshadows anything witnessed in any of the other leading economies: between January and October, the Deutsche Aktienindex (the index of the shares of 30 of the largest companies listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange) dropped by 48%; despite the fact that the Dax recovered slightly since then, it was unable to reverse these losses by December.

The economic crisis of the economic giant that is Germany now poses a serious threat to the future of the European Monetary Union. The level of newly incurred public debt for this year is significantly above the 3 per cent of GDP allowed by the EU stability pact (this prompted EU-Commission President Prodi to describe the pact as "stupid"). Next year, the target will only be met if the German economy grows by 1,5 per cent, a growth level that all economic research institutes regard as illusory. Not only the level of new debt, but also the total public debt leaves the federal government in breach of the convergence criteria. Germany is the fourth EU country after Greece, Italy and Belgium to amass a national debt in excess of the permitted 60% of the GDP (the total debt for 2002 is 62%). The capitalist downturn has meant that the national debt in Germany, already massively increased by the costs of reunification, has more than doubled during the 1990s, reaching a level of 1,2 billion euro.

A landslide from this mountain of debt is already rolling towards taxpayers – 170 million euro every day, just to pay for the interest. In an adaptation of the metaphor of the "sick man at the Bosporus" used at the beginning of the 20th century, the Financial Times wrote on the 17th of November about the "sick man in Berlin".

Investment in Germany has been decreasing since the year 2000. Last year, the consumer sector, the second pillar of the economic upturn, collapsed. Only foreign trade has saved the stagnating German economy from a deep recession. One third of the German economy is dependent on the export market for survival. In the car industry which employs 750 000 people, the figure is as high as 70%. This means that Germany is particularly dependent on the US economic cycle.

With the German economy already having nose-dived last year, a further plunge into recession looms these next few months. Industrial production declined by 2,1% in October (the largest fall since March 2001), having already decreased in September. By now, "negative growth" of industry is already being expected for the fourth quarter of this year. This has lead more and more economists to abandon all hope for the first six months of next year. Between now and the middle of 2003, Germany faces at best a phase of stagnation, which could well lead to a new downturn. Even Robert Prior from the HSBC Group said: "We’re not very far away from a new recession in Germany" (Handelsblatt 10th December 2002).

All this adds up to an expected figure of 42.000 expected bankruptcies for the year 2003. Already this year, 37,000 companies went bust, including large firms such as Kirch Media, Babcock, Fairchild Dornier and Herlitz.

This wave of bankruptcies cost 650 000 employees their job. In the last month alone, the number of unemployed exploded by more than 230,000 to reach a level of 4,030,000. Since the recession in West Germany in the mid-seventies, unemployment in the Federal Republic has doubled in every economic crisis.

Deutsche Telekom wants to get rid of 54 000 jobs, 36.000 railway employees jobs are at risk, Siemens intends to destroy 35 000 jobs worldwide, Alcatel-SEL wants to get rid of 10 000 employees over the next two years…

"The money isn’t gone – it’s ’just’ somewhere else", was the message on a self-painted sign displayed during the first token strike in Berlin to mark the beginning of pay negotiations for the public sector on December 11th. Indeed it is true that under Red-Green government, corporate taxation has been transformed from a tax on businesses to a subsidy for businesses: in the year 2000, the state took in EUR 25 billion, in 2001, EUR 400 million were actually paid out to large companies. Today, a nurse or a refuse collector has to cough up more taxes than DaimlerChrysler or BMW. Incidentally, BMW is the largest industrial company in Munich. While BMW made a net profit of 1.1 billion euro last year, Munich, the third largest city in Germany, is bankrupt. This makes Gerhard Schröder the first Chancellor to govern in times of massive disintegration. Local councils such as Offenbach in the state of Hesse have plans which, for example, include letting 88 schools be run by private companies "according to the British example" as a means of reducing public spending.

In the 1990s, the Gross Domestic Product grew by a total of 15%. At the same time, net profits doubled while workers net income went down.

Dismantling of social security systems looms

"The two men who lead the country, Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, can’t decide how. Highly contradictory messages are sent to the people. One says: The situation is serious, we have to do some difficult things, but we will protect you from fundamental changes. Germany can, in principle, stay like it was. Doing without certain things is a temporary phenomenon. That is the signal from the Social Democrats and the Trade Unions.

