Germany: Kassel strikes against neo-liberal policies

On 9 December, in Kassel, in Hessen state, the first cross sector local work stoppage against social cuts, and in defence of free wage bargaining, took place. This action is part of the current wave of protests against the austerity policies that all the major German political parties are trying to implement, at federal or state levels.

The ongoing wave of protests has shaken Germany since the 100,000 strong 1 November national demonstration in Berlin.

The north Hessen DGB (trade union federation) called the 9 December demonstration under the slogan, “Stop social demolition, for the right of free wage bargaining,” and asked employees from different sectors and companies to join the demonstration during their working hours. Thousands bring Kassel to a standstill.

At noon, 7,000 gathered in Kassel city centre (in a city of less than 200,000 inhabitants), to participate in the biggest demonstration against social cuts the town has seen in 15 years. Amongst the participants were workers from all major engineering and metal companies in Kassel, as well as some from the surrounding areas.

Workers from Volkswagen, Daimler/Chrysler, Bombardier, Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann, Alstom, Bode, and workers from many small and medium-sized companies, decided to stop work and took to the streets in a joint protest with city council workers, workers from the city hospital, refuse workers, bus and tram workers and university staff.

The tram and bus drivers picked up workers from both the Volkswagen plant in Baunatal, south of city, and the Daimler/Chrysler plant, in the industrial area in the north of Kassel, and brought them to the city centre to join the demo.

According to the head of the North Hessen DGB, Katharina Seewald, the metal workers of the nearby town of Eschwege, “informed themselves all day long about social cuts and the right for free wage bargaining”( ‘junge welt’,10 December 2003).

Different workforces in the region sent delegates to the Kassel demonstration. University students, currently on strike, also called for the demo, and many of them participated in it, as did school students, unemployed workers and people from community and social projects whose funding is under threat. |

No confidence in the SPD, the CDU and big business

The demonstration went to the SPD (Social Democratic Party) regional headquarters, where protesters handed over petitions demanding that the mediation committee (the negotiating body between the lower and upper houses of parliament, the Bundestag and Bundesrat) should stop meddling with workers’ right to national wage bargaining.

In a letter to the regional DGB in North Hessen, the SPD tried to ingratiate themselves with the trade unions. The letter stated that social democrats and trade unionists, “stand on the same side in the struggle for worker’s rights and social justice” and that the, “common stance between the SPD and the trade unions should be emphasised more in public debates”. This did not get a favourable response from the protesters. We will “measure the SPD by their deeds,” concluded Seewald, the regional DGB leader, in her speech.

Naturally, the CDU (Christian Democrats), who run the regional state of Hessen, were also sharply attacked by the protesters. The CDU Hessen state Prime Minister, Roland Koch, is responsible for launching the most ferocious cuts package in the whole of Germany. According to Gerhard Hof, the senior shop steward in the city council administration, 12,000 people will be “sent into unemployment” if the state government’s plans are fully implemented.

Ullrich Messmer, the organiser of the IG Metall in Kassel, said: “ It is a disgrace that we are told by the employers to learn faster and work harder while they themselves never had to pay for their education and have never worked hard either.”

The Kassel demonstration ended with a gathering in front of the employers’ federation building. “This is where the government gets its instructions from” said Messmer. He warned the employers and the government not to touch free wage bargaining or industry wide wage contracts. “We have come a long way in our fight for achievements and concessions. Whoever touches those gains will risk a wave of protests.”

“A touch of May ‘68 is in the air”

The representatives of the students and students were even more radical in their demands. Already in October the “Youth against Social demolition” (JgS) campaign had organised a strike and protest demo of 1,500 youth, mainly apprentices. At this protest JgS representative and SAV (Sozialistische Alternative, CWI Germany) member Nico Weinmann said in his speech: “Nationally, more than 350,000 people have taken to the streets in various cities since the 1 November demonstration in Berlin. They have come out in protest against social cuts on national and regional level. This is an indication of the great potential for resistance amongst the population. The time is ripe to move on to more radical means of struggle, including a 24 hour-general strike.”

Nico’s demand was greeted with applause from the protestors. Miriam Fischer, the representative of the university students, explained: “If one takes into consideration the many subsidies that were and are paid to the benefits of the big companies, one can actually call them publicly owned companies.”

Given the successful turnout of the demonstration, some people even got into a revolutionary mood. Katharina Seewald, the local DGB leader, quoted an older colleague who said: “There is a touch of May 68 on the streets of North Hessen today”.

No caviar for Koch and Schröder!

SAV (CWI in Germany) members, and a representative from the SLP (Sozialistische Links Partei, Austrian affiliate of the CWI), distributed around 1,500 copies of a special issue of our paper, ‘Solidarität’, and collected 300 euros in donations for our fighting fund. This reflects the great support SAV got for its demands.

This joint strike action is, without doubt, a good start, but further steps are now necessary. The SAV proposes that a Hessen-wide general strike, against both Koch and Schröder, is called for 17 December, the day when the Hessen state parliament has its final debate on Koch’s cuts package. Such a strike would be an excellent example for the entire country and give impetus to the call for a national one day general strike. The potential for such a national strike has already been shown by the 350,000 who have taken to the streets in protests, including work stoppages, since the 1 November demo in Berlin.

In the special issue of Soldariät we wrote: “When for an entire day no assembly line, no tram and no garbage can is touched then not only would we feel who actually runs this society. The rulers and the bosses would also be pulled down from their high horses. Koch and this gang will not get their caviar served on that day!”

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December 2003