Germany: Success for Left at regional WASG Berlin party conference

Delegates oppose social cuts of local Berlin government

The following translated article (slightly edited) was first published on www.sozialismus.info

socialistworld.net

Success for Left at regional WASG Berlin party conference

The question of whether the WASG (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice) should stand independently in the September 2006 Berlin elections has been at the heart of a debate taking place within WASG at a national level, over the last couple of weeks. Since the success of the Left Party (the new name of the former PDS/Party for Democratic Socialism) in the recent Bundestag [parliament] elections, the pressure for a quick merger of the WASG and PDS parties has increased from the tops of both organisations. In the elections, the Left Party opened its candidates lists to members of the newly formed WASG and the result was that they won 8.7% of the vote, getting elected 54 MPs elected.

However, when the WASG was first set up, last year, the party agreed not to participate in any coalitions or governments that carry out social cuts and privatisations.

Opposition towards a merger with the Left Party/PDS is particularly strong amongst the WASG in Berlin. This is because in the Berlin regional government the Left Party/PDS is in coalition with the SPD (social democrats). The SPD is the party of ‘Agenda 2010’, the massive cuts package, introduced in 2003, by the then Schröder government, which met with huge resistance from the working class. In Berlin, the Left Party/PDS and the SPD are jointly responsible for undermining national wage bargaining agreements in the public sector, and for cuts and privatisation. In some cases, these regional governing parties went further in their attacks than the national government’s cuts. The Left Party/PDS has indicated that they are prepared to keep the city coalition government in place after the elections in 2006. As a result of the Left Party/PDS’s policies, over the years, people have left that party and joined the WASG.

Berlin members of Socialist Alternative (SAV – The CWI in Germany) argue that, in this situation, the WASG will have to stand independently from the Left Party/PDS. The SAV works with other forces within the WASG who support this position.

Berlin regional WASG conference

The vast majority of the 157 delegates that attended the Berlin regional conference, during the last weekend in November, were very critical of standing jointly with the Left Party/ PDS in the 2006 Berlin elections. Unless the Left Party/PDS was to dramatically change its agenda of social cuts, most delegates made clear they want the WASG to stand independently.

The WASG conference was a big success for all those in Berlin, as well as nationally, who are in favour of building a strong and militant force against neo-liberalism.

At the beginning of the conference, trying to avoid the WASG standing independently, Klaus Ernst, one the WASG’s founders, and a member of its national leadership, argued that "only unity of the Left can stop social cuts". He meant the cuts that will take place under the national grand coalition government, made up of the conservative CDU and the social democratic SPD, but he tried to extend this argument to include Berlin. At the same time, Klaus Ernst warned against the WASG standing independently in the city’s 2006 regional elections.

"We need to take it on from our success in the general elections and must not sit in front of a bowl of soup, shake our heads and wait until eventually a hair drops into our soup", Klaus Ernst said.

Many delegates drew different conclusions from the Berlin Senate’s policy of wage and social cuts. Workers from the famous Charité University teaching hospital are confronted with possible wage cuts of around € 30 million. If the workers are not prepared to accept the cuts, they face redundancies. "This is what I call blackmail", explained Carsten Becker, chair of the ver.di public sector union workplace group in the Charité hospital.

Rejection of the Left Party/PDS Berlin government’s policy

Even though Klaus Ernst indirectly threatened "measures" by the WASG National Executive, a large majority of the delegates at the Berlin conference rejected what is called a "cooperation agreement" with the Left Party/PDS.

The "cooperation agreement" is meant to be voted on at the next Left Party/PDS national congress, on 10/11 December, and is meant to exclude the possibility of the Left Party and WASG standing against each other in upcoming elections.

Whether the Berlin WASG will stand independently is going to be decided at the next regional party conference, followed by a membership ballot. Two thirds of the delegates voted in favour of this.