"The other says: The situation is serious, we have to do some difficult things, but the really fundamental reforms have yet to come. Germany will never be the same again. The – modest – sacrifices – will be permanent." (Berlin Tagesspiegel, December 11th 2002).

It is true that desperation, caused by the state of public finances and the strait jacket of the EU stability pact, was the defining motive behind the first drafts of legislation presented by the new old government. Government and business interests are publicly arguing over a common political line. Despite this, Schröder’s cabinet is definitely bowing to the interests of Capital.

"The miracle is not a normal category in politics. But what is happening among the German Social Democrats is a break with all previous experience of Berlin political life. Suddenly, the SPD accepts everything that for years was denounced as capitalist demonism.

"A low wage sector bitterly resisted up until now … a worker’s rights law such as that against artificial self-employment is dropped en passant onto the scrap heap of German social history. Mini-jobs are no longer only acceptable in so far as they involve housewives working in a shop for a short few hours, … Even the ideological nonsense that even low earners should avail of the blessings of an independent pension scheme and therefore mini-job employees should have a right to a pension, seems to be vanishing in thin air" (Handelsblatt, December 13th 2002).

What the mouthpiece of medium sized business describes as a "miracle" is no more than a confirmation of the analysis Marxists made during the 1990s that the German Social Democrat Party, just like the British Labour Party, has changed from a worker’s party with a bourgeois leadership into a bourgeois party through and through. The SPD and the Greens have laid the foundations for loading the burden of this crisis of the capitalist system onto the backs of the working class. It’s not about "limited sacrifices"; it’s about unlimited cutbacks, a massacre of cutbacks. If the plans of Capital become reality, Germany will indeed "never be the same again". All social rights that were fought for and won are now under fire, the "Welfare state", or whatever is left of it, is to be dismantled.

Indeed, it was in the particularly business-friendly daily newspaper Handelsblatt that Chancellor Schröder on December 16th gave a statement under a headline that amounts to a promise "We will cut back on benefits". Schröder’s exclusive statement began with the sentence: "The Chancellor goes on the offensive: in the light of the disastrous state of the labour market and the unsatisfactory growth prospects, the Chancellor puts his trust in reforms, mostly regarding social welfare systems." These "reforms" are in fact counter-reforms, which mean the beginning of the end for the social welfare systems which were fought for and won by the labour movement during the Bismarck era in the last third of the 19th century.

For weeks, the re-introduction of the wealth tax, abolished by the last Kohl government, was under discussion. State and local SPD politicians who feared losing out in their own elections due to the nation-wide drop in popularity of their party, tried to score points with this suggestion. Schröder abruptly ended the debate on this tax, which would bring an estimated 16 billion euro extra of public funds. Instead, the taxation of interest is to be changed. However this is, in fact, a further tax handout for the bosses, since the new law means that the level of taxation of interest from capital gains will be below the level of tax paid by a working person’s household. Apart from this, there are also plans for a generous amnesty for tax evaders (overall, no substantial extra revenue for the public purse is expected).

While Capital applauds these measures, the SPD gave in. The previous measures of the Red-Green government went nowhere near far enough for the German capitalist class. Despite this, the working class is not only subjected to individual attacks, rather there has been a real wave of attacks in the few weeks since the election (this wave will grow in magnitude after the state elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony on 2nd February 2003).

These include:

