Germany: Victory for Socialist Alternative!

Socialist Alternative, the German section of the cwi, scored a great victory in Sunday’s local elections in North Rhine Westphalia, winning two more councillors after initiating and heading two left electoral lists against social cuts in the cities of Aachen and Cologne.

Achieving 2,253 votes in Cologne and 785 votes in Aachen, both lists won one council seat in the respective local councils. There was a lot of chanting and singing going on at the well attended election parties in Cologne and Aachen when the news was finalised late on Sunday night. And indeed, this is a marvellous achievement which will strengthen the voice of working class people and the unemployed in the council. Aachen town hall was already half deserted when a group of 30 to 40 members of "Together against social cuts" walked in and chanted "Down with the power of the banks and big business! Down with Hartz IV! (the popular name of the law that will cut unemployment pay).

Marc Treude, a 31 year old shop steward who won the seat in Aachen says:

"I will use my position in the council to speak out for ordinary people in Aachen. I will make sure that the anger against social cuts on local as well as on national level is being heard in the council. I will assist and encourage people to take up the struggle against the worsening of their living conditions in the local communities and in the work places. This is the only way to resist the policies of the pro-big business parties."

Intense election campaign

During the extremely active and intense election campaign, Socialist Alternative and those who made up the two slates were heavily involved in supporting and co-organising the local Monday demonstrations which have taken place across the country over the past weeks to protest against the national government’s vicious attack on unemployment benefits. When Joschka Fischer, the Green Party’s minister for foreign affairs, visited Aachen, the slate co-organised a protest action against the government minister which resulted in him having to give up his speech after 30 minutes.

Precisely because of its activist, pro-working class and anti big business character, it is not surprising at all that both Socialist Alternative supported slates were largely ignored by the local media during the election campaign.

Despite this, dozens of new people joined the campaigns against social cuts and many more helped out in the election campaign. The role of Socialist Alternative members in the election campaign was widely appreciated and a number of people agreed to join the party.

Ruling parties suffer heavy defeat

Both Aachen and Cologne were ruled by a conservative party (CDU) led coalitions. They lost more than 10% of the vote in both cities and even though it is too early to be definite about it, it is most likely that both cities will see a change in their ruling coalition. Severe local cuts had been introduced by the local councils in the previous period which the ruling parties were punished for.

Given the massive attacks on living standards on a national level which have been carried out by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led government coalition, the working class is left with hardly any alternative on the electoral plane. This has led to an increased disgust and alienation with the political establishment and explains why it is difficult in convincing working class people to turn out and vote.

These elections saw a weakening of the big traditional pro-cuts parties and an increased vote for smaller parties and independent lists. The PDS, the former East German Communist party, slightly improved their results, largely because of their involvement in the Anti-Hartz protests. This is despite the fact that at regional and citywide level they have carried out cuts in coalition with other parties.

Unfortunately, there was also an increased share in votes for right wing and neo- fascist organisations which once again underlines the urgency to build a new mass workers’ party in Germany.

After getting three councillors elected this year in Germany, Socialist Alternative hopes to speed up that process by arguing for a fighting programme in the meetings held in the run up to the November conference of "Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice" that will decide whether to launch a new left party.

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September 2004