Germany: 100,000 demonstrate against Schröder’s Social Cuts

Today’s much bigger than expected 100,000 strong Berlin protest against social cuts has demonstrated the enormous discontent and rage that is building up in Germany.

100,000 have marched in Berlin against the cuts programme of the Schröder led Social Democrat-Green government. Socialist Alternative (SAV, the CWI’s German affiliate) has been arguing for such a national demonstration for some time. In August SAV members were the main movers at a national “action conference” of anti-cuts activists of the idea of holding a protest in Berlin on November 1. Here Holger Dröge reports from Berlin on this extremely successful event, which was the number one news item in Germany on November 1. cwi online

100,000 demonstrate against Schröder’s Social Cuts

In the run up to today’s protest the tops of both of Germany’s largest union ver.di and the DGB trade union federation refused to support the call to demonstrate. The ver.di leadership decided to ignore the unanimous decision of their union congress to support this protest. Indeed only two days ago the DGB leader Michael Summer described demonstrations against the social politics of the SPD-Green as “not particularly promising”.

“Heute”, the news programme of the second state owned TV station ZDF, pointed out that “the DGB rejected supporting the call for the demonstration. Also representatives of the Churches, religious social help organisations and the parties in the Bundestag were not officially represented.” Significantly the absence of support from these “official” bodies did not stop 100,000 turning out.

Even in the leadership of anti-globalisation group Attac there was for weeks criticisms questioning whether a successful national mobilisation was possible, back in August these voices wanted only local demos to be held. The size of today’s march pointed to the strange world such people live in.

What is important is that today’s demonstration was organised from below. It has broken through the blockade of the trade union tops who in early summer decided to stop organising protests against the Schröder government’s neo-liberal “Agenda 2010”. Today’s national protest can be the start of a rise in resistance, in the form of protests and strikes organised locally, regionally, in the federal states and nationally, to the ruling class’s attempt to cut living standards.

Nationally around 30,000 people travelled to Berlin to protest, while tens of thousands of Berliners spontaneously joined the demonstration. Many of these Berliners had not known about the demonstration but immediately participated. In the face of savage local cuts being imposed by the SPD-PDS Berlin city government there is a mood for strike action particularly amongst the city’s transport and sanitation workers. This demonstration has impressively confirmed what is already possible if activists mobilise against to break the blockade against resistance that the union leaderships are attempting to maintain.

Bernd Riexinger, the ver.di local leader in Stuttgart, sharply attacked the Federal Government in his speech at the closing speech; “We stand here today because we do not want to accept any longer the audacious attempt to rebuild, hollow out and destroy the social security system that we fought for and developed.” Banners proclaiming “Now it is enough, away with Schröder” gave vent to the anger of numerous people against Federal Government’s drastic measures ranging from its “health reform”, next year’s “zero round” for pensions, to the “Hartz reforms” to weaken job security and attack the unemployed.

The mood on the demonstration was militant and decisive. Nico Weinmann, a SAV member who spoke for the “Youth against Social Cuts” (JgS) campaign in Kassel at the demonstration’s official starting rally, received strong applause for the demand for a one-day general strike. SAV members sold hundreds of newspapers with the call for a general strike. Significantly a SAV member chaired the demonstration’s opening rally. The youth contingent that the SAV organised along with the IG Bau building workers’ union youth, widerstand international (the ISR in Germany), the Turkish workers’ DIDF organisation and other groups was the loudest one on the entire demonstration and its demands received a lot of support.

One-Day General strike

After this impressive confirmation that workers and youth want to take up the fight against social cuts the question is how to continue the campaign? The SAV is arguing for a one-day general strike to be organised by the DGB trade unions that would, in addition, involve the different social movements, Attac, and unemployed groups.

Significantly some news reports today linked this demonstration with the strike that the GEW teachers union in the federal state of Hessen has called for November 18.

A one-day general strike would make clear to all workers the strength that they have. It would be the foundation for stopping the attacks of both the government and the employers, and to bring the trade unions and social movements back into the offensive. It would hit the banks, insurance and companies where it hurts, namely their profits.

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November 2003