But anti-cuts Berlin WASG re-affirm standing independently
The National Committee of Germany’s new left party, WASG (Election Alternative Work and Social Justice), took an unprecedented decision, last Saturday, by suspending regional committees in two federal states – in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
The WASG and the Left Party.PDS (L.PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) – the former state party in the Stalinist GDR) decided to form a ‘unified party’, next year. They took this decision at their recent congresses (see previous reports on www.socialistworld.net). This appears to be a step forward, as nobody wants a divided Left. But it is not as simple as that.
WASG leadership suspends party’s Berlin Regional Committee…
One reason the WASG was formed, two years ago, was because the L.PDS adopted the policy of "the lesser evil", by joining regional coalition governments with the neo-liberal SPD (Social Democratic Party) in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In both states, the local governments made social cuts, attacked public sector workers, and carried out privatisations. For example, in Berlin, 100,000 former council flats were privatised by this so called "Red-red" government and public sector wages were cut by eight to twelve per cent. Nationally, the L.PDS argues against many of these policies, but then carry them out when they join local or regional governments. As a consequence, many workers and youth think the L.PDS party is dishonest. The consequence in both federal states is a dramatic decline in support for this party. In Berlin, the L.PDS currently scores 13% in opinion polls, compared with the 22.6% in 2001.
The Berlin WASG argues that while it supports the idea of a united left, and the coming together of all forces against neo-liberalism, the new party must not join in pro-capitalist coalition governments or take part in social cuts and privatisations. Consequently, both joint candidature with the L.PDS, and support for the L.PDS in the forthcoming regional elections, were ruled out by the Berlin WASG – unless the L.PDS changes its policy. As this did not happen, the majority of the Berlin WASG decided to hold a party congress, and to hold a ballot amongst all members on whether to standing independently.
The majority of the Berlin WASG did not agree with a joint policy document, produced by the WASG national leadership and the regional L.PDS, as a basis for coming together. But Linksruck, the German sister-organisation of the British SWP, argued to support the L.PDS election campaign, without any conditions. This policy paper does not include an end to the so-called ‘One-Euro-Jobs’ (the unemployed have to take on jobs for one euro per hour to avoid having their state benefits cut), which more than 35,000 unemployed people in Berlin are forced to do. Also, the joint policy document does not exclude further privatisations of homes and of parts of hospitals. In the view of the majority of the WASG in Berlin, this policy paper was an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the public, to allow for the continuation of the L.PDS coalition with the SPD.
The decision of the WASG National Committee to suspend the regional leaderships in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern contradicts the WASG’s programme and constitution. The WASG was formed as a broad and pluralist formation. Even under capitalist law, the regional organisations of political parties have the autonomy to decide on regional issues. Moreover, the WASG party programme speaks out against participation in governments, unless this leads to a fundamental change in policy in the direction of the WASG’s demands. This is obviously not the case with the Berlin SPD/L.PDS-government. Therefore, it is actually the Berlin WASG that is defending the programme and principles of the WASG party.
The decision by the WASG national leadership to suspend the Berlin party leaders also reflects the increasing bureaucratic-centralist character of the WASG under the leadership of Oskar Lafontaine. Many WASG members, including many who do not support the Berlin WASG’s independent candidature, now see this as the biggest danger for the left. A party which uses administrative measures to solve political conflicts will not be a pole of attraction for the new generation of workers and youth.
Berlin WASG votes again to standing independently
The WASG National Committee imposed two individuals to replace the Berlin WASG Regional Committee and gave these individuals absolute powers. There was an attempt to cancel a regional Berlin WASG congress, scheduled for 16 May. However, the congress went ahead, with most of the supporters of the WASG National Committee not attending or not registering as delegates. Nevertheless, an absolute majority of the elected delegates confirmed again the Berlin WASG’s decision to stand independently, by a vote of 86, in favour, and only one against.
On Wednesday, 17 May, the national WASG’s plenipotentiary in Berlin formally applied to withdraw the region’s application to stand in September’s election. But the Berlin WASG is fighting both politically and legally to stop this blocking manoeuvre. The final decision on whether the Berlin WASG can stand will be made on 1 June, by the regional election authority.
The Berlin WASG will continue its fight against social cuts and privatisations. Tuesday, 16 May, saw a protest against cheap labour conditions outside Berlin City Hall. The SPD/L.PDS regional government and administration uses a private post company to deliver its mail. This pays hourly wages of 5.86 euro to its workforce – well under the 8 euro minimum wage demanded in a current national campaign by both the L.PDS and the WASG. This reflects the contradiction between the words and deeds of the leaders of the Left Party (L.PDS). It also is a warning about the radical statements of Oskar Lafontaine, who clearly speaks out against privatisations and cuts, but, so far, has not started a serious campaign against the policy of the SPD/L.PDS regional governments and their "lesser evil" excuses for attacking the living and working conditions of workers.