Prior to that congress, there will be public meetings with representatives from different workplaces, trade unions and social movements to debate the cuts policy of the present PDS/SPD Berlin Senate and the possible alternatives.

"It’s not us who will have to shift but the PDS", said Rouzbeh Taheri, who is the treasurer on the regional WASG executive.

The WASG National Executive, and a minority of the Berlin Regional Executive, are pushing for decisions to be postponed until after the WASG national conference and regional elections, in two other states, Baden Württemberg and Rheinland Pfalz, next March.

However, the majority of the Berlin WASG was in favour of a decision-making process from below. The point was also made that it was not the decision to stand independently against neo-liberal policies that would "hamper" the election campaigns in Baden Württemberg and Rheinland Pfalz, but rather the policies of the PDS in power in Berlin and in Mecklenburg Vorpommern.

Governing at any cost

The delegates who argued against this decision were, in the main, in favour of a merger between the WASG and the Left Party/PDS on a national level. What is going to be the likely consequence of this? In Berlin, the PDS and the SPD present a positive balance sheet of their government policies that, under the disguise of "budget consolidation", have meant privatisation and social cuts. After a WASG-Left Party merger, this ‘positive’ balance sheet of the PDS/SPD Senate would, therefore, make it likely that the WASG would find itself as part of a coalition which carries out more social cuts. The majority of WASG delegates did not regard this as an exceptional case but as a setting a bad precedent.

The WASG National Executive tried to find a compromise at the Berlin conference, by demanding the Left Party/PDS does not speak out in favour of a coalition with the SPD before the election takes place. But, for the majority of the delegates at the conference, this was not sufficient. Carsten Becker said, "If PDS Senator Thomas Fierl is not going to make a U-turn on the question of wage cuts and redundancies at the Charité, then all the talk about not going into coalition with the SPD is nothing but empty phrases".

Organising resistance

The designated Chair of the Left Party/PDS, Klaus Lederer, wanted the policy of the Left Party to be called "social reforms" to disguise the real character of the leadership’s policies. But those speakers who reminded the conference of one of the WASG’s principles when it was first set up – opposition to cuts at local, regional and national level – where, in the main, met with applause. SAV members, and others, argued that the WASG’s main task is to bring together those who are hit by social cuts and to organise resistance against it the attacks. Lucy Redler, a leading SAV member, explained: "Standing in elections is good for nothing if we don’t succeed in changing the balance of forces in society."

The will of the majority to keep the WASG as a party which rejects social cuts was underlined by the results of elections to the new Regional Committee. In particular, those who spoke in favour of the WASG standing independently, if the PDS/Left Party was not to fundamentally change its course, were elected. Amongst those elected, were Lucy Redler, who also got elected onto the Regional Executive Committee, and Hakan Dogany, both SAV members.

What way forward?

The regional conference decided to conduct a campaign against privatisation of public services. Up until then, the WASG demanded that the Berlin Senate should re-buy the Berlin Water company. To applause from the audience, Daniel Behruzi (SAV) explained that buying the water company for €2 billion was, in fact, a present to RWE and Veolio (the private companies who bought the former publicly owned water company, in the first place) which we cannot agree to.

This is especially the case after it has been revealed that RWE made €1.6 billion in profits, last year. Following on from that, the demand was changed from "re-buying" to "re-communalisation".

While this still leaves open the question of compensation, it is a step into the right direction and acts as a starting point in the debate on how to deal with those important issues. It makes clear that the multinational companies do not automatically receive compensation for what they took from the public, in the first place.

The WASG can play an important role in coming struggles. New strikes by the Charité hospital workers look likely, which would probably see the formation of an action committee, in which the WASG take part. Since Klaus Ernst said he would support the striking hospital workers in their dispute, the WASG national leaders should be involved in the campaign to organise solidarity on a national level. SAV members within the WASG will continue to do their utmost in building the WASG as an active and fighting force against social cuts and unemployment.

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