Germany: New government will be a ‘Grand Coalition’ against workers

Left must build on election success with socialist policies

Germany’s general elections on 18 September saw a defeat for both of the so-called big “peoples’ parties” (the social democrat, SPD, and the conservative, CDU/CSU). For the first time, since 1953, their share of the vote fell below 70 percent, as the SPD and CDU/CSU lost 2,294,000 and 1,851,500 votes respectively. This was a rejection by many workers and jobless of the neo-liberal and anti-working class policies for which both parties stand. The electoral bloc of the Left Party (the renamed PDS) and the newly formed, WASG (Electoral Alliance Work and Social Justice) scored a big success with 4,118,000 votes (8.7 percent of the vote) and sent 54 MPs to the Bundestag.

The losers have now agreed to form a “Grand Coalition” government, under the conservative Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor in Germany’s history. Both parties will have little problems in finding an agreement on the government’s policies. In fact, many major decisions of the last Social Democratic and Green government, especially massive attacks on the social security system, called Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV, were supported by the conservative CDU/CSU.

Under pressure from the mass protest movements of 2003 and 2004, which were against the destruction of the welfare state, and with the emergence of the WASG as a new political alternative on the left, the SPD put on a more ‘left-wing’ cover in their election campaign. The SPD called for the defence of some workers’ rights that Merkel said she would scrap if there was an election victory for the CDU/CSU and its first choice coalition partner, the liberal FDP.

The SPD is now trying to gain a ‘social’ profile by claiming that they secured social agreements in the negotiations with the CDU/CSU when agreeing to form a Grand Coalition. The SPD leaders claim that collective bargaining legislation will not be changed and that bonus payments for night and weekend shifts will remain untaxed. This is, however, is not due to a change in the SPD’s policy but due to the clear signal from the working class following the election result: no more cuts in social services and defence of workers’ rights! The mood amongst workers, and the pressure from below, led even right-wing trade union leaders to threaten illegal political strikes if there was a change in collective bargaining legislation.

But this government will still be a coalition with anti-working class policies. It is likely that the legal safeguards against redundancies will be worsened. The Coalition agreement includes a call on the trade unions to accept more company-based wage and working hour agreements, which effectively means an undermining of industry-wide collective bargaining. Previously, the outgoing chancellor, Schröder, threatened to change legislation if the trade unions did not accept a “companisation” of wage and working hour agreements. Also, a new austerity programme is likely, with further attacks on the social security system.

This goes, hand in hand, with an ongoing offensive by the capitalists in the workplaces. Mercedes, Siemens, AEG, VW, and many other companies, have announced big job reductions. Wages and working hours are also under attack.

But the election result also sees a strengthening of the left and has motivated activists in the trade unions and social movements. It is the task of new left-wing faction in parliament to use its positions and resources to build a strong movement against this pro-capitalist government and to support workers in struggle. On that basis, a new mass, socialist party of the German working class can be built.

However, the reformist policies of the national left leaders, like Lafontaine and Gysi, along with the participation of the Left Party/PDS in regional governments, which make social cuts and carry out privatisations, makes this process uncertain. This makes it necessary to build a strong socialist force during the process of building a new left-wing party in Germany.

That it is possible to organise a fight back, if a lead is given, is shown by the striking university hospital workers in southern Germany. Thousands went on strike recently in defence of their wages and working hours, and in a sector which has no tradition of struggle.

The new government will be a Coalition of instability and crisis. It is an open question as to whether it will last its four-year-term. The government will be confronted with a new, strong left-wing opposition in parliament, and working class resistance against attacks.

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October 2005