Germany: More than 100,000 people take part in Monday demonstrations

Eye witness accounts from Rostock and Leipzig

With the Monday demonstrations against the SPD-led government’s attack on unemployment benefits going into their third week, the number of protestors has doubled within the space of a week.

In Berlin, where there hadn’t been a demonstration before, 30,000 people joined the protests. In Leipzig, 20,000 people took part compared to 10,000 the week before.

In the regional state of Sachsen-Anhalt in East Germany, one of the strongholds of the protests, demonstrations took place in 20 different cities. In Magdeburg, 15,000 took to the streets. In Halle, Dessau and Merseburg, a total number of 10,000 followed the call for the demonstrations. In Dresden, 2,000 people came to the protest. In Gera, Thüringen, numbers went up by 1,000. In Rostock, 5,000 people took to the streets. Schwerin saw a demonstration of 1,000 people. In total, more than one hundred demonstrations were called by local and regional alliances against social cuts and by local trade union federations.

Even though the movement at this stage is still predominantly based in East Germany, the last week has seen participation increasing in the West.

In Düsseldorf, 1,500 came along to the first Monday demonstration. Munich saw a demonstration of 500. In Kassel, 1,000 people joined the protest, despite the demo only being called with three day’s notice. 200 took to the streets in Frankfurt, 600 in Saarbrücken, 700 in Dortmund, 300 in Aachen, 500 in Wuppertal, and again 500 in Cologne. In Hamburg and Stuttgart, 120 joined in and about 200 respectively in Bremen, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven.

Members of Socialist Alternative (SAV), the German affiliate to the CWI, have successfully intervened and helped to initiate and build the demonstrations in a whole number of cities. Here are the first eye-witness accounts from the demonstrations in Rostock and Leipzig:

Torsten Sting from Rostock reports the following:

Half an hour before the demonstration was meant to kick off, it started to rain. By the time the demonstration started to move, it was pouring down with rain! But it is telling and a sign of the movement’s seriousness that people did not start to walk off but started to express their anger by chanting slogans in a very loud voice. In fact it made them even more determined and they not only cursed the weather but also the government, which is trying to suffocate the movement by promising small concessions. It is clear for the majority of people that Hartz IV (the name of the law that restructures unemployment benefits) is the core of the problem and therefore needs to be defeated as a whole.

The starting rally was dominated by the PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism, former East German state party) and by the trade union leadership. Both are interested in keeping the movement on track and don’t want to see it becoming too radical. In their speeches, they criticised Hartz IV but created the impression that demonstrations would be sufficient to bring the law down. They also tried to keep us quiet and tried to prevent us from speaking. Obviously, we did not go along with that.

The speech of our newly-elected SAV councillor Christine Lehnert received a lot of applause. Our demands for work stoppages and a one-day general strike were welcomed. Our radical criticism of capitalism and our explanation of the necessity of a socialist democracy met with support from a lot of people. We easily distributed our 2,000 leaflets.

If the weather is fine next week, than there is definitely a great chance for the demonstration to be even bigger than this week’s. We have to try and seize the opportunity not only to build the movement in numbers but also to strengthen it in its means of struggle. Concrete steps to prepare industrial action need to follow.

Christoph Wälz from Leipzig and Immo Schott from Kassel report on the Leipzig Monday demonstration:

Again, thousands of people took to the streets on August 16. Even BILD (a yellow press tabloid) estimates that 25,000 participated in the demonstration! Within a week, the numbers have doubled!

The demonstration was dominated by a very radical mood against Hartz IV and all the other alleged “reforms”. There was agreement that cosmetic changes by the government give no reason to call off the protests. The opposite was the case; the most popular slogan remained “Down with Hartz IV and Agenda 2010”. One speaker said that concessions had only been won because of the protests and that it was necessary to go on in order to stop the full attack.

The huge anger that has gathered beneath the surface in East Germany over the years has created openness for socialist ideas. In discussions, many people agree with us that strike action is needed to stop the social onslaught and that there is a need for a fundamental alternative to capitalism.

With the help of comrades from Berlin and Kassel, we had a presence of 12 members at the demonstration. We were able to set up two stalls and had a huge drive to sell our paper. Again, we got an excellent response for our ideas and proposals. We sold more than 300 copies of the special edition of our paper “Solidarity” and met a lot of people who have indicated that they are interested in proceeding into discussions with us.

PDS members, trade unionists and members of the newly formed Electoral Alternative for work and social justice were present as well. Occasionally, Nazis tried to join the demonstration but they weren’t able to sell any material, carry banners, etc.

In order to bring down Hartz IV, it is necessary to bring together the different protests of the unemployed and workers and to call for joint local and national days of strikes and action.

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August 2004