  • a "Savings package" to the tune of 13 billion euro: increases in VAT, cutbacks on homeowner’s allowance, increase in contributions to unemployment and pensions insurance, etc.
  • the application of the plans of the "Hartz Commission" on employment: means testing of unemployment benefit according to the partner’s income, a huge increase in the use of temporary work with pay reductions of 20-30% in the first weeks as well as a removal of the protection against unlawful dismissal to name but a few of its measures.
  • the setting up of the "Rürup Commission". Just like with "Hartz", this is the creation of a commission of representatives from the government, business and trade unions who want to apply cuts to social security. Their goal is a separation between optional and compulsory treatments in the health service and increasing the retirement age.
  • the pensions swindle: an increase in pensions contributions from 19,1 to 19,5%.
  • an "Emergency package" in the health service: A freeze on pay for doctors and on funding for hospitals, a halving of the death grant etc. with the aim of saving 3.5 billion euro annually.
  • the undermining of the legislation on shop opening times: moving shop closing time on Saturdays from 4 to 8pm.
  • in the current pay negotiation round in the public sector the employers, all SPD and CDU politicians, make threats of a pay freeze, pay cuts, cutbacks in holiday entitlements and Christmas bonuses, plus an extension of working hours and redundancies. Furthermore they are threatening national collective wage agreements. They want so-called "Opening clauses" in the wage agreements to allow them to renegotiate previously agreed settlements. Furthermore there is discussion of the idea of cities and municipalities leaving the national association of local authority public sector employers and negotiating their own, local, deals.
  • the capital city, Berlin, is already seeing a dismantling of social security. The Berlin city government (the Senate) of SPD and PDS (the Party of Democratic Socialism, successor of the former Stalinist state party in East Germany) is playing the role of trailblazer for such measures all over Germany. Already Berlin is leaving national the association of local authority employers at the beginning of 2003, cancelling collective wage agreements for its staff effective from the end of 2003, extending civil servants and teachers working hours by two hours from February 2003, cutting back on 950 educational staff in crèches, etc. The motto of Mayor Klaus Wowereit (SPD) is, appropriately enough: "Saving until it squeaks".

Panic in the Government camp

"When more boys are born than girls, the old people used to say, there’s a war coming. When the theatres start playing Brecht that means: crisis. The man with the cigar, who seemed to have got all the praise he was going to get on his 100th birthday a few years ago, is experiencing quite a Renaissance" (Theatre critic Rüdiger Schaper in the Arts section of the Berlin Tagesspiegel, 16th December 2002).

Never before in the history of the Federal Republic has a government experienced such a dramatic collapse in support during its first 100 days in office: According to an opinion poll from the Forsa institute on 4th December, the Social Democrats would only get 27% of the vote if an election were to be held at that time (in the 22nd September election they got 38%). "I’ll increase your taxes, elected is elected, you can’t sack me now, that’s the cool thing about democracy" sings the Gerd Schröder voice impersonator Elmar Brandt in his "Tax song". Significantly his CD, "The Gerd Show", has occupied the top spot in the German music charts for weeks.

"I’m glad to be back in Berlin under the glass dome, back in the constituency all I get is abuse". That’s how one SPD MP (Wolfgang Grotthaus from Oberhausen in the weekly political magazine "Spiegel", 9th December 2002) expressed the anger in the constituencies. 40% of those who voted SPD in September would stay at home if there were an election today – this means that the masses turning away from the Social Democrats would not bring a large swelling of support for the Christian Democrats.

Besides Hesse, state elections are also due on 2nd February in the state of Lower Saxony. "If, in the current political climate, the Chancellor’s home state is also lost, the alarm bells will be ringing in Berlin. Schröder will have to get used to the idea of fighting against a Conservative-dominated Bundesrat for the rest of his term of office (the Bundesrat is a second chamber beside the Bundestag, the national parliament, in which the governments of the individual federal states are represented. At the moment, the traditionally largest bourgeois party, the Christian Democratic Union, has a narrow majority in the Bundesrat). It is not entirely unlikely that if this happens, Schröder will go straight to the CDU/CSU (the CSU is the Union’s party in Bavaria) and attempt a ’Grand coalition’ with them to push through the necessary reforms." (Handelsblatt, 13.12.02).

Growing parts of the working class have been gripped by a sense of crisis. For some time, a feeling of betrayal by the political establishment in general and the governing SPD and Green parties in particular has been spreading. The fear of further job and welfare cutbacks and the anger at the one sided class struggle from above will not overshadow the concerns about a possible war with Iraq, but it is growing in significance week by week, day by day, and could become the dominant issue, at least so long as the Bush administration does not begin with military strikes against Saddam Hussein.

The Schröder/Fischer government has ridden itself into a crisis not only on the domestic front (as regards the lack of public funds and the climbing social fever) but also with their foreign policy. Even though the government has guaranteed the USA use of military bases in German and the right to over fly German airspace as well as being co-operative with the ongoing war preparations, the foreign policy pursued by the German government (resulting from Schröder’s desperate last ditch attempt to win an election he seemed set to lose) cannot please the German bourgeoisie. "The situation wasn’t very serious. It was just a half-sentence from Mr. Wolfowitz, that the USA would need the help of AWACS reconnaissance planes from NATO in the event of an attack on Iraq; a slight cough was sufficient to send Red-Green into feverish fit … if the government goes on like this, it will no longer be taken seriously as a partner. There certainly can be no more talk of a partner in leadership " (Berlin Tagesspiegel , 11th December 2002).

