Germany: Biggest union backs anti-cuts demo

October 25 saw the congress of biggest trade union in the world, ver.di, unanimously back the anti-cuts demo called for November 1 in Berlin.

The resolution moved by left delegates called on the national executive and all union organisations to publicly support and call upon all ver.di members to attend this national demonstration.

Already many ver.di organisations were supporting this protest, including 4 of its 16 regions. The union, which represents a wide range of workers in the public sector, transport, finance, the media, wholesale and retail trades, is the largest organisation so far to support this demonstration.

In his closing remarks to the congress Bsirske, the ver.di leader, called on delegates to "go into the workplaces, into the streets" to mobilise for this demonstration.

Members of the Socialist Alternative (SAV, the CWI’s German affiliate) played an important role in winning the support of ver.di congress for this protest and were instrumental in initiating the demonstration in the first place. Back in August SAV members were the main movers at a national "action conference" of anti-cuts activists of the idea of calling a national demonstration against the cuts programme of the Schr”der led Social Democrat-Green government. Some at that meeting thought it was the wrong step and that protests should be kept to a local level.

But these doubts showed an underestimation of the growing anger in Germany to the austerity policies of the SPD-Green administration. Already there have been brief warning strikes against the government’s policies, most noticeably a stoppage on October 12 by 12,000 Mercedes workers from two shifts at the Sindelfinden works in Stuttgart.

Since then there has been further anger fuelled by the government’s decision to cut old age pensions next year. One result is that the latest opinion poll shows that support for the SPD has fallen to 22%, down from 27% two weeks ago.

The November 1 demonstration promises to be a very significant development. But then the question will be what to do next? The SAV is campaigning for the next step to be a one-day General Strike. Already the GEW teachers union in the federal state of Hessen has called a strike for November 18, while the police union there has called for a general strike against the Hessen state government’s cuts programme.

The scale, speed and sharpness of the cuts being imposed in Germany have shocked the population. Day after day there is constant propaganda that there is no alternative but to accept lower living standards. However within the workers’ movement there is a growing search for an alternative to austerity.

At the ver.di congress resolutions for the public ownership of key industries were not taken, but the recommendation of the congress’s resolutions committee that they should be material for the union’s new Basic Programme was agreed.

As the November 1 demonstration approaches the SAV will increasingly argue for a General Strike as the next step and for socialist policies as the only fundamental alternative to the lower living standards on offer from capitalism.

The Frankfurter Rundschau reported on October 27 that after the Congress the ver.di executive decided not to implement the resolution and centrally support the November 1 demonstration, but instead to only give a “message” to members to go. cwi online.

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October 2003