Germany: Socialism Days 2005

Four hundred meet to discuss resistance against social cuts and capitalism

On Easter weekend about 400 people took part in the Socialism Days of the Sozialistische Alternative (SAV; German section of the CWI) in Berlin to discuss about the worldwide resistance against social cuts, war and capitalism.

From March 25th to March 27th the participants – who included activists from the new party “Electoral alternative- work and social justice” (WASG), from workplaces, trade unions, social movements and the resistance against capitalist globalisation – debated in a friendly atmosphere the challenges and possibilities of resistance. This is especially important because social cuts and attacks in the workplaces are on the agenda in Germany.

The appearance of the German President Köhler (supposedly a “neutral” political figure) at an employers’ conference, but also the so called “job summit” by chancellor Schröder and the conservative opposition make things clear: Big business and the banks don’t think that the present cuts go far enough; the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich is to be continued, a slowdown of the pace of the attacks prior to the elections, probably upcoming in 2006, is not in their interests. These points were underlined in the final speech of the first evening by Sozialistische Alternative Executive Committee member Lucy Redler.

The capitalist economy on a world scale is dragging itself from one crisis to the next, the German economy remains stagnant with a looming danger of recession. Workers, the unemployed, youth and pensioners are to pay for the crisis through social cuts and a worsening of working conditions. On an international basis the capitalist crisis will be reflected in increased tensions between imperialist countries and more military conflict.

At the same time the resistance against the policy of the ruling class is flaring up. This becomes clear, when you see the participation of workers and youth in strike action and protests that took place in the last few weeks in France, Greece and other countries.

But also in Germany more than 500,000 people were on the streets against Hartz IV when the so called “Monday demonstrations” hit their peak. Furthermore there were and still are a number of workplace struggles going on. The seven day long wildcat strike at Opel Bochum in 2004 was one of the first manifestations of this.

Due to the role of the trade union leadership, the ongoing individual protests have not been united. After large mobilisations of workers, no new proposals for a widening of the resistance were made by the trade union leaders.

Opel Bochum and the role of the trade union leadership

The strike at Opel Bochum played a big part in the discussions during the weekend. Jürgern Kreutz, a strike activist at Bochum, gave a very lively and moving account of the seven days of strike: He talked about the sabotage of the struggle by the IGM-leadership (IGM is the metal workers union) but also about incredible acts of solidarity from the population and workers from other companies. Together with Winfried Wolf (a former MP of the PDS), he documented the crisis in the automobile industry. There the crisis of capitalism becomes especially clear. Because of massive overcapacity the corporations threaten mass lay-offs and transfer of production. Trade union leaders accept attacks without a struggle or even sabotage movements as in the case of Opel Bochum. This is against the background of all this is that the well-paid, top trade union officials have made peace with capitalist logic. Already we see them arguing that the competitive position of single factories ought to be strengthened through attacks on the workers. Ironically the union was founded to do the opposite: to abolish competition between the workers and to begin defending their interest against the bosses.

In many of the workers’ struggles, including those in the public sector, the Opel workers’ strike became an example and reference point. The experience of the terrible role of the trade union leadership, including the sell-out of the ver.di (public sector union) leadership in the latest wage bargaining round, had made the importance of rank and file oppositions within the trade unions to fight for democratic and fighting organisations to defend the interests of the working class. This point was emphasised in a number of debates at the weekend.

What future for the WASG?

In the discussions at the weekend Christine Lehnert, Marc Treude and Claus Ludwig, all three of them city councillors and SAV members, called for the WASG to orientate itself to working class communities and focus on workers’ struggles and those suffering from social cuts: A key issue in the work of SAV councillors is the opposition of public sector workers against wage cuts, and of the unemployed against Hartz IV. They see their work as an important means of mobilising workers and those affected by social cuts and fighting for reforms.