The Red-Green government is not presenting a united front. The right wing of the SPD, organised around the Seeheim Group, is already considering the possibility of a Grand Coalition, without Schröder, with the current SPD economics minister Clement as leader. Various ministers stab each other in the back in public. The Greens shot down their party leaders at their party conference at the beginning of December. All this does not paint a picture of a freshly confirmed government with everything under control.

The protests of public sector workers in the course of the pay dispute are more and more becoming demonstrations of dissatisfaction against the Schröder government. The union speakers at the ver.di (the giant public sector, transport, finance, media and shop workers union) demonstration on the 5th of December in Bremen were repeatedly interrupted by shouts of "Eichel must go". These slogans, aimed at the SPD finance minister Hans Eichel, are reminiscent of the "Kohl must go" shouts heard on demonstrations in the mid nineties. At that time the protests against Kohl’s wealth redistribution policy culminated in a march to Bonn, then Germany’s seat of government, by 500,000 workers in the summer of 1996, spontaneous strikes involving 100,000 metalworkers to defend their right to sick pay in the autumn of 1996, and blockades of roads and bridges by miners in the Rhine and Ruhr areas in 1997. Then, the trade union bureaucracy managed to smother the protests by reminding people of the possibility of a change of government in the upcoming general election of 1998.

Even if the resistance is just beginning now, the union leadership is lacking this room to manoeuvre which they had then.

"Beginnings of class struggle"

Immediately after the general election, the pay negotiations for the public sector began. (The government and trade union leadership had deliberately fixed the end of the old wage deal for the weeks after the election date). The union leadership, despite claims for increases of 6% coming from their membership, put forward the goal of getting a "three in front of the decimal point", i.e. at least a 3% rise. But the union leaders were forced into adopting a more radical tone by the massive pressure from below during the token strikes.

For example, the head of the largest public sector union ver.di, Frank Bsirske said in speeches delivered at various demonstrations: "What we don’t need is saving for Gloria (von Thurn und Taxis) and for the Holtzbrinck family with an estimated family fortune of five to six billion euros." This led the Minister-President of the state of Hesse, Roland Koch (CDU), when speaking in the state parliament, to compare the unions’ campaign for a reintroduction of a wealth tax, which would bring 15 billion euro of extra public funds, to the persecution of Jews under the Nazis: "Stop misleading people that it would only affect a few reach people. The way Mr. Bsirske did it on television yesterday, naming the names of individuals, like some kind of new star on their chest: they are the rich, the ones who should pay."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the most important publication of German Capital, commentated as follows on 13th December: "This is an improper comparison, because the persecution of Jews under Hitler bares no comparison. Koch’s later apology was compelling. However, anyone who thinks that ’Parallels to other times’ should be banned as a matter of principal, is curtailing the power of history as an instructor today’s politics. If Koch had in his speech recalled the beginnings of the class struggle, no one would have been entitled to get angry, certainly not in those parties, who intentions in this regard are not entirely distant from this. That struggle also started with accusations against the rich." This reaction to a trade union leader who saw himself forced to come out with a few home truths at the beginning of a wage dispute illustrates that the first beads of sweat are already appearing on the foreheads of some representatives of the ruling class.

"Beginnings of the class struggle" in Germany were noticeable even before the pay negotiations for the public sector started. Throughout the whole year of 2002, one sector after another saw an increase in token strikes (retail, printing, banking, at the Postal Service and Telekom) and proper strikes (in the metal and building industries). These measures are all the more remarkable given that they occurred during an economic crisis and directly before a general election.

The work stoppages in the building sector were particularly noteworthy, since a strike was carried out in a sector that has been gripped by crisis since the middle of the nineties.

The strikes and labour disputes in Germany have not nearly reached the same level as in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece or other European countries. But on the other hand, the most powerful working class on the continent with the most tradition for the international labour movement, has not been weakened as much as their colleagues in other countries. In the last 20 years, there was no effort by the German ruling class to weaken the working class comparable to that in Britain under Margaret Thatcher with her attack on the miners and the entire British labour movement. Even if Capital and governments have agreed on "Social partnership" and have accelerated the class struggle from above, the conditions in Germany are comparably better than in most other leading capitalist countries. Since Germany is still dominated by industry, the German working class has potentially a much larger economic strength. The industrial metalworkers union with its 2.5 million members is the second largest individual trade union on the planet – after the public sector union ver.di (the trade union umbrella organisation, the DGB, has a total of eight million members).

