Germany: Berlin city elections

Anti-cuts alternative confirmed for September poll

Berliners will have a clear opportunity to vote for clear anti-cuts and anti-neo liberal candidates in the forthcoming 17 September City elections.

This was confirmed by a two-thirds majority (81 votes to 33), at a weekend congress of the Berlin WASG (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice) that finalised its decision to stand independently. The Berlin WASG was under enormous pressure from the WASG national leadership to stand jointly with the Linkspartei.PDS (Left Party.PDS) but consistently rejected this unless the PDS changed its policies and ended its coalition with the SPD (social democrats) in Berlin.

Since 2001, the Berlin City coalition government has been in the forefront of Germany’s neo-liberal offensive, cutting living standards. In many ways both the German government and regional governments followed the ‘example’ of the Berlin PDS and SPD coalition. The Berlin coalition took the ‘initiative’, breaking national wage agreements, and enforcing wage cuts amongst its workers. It carried out a systematic privatisation campaign, even selling off the city’s traffic lights! One result was a collapse of the PDS’s support, from 22.6% it won in 2001 to currently 15% in the opinion polls. Now the PDS’s aim, in September’s elections, is to get back over 17%.

The Berlin WASG’s position of ‘no rotten deal’ with the Berlin PDS was constantly attacked by the national WASG leadership. The leadership argued it put in jeopardy the planned merger between the WASG and PDS. The Berlin WASG majority was not against having a joint election list with PDS but argued that it could only be on a principled, anti-cuts basis, including rejecting a coalition with the SPD. Although the Berlin PDS, the National Executive Committee of the WASG, and a minority within the Berlin WASG, reached agreement on a programme which was presented as a possible ‘compromise’, this document did not even exclude further privatisations and avoided the issue of coalition. It was, therefore, rejected by a majority of the Berlin WASG membership.

Role of SAV

An important factor in the Berlin WASG’s principled position is the role of Socialist Alternative (SAV – CWI in Germany). Lucy Redler, a leading figure in both the SAV and Berlin WASG, was elected, at last weekend’s meeting, as the Berlin WASG’s top election candidate, getting 79.1% of the votes.

The national WASG leadership had to retreat from its initial threats to withdraw the Berlin WASG’s application to stand in September’s election. An open division developed around this question inside the WASG. The right wing was defeated by 8 votes to 5 in its attempt to get the WASG national executive to take administrative measures against the WASG Berlin.

Next weekend’s national WASG party congress will now see sharp debates around questions concerning political orientation and party democracy. Most likely, a majority of delegates will reject any measures against Berlin party members. However, it cannot be ruled out that the right-wing may still attempt to take measures against the Berlin WASG. Significantly, most of the minority in favour of a joint candidature with the PDS, walked out of last weekend’s Berlin WASG’s congress when they lost the vote. This walkout included members of Linksruck, the grouping linked with the British SWP, who have formed a bloc with the WASG right wing. Linkruck’s leader was amongst the minority on the WASG national executive that voted in favour of taking action to try to stop the Berlin WASG standing.

A recent opinion poll indicated that 12% of the electorate consider voting for the WASG in Berlin, including 18% amongst under 30 year olds, and 15% amongst those households earning less than 1000 euro per month. The poll indicated that currently 2% will definitely vote for the WASG alone, in next September’s elections. The challenge in the next five months is to mobilise the potential support for a party clearly rejecting the ruling class’s offensive against living standards.

The continuing national media publicity given to the debate in the Berlin WASG is an indication of how a successful anti-cuts election campaign could play an important part in building a new all-German left force that can defend living standards and challenge capitalism.

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