Germany: Socialist Alternative in Rostock wins important improvements for unemployed

Successful Socialist Alternative campaign against cuts

Since January 1, Hartz IV, the widely used name for the new law that savagely cuts the living standards of the long-term unemployed, is in force in Germany.

It has stripped up to half a million unemployed of any rights to receive benefits. It allows people to be forced to move when they are offered a job – regardless of what part of the country the job is in. It also allows people to be forced into poverty jobs, paying €1 an hour. Furthermore, unemployed, affected by the new law, can be forced to give up their homes and forced to move into smaller apartments if the current rent proves to be "too expensive".

Last summer saw a predominantly East German based mass movement against the introduction of Hartz IV, with weekly Monday demonstrations held in all major towns and cities across Germany. Socialist Alternative (SAV) helped to build that movement and in some areas such as in the city of Rostock played a key role in igniting and politically leading the Monday demonstrations.

After protests had cooled down nationally, newly elected Socialist Alternative/ Alliance against Social Cuts councillor, Christine Lehnert, put forward an emergency programme against Hartz IV in the Rostock council which incorporated the following demands:

  • Decent jobs – no to 1€ jobs
  • No to forced removals
  • For the council to pay the local charges (like garbage collection) of the unemployed
  • "Social fares" for public transport

Interestingly enough, all parties represented in the council rejected the emergency programme.

But in order to increase pressure on the council, joint protest actions were called by SAV and the Alliance against Social Cuts.

"Amongst other things, we paid regular visits to the council meetings, a form of protest that had not been known in Rostock before. It is therefore not surprising that the President/ Chair of the council asked our councillor Christine Lehnert to have a "moderating effect on her people"" reports Holger Dröge, who is involved in the protests.

Eventually, the protests were successful. The council had to move from its original position. Clearly influenced by the protests, they decided that no forced removals/displacements would take place within Rostock and on behalf of the city council. The council also agreed that nobody would be forced into €1 jobs unless they personally agree to it.

Now, in the course of a campaign for the election of a new Rostock mayor on February 27, both the SPD (Social Democratic Party, leading the national government) and PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism, rooted in the former East German ruling party) have all of a sudden discovered their "social conscience". These parties, in coalition in the local regional government, are now moving a motion stating that from February 1, unemployed affected by the new law are supposed to get a 30% reduction when using public transport. Initially, SPD and PDS had objected to our proposals, which went beyond the 30% concession, but had to give in to the pressure from below.

If, and that looks likely, their motion is agreed at the next council meeting on January 26, Rostock’s unemployed will have to spend €370,000 less a year on public transport.

"He who fights can lose, he who doesn’t fight has lost already"

This is an important concession but also gives a glimpse of what is possible and what can be achieved if a serious campaign is mounted. The SAV will therefore continue its campaigning work in order to achieve further improvements.

"We will try and encourage other local communities to follow this example and at the same time make sure that the Rostock council is sticking to their promises. Otherwise, we will be back on their doorstep" says councillor Christine Lehnert.

"In conclusion", Holger Dröge explains, "it is only the active mobilisation and the active involvement of the unemployed, workers and youth and the consequent rejection of Hartz IV as a whole that will bring about any positive change. We can only rely on ourselves to bring about that change. The PDS in Rostock for example initially voted in favour of putting Hartz IV into practise. They just wanted some smaller changes to be made. In fact, they have once more revealed, in east Germany at least, to be part of the political establishment".

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January 2005