In the work places and unions, there is currently a collision between enormously increased militancy and readiness to fight on behalf of the employees and the selling out of basic trade union positions on the part of the trade union bureaucracy. The limited nature of the struggles so far is not down to a lack of anger or determination, rather on the contrary, it is the result of a fear spreading among the trade union bureaucracy that more widespread disputes may become unable to control.

However, the cauldron is boiling so much that the bureaucracy is finding it more and more difficult to stop fighting measures being taken. Due to the extent of the economic crisis and the extent if the attacks on all aspects of the standard of living – together with the experiences of Red-Green and the trade union leadership – the consciousness of the working class will develop in leaps and bounds. The international labour disputes, which the trade union leadership deliberately avoided mentioning at the most recent demonstrations, can be seen as a major encouragement. At a nationwide demonstration by ver.di on December 5th in Bremen, fire fighters carried a self-painted banner with the message: "An English labour struggle is possible here too! We’re ready! And that’s a promise!" The decision to take a token strike by kitchen staff in a Stuttgart hospital was marked by the striking workers singing the song "Avanti Popolo".

Furthermore the anger at the continued military proliferation (the "defence budget" was increased for 2003: armament projects like the building of 60 military transport planes were agreed, the expenditure for overseas military operations have multiplied by a factor of 10 under Red-Green) will become an issue. Germany is not -yet- France. Still, German workers and young people can vent their social protest through anger at militarisation and war in the same way as their French neighbours: A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on December 9th about a large demonstration of tens of thousands of teachers, pupils and parents in Paris said: "Teachers, but also parents associations and pupils fear that the increased expenditure on internal security will come at the expense of the education system."

Threat of public sector strike

The current pay round in the public sector could bring all the stored up anger of the working class to the surface. A strike could work as a catalyst for struggles against the closures and redundancies, against local authority cuts and further attacks on social security.

More than eight million are directly or indirectly affected by the pay negotiations, twenty per cent of the working population of Germany. The unions have made a claim of "three per cent plus x", which is around the same as the settlements achieved in the industrial sector this year. Apart from this, the process of bringing wages in the eastern Germany up to the level of the west is to be completed by 2007 (A western refuse collector, married with one child, earns 1.789,74 euro before tax, in the east it is only 1579,31 euro including bonuses). These claims are everything but likely to mobilise people. What will mobilise people are the provocations by the employers. The Federal government and the negotiators from state and local authorities are looking for a pay freeze. Leading SPD politicians have publicly declared that every percentage point of a wage increase would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. The employers even go so far as to demand wage cuts: cuts in holiday and Christmas bonuses and measures which amount to a gradual burying of the concept of collective wage agreements.

A nasty compromise cannot be ruled out, preventing a larger strike at the last minute. However, the employers’ room for manoeuvre is limited – as long as they don’t start picking a quarrel with Capital. Confronted with empty coffers, record debt and forced administration in a growing number of local authorities, the water really is up to their necks.

At the same time, the trade union leadership is under increasing pressure from below. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented on December 17th under the headline "On course for conflict": "Even before serious negotiations and long before the failure of talks, ver.di has already threatened strikes, to blackmail the employers." ver.di is "only considering its organisational interest and wants to use a labour dispute to slow down its loss of members." Last year alone, ver.di lost 80.000 members. It is significant that the leader of the ver.di union, Frank Bsirske, has linked the course and result of the dispute very closely with his own personal position.

" ’That man is not to be envied’ or ’I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes’ – that’s what other union leaders are saying about him. In ver.di’s predecessor union, the ÖTV, it was anger from the membership at the results of pay rounds that, at least indirectly, cost union leaders Wulf-Mathies and Herbert Mai their positions." (Handelsblatt, December 10th 2002). Indeed, both of Bsirske’s predecessors had to resign due to anger at the pay settlements of 1992 (Wulf-Mathies) and 2000 (Herbert Mai). While Wulf-Mathies ignored the majority vote of the membership to reject a compromise and therefore continue a two-week strike, in the case of Mai the fact that the bureaucratic fusion of several unions to form the "United service union ver.di" two years ago caused substantial resistance among large sections of the membership. The events of previous years forced Bsirske to talk about the 2000 wage round during the token strikes, and to a certain extent distance himself from the then union leader Mai. The union leadership also saw itself forced to include 200 000 workers in the token strikes in the first half of December.