The strike at Opel Bochum also came up in many discussions about the WASG and was a controversial issue. Joachim Bischoff, a member of the national executive committee of the WASG, tried very hard to justify the policy of the WASG leadership not to allow 16 Opel workers to form a WASG workplace branch. Doing so, he faced resistance from the audience. Furthermore, Bischoff alleged that the SAV followed a “outdated, doctrinaire, state-socialist concept”. In the main Saturday debate, he threatened that the cooperation between the WASG and SAV would end, if it became clear, that the SAV was only exploiting the WASG for its own purposes. He emphasized that the WASG was not become a “trade union party”. What he meant of course, is that the WASG is supposed to stay out of struggles in the workplaces and trade unions. Sascha Stanicic, secretary of the SAV, explained why it was important for the WASG to take a stand in favour of striking workers and Angela Bankert in the afternoon debate emphasised the importance of the new party to link the struggle for reforms with the need for a socialist society.

In both of the very heated and controversial debates, sadly, Joachim Bischoff did not all the questions put to him. For example, how the WASG is going to deal with the exclusion of some SAV members by the national committee of the party. So far, six SAV members from Rostock have been barred membership of the WASG. And also the complaints of activists and candidates from the WASG election campaign in Nordrhein-Westfalen, that not enough material like leaflets, posters and stalls are being provided, were not satisfyingly answered.

All SAV members made clear in their contributions that they will actively take part in the building of the WASG. They and many participants emphasised that the possibilities and the potential for the WASG are huge. It is necessary that a new party begins working on the streets, in the neighbourhoods and workplaces and thus increases its profile. Many speakers said that the attempts of excluding people from membership are prejudicial to this task and lead to the party appearing exclusive and undemocratic.

Klaus-Dieter Heiser, member of the WASG executive committee of Berlin explained that in his view that all ideas had their time and he characterised the present period as a time of reforms, of breaking up the neo-liberal mainstream. How these reforms are to be accomplished, neither he nor Bischoff could explain.

Many participants argued that reforms could only be achieved through a strong movement that does not bow to capitalist “logic”. The bosses are not going to give away their profits and wealth voluntarily. Fighting for every job also means fighting against the interests of a few rich capitalists. Instead of accepting that factories, offices and department stores need to be closed, the struggle to take them out of capitalist control and to nationalise them under the democratic control of the working class needs to be organized.

Stop Nazis

A very important discussion took place over the weekend about the rise of the far-right in Germany. These parties started the new year with electoral successes and new alliances. Jörg Fischer (ex-NPD-member, antifascist and SAV member) talked about the ideas and danger that the NPD represents. Experiences given by members of the LinkseSocialistischePartij/Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialsite (LSP/MAS – CWI Belgium) fighting the Vlaams Blok in Belgium were important contributions to the discussions and explained how effective resistance against Nazis can be organised.

International guests

International visitors gave very vivid contributions to the discussions Upul Siriwardana of the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) reported about the gruesome effects of the tsunami disaster and capitalism’s inability to solve any problems of the agony-stricken masses. He talked about the efforts of USP members to organise aid and to lead a struggle for democratic control of the rebuilding-process. Andros Payiatsos (member of the International Executive Committee of the CWI from Greece) and Clare Doyle (member of the International Secretariat of the CWI) gave an overview of the international perspectives of the crisis of capitalism, worldwide cuts in the social systems, the bosses’ offensive and the resistance against it. Tanja Niemeier from the CWI contributed on the question of women and the fight for socialism. Guests from the sister-parties and organisations of the CWI in Austria (Sozialistische Linkspartei) and Poland showed through their experiences and contributions that international, socialist ideas can be an alternative to mass unemployment, neo-fascist and racist ideas, for a world without exploitation and war.

Buoyant mood

All those who attended the event were enthused and inspired. Ingmar from Leipzig, who has been active in the SAV for a long time, stressed that the weekend gave him new drive for building the party in Leipzig. He said he was very lucky to have met the SAV many years ago. A similar feeling was expressed by those who agreed to join the SAV over the weekend. The willingness to build the SAV and the Committee for a Workers’ International was also reflected by the high level of donations in response to a financial appeal made by Bart Vandersteene. It reached a magnificent total of more than €4,000.

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April 2005