On December 9th, Der Spiegel recalled the public sector wage dispute of 1974, which was decisive in contributing to the resignation of Chancellor Brandt (SPD). "The legendary wage round of 1974 is unforgotten, when the heavyweight trade union leader Heinz Kluncker forced through a wage increase of eleven per cent for public sector workers – and in doing so spelled the beginning of Willy Brandt’s political demise."

In this dispute, the employees face not only further setbacks in their standard of living if the employers get their way, it will also leave hundreds of thousands of people in a situation where they will have to get themselves into debt if they want to allow their children a decent education or if they are confronted with a case of serious illness in the family. Further deterioration of working conditions will lead more and more to question whether than can continue to work at all in the long term.

The extent to which the mood has already become radicalised is shown by the willingness of civil servants to participate in the struggle during this pay round. The majority of teachers, police officers and fire fighters in Germany count as "Servants of the State" ("BeamtInnen") with no right to strike. The German civil servants association, less an employee’s representative body and more of an organisation of a professional group which does not belong to the DGB trade union federation, called a nationwide demonstration of 40 000 civil servants on December 14th in Berlin. Demands for civil servants to be given the right to strike were made at various demonstrations in the past days. At the first major nationwide demonstration in Bremen, trade unions even distributed symbolic certificates with the inscription: "We hereby award the civil servant ____ the right to strike from now on for the rest of their life". It is definitely possible that civil servants could break the ban on them striking during future pay disputes in Germany.

What is certain is that a storm is brewing in the public sector. Strikes will give the workers valuable experience, raise class consciousness and could encourage militancy in other sectors. If the union bureaucracy does manage to prevent a strike and accepts a bad compromise, that step would, given the background of conflicts inside public sector unions in the last ten years – certainly lead to an enormous polarisation inside ver.di. The "Network for a fighting and democratic ver.di", a national internal opposition group in the union, in which members of the SAV (Sozialistische Alternative) play an important role, will have a pivotal role to play.

Generalisation of the protests required

The SAV holds the view that the attacks by government and capital and the looming war against Iraq call for mass mobilisation. The SAV calls for an all-out strike in the public sector. Besides this, the SAV spreads the idea of a large nationwide trade union demonstration – a march on Berlin, against all attacks by the ruling class and the preparation of a one-day general strike. With regard to the planned nationwide anti-war demonstration on February 15th in Berlin, the SAV is supporting the idea of calling for a massive involvement of trade unions. However, what is most necessary is to provide answers to political questions. There is no way around explaining why welfare cuts and war have the same causes. The SAV links the struggle for a socialist program against the capitalist crisis with the slogan of building a new worker’s party.

A "Hot Winter" is possible

The Red-Green government has its back to the wall. In the first 100 days it was confronted with openly conducted trench warfare between different parts of the governing parties, speculation about the formation of a Grand Coalition, a de facto resignation threat from Chancellor Schröder and the failure of the Green Party leadership at the recent party conference. New bad signs in the form of factory closures, mass redundancies at a major company such as Fiat in Italy, a bankruptcy like that of United Airlines recently, a war against Iraq or an escalation in the public sector pay dispute – any of these possible developments could seriously jeopardise the survival of the Red-Green government. Due to the lack of a worker’s party at national level, the upcoming state elections could see dramatic losses for the SPD and the Greens together with temporary vote increases for the traditional bourgeois parties.

Despite the anger and disappointment about the behaviour of the PDS in government at local and state level (Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), a mainly passive increase in support for the PDS cannot be ruled out. However, the next phase will see an increase of interest in class struggle orientated and anti-capitalist ideas among larger sections of workers and young people. Since there are currently no corresponding forces at party-political level for the working class, this radicalisation will express itself chiefly in the form of trade union and social protest. If the US government does see itself forced to shelve its plans to attack Iraq, the social question could overshadow the anti-war movement in Germany over the next few months. Given this background, it is possible, that Germany is in for a "Hot Winter" over the next few weeks. From the upcoming struggles, there may develop the first signs of a new worker’s party, and that idea may find wider dissemination and support.

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January 2003