Germany: 52,000 votes against social cuts

WASG Berlin wins 2.9% in Berlin parliamentary elections

The WASG Berlin contested the recent Berlin city elections in opposition to cuts and neo-liberalism. During the campaign, it was the only party to support protests by striking Charite hospital workers. Due to its brilliant election campaign, and a respectable election result, it became a political factor in the German capital city.

Unfortunately, the result was not enough to enter the Berlin parliament. Nevertheless, the result is respectable, particularly as this was the first election Berlin WASG (Electoral alternative for wor and social justice) contested. Few other parties ever managed to mobilise as many votes the first time they fought an election. The Alternative List (AL) managed 3.7% the first time they stood in Berlin. Also, the WASG Berlin now has a presence in 7 out of 12 the city’s borough councils. The ‚Berliner Zeitung’ described the WASG Berlin resutl, as a „successful electoral start“. This was achieved despite the national WASG leadership, and its well-know national figure, Oskar Lafontaine, campaigning for the L.PDS (Left Party, the former communist party) during Berlin’s elections.

A vote against the Establishment

In the elections for the Berlin parliament, the WASG achieved 40,600 second (list) votes. These were 2.9% (3.3% in the east, 2.7% in the west). There were even more first (contituency) votes. Here, the WASG gained 52,000 votes! That is roughly 3.8% of the city wide first votes – although the WASG only had direct candidates in 80% of the 78 constituencies. If just the constituencies where the WASG stood are taken into consideration, this would be 4.7%. Michael Kronawitter achieved the best result with over 10%. The best three results in the elections for the borough councils were in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain (6.2%), Lichtenberg (5.3%) and Marzahn-Hellersdorf (4.8%).

The second votes gained in the north of Neukölln are also important. In the wards 1 and 2, 6,0% and 6,4% were achieved respectively by teh Berlin WASG. The turnout in this election fell to a record low, from 68.1% in 2001 to 58%. If the 13.7% (including the WASG) for "other" parties are taken into consideration, it shows that not even every second voter choose to vote for a party represented in the Berlin parliament. This election is a massive slap in the face of all the established parties. The ‚Tagesspiegel’ newspaper ran the following headline on the morning after the election: "The massive vote of no confidence". In terms of actual second votes, the SPD (from 481,772 to 423,912), the CDU (from 385,692 to 293,976) and the L.PDS (366,292 to 185,086!) all lost votes. The Greens, who are not part of any government across Germany, anymore, gained around 33,000 votes more than the last time.

On the 17 September, both SPD(social democrats)/L.PDS state governments contested elections. Last Sunday’s results is a defeat for this misnamed "red-red" alliance. Not only in Berlin, but also in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, there was a considerable rise in voter abstentionism. In both states, the governing parties lost a drastic number of votes. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the SPD was the main loser. Compared with 2002 (when it had 394,118 votes, 40.6%), the votes for the SPD shrunk to 247,291 (30.2%) votes. The L.PDS gained a small persentage increase, from 16.4% in 2002 to 16.8% now, but its actual vote was down by nearly 22,000. However, the L.PDS lost over a half of its electoral support in 2002, compared to 1998, when the SPD/PDS government was formed.

The NPD (National Democratic Party), a neo-fascists organisation, increased its share of the vote from 0.8% to 7.3%. This was possible, amongst other reasons, because the WASG in the north east was politically too weak and did not have enough roots – without support from the national WASG – to be seen as a left alternative in the whole federal state.

The sharp fall in support for the L.PDS in Berlin, from 22.6% in 2001 to 13.4%, is a disaster for this party. The result is a clear message against its social cuts policies. It enforced a 10% wage cut for public sector workers, sold 120,000 flats, and established over 30,000 one Euro jobs. In Marzahn, the ‚Left’ lost 20.5%, in Pankow 20.8%. In all probability, the L.PDS lost its majority in the various boroughs.

The WASG national leadership declared after the election that, on the one hand, the " policies of the red-red senate had cost votes" and, on the other hand, that the WASG candidates, "in competition to the Linkspartei", is proof that "such rivalry weakens the entire left". This is absurd. The L.PDS is responsible for its defeat because it took part in the "red-red" cuts orgy. The WASG national leadership and Oskar Lafontaine share part of the responsibility because they called for a vote for the L.PDS. The Berlin WASG has proven it can reach parts of the population who were not previously L.PDS voters. Less then half of WASG voters voted L.PDS in 2001.

Berlin WASG can build on its result

The WASG Berlin achieved three successes during the election campaign. Firstly, the fact that the candidature was enforced against the will of the national WASG leadership. Secondly, it was an election campaign which differentiated itself from all others because it had the practical support of the resistance against social cuts as its main thrust. Due to this, Berlin WASG was met with an enormously positive response. Thirdly, the Berlin WASG won 52,000 votes and now a presence in 7 borough councils.

In its electoral programme, the WASG stated very clearly that it would not – as opposed to other parties – submit to capitalist pressures. WASG leading candidate, Lucy Redler, stressed on the night of the election that her aim was a world where human beings, and not profits, would be at the centre of attention. This was met with great applause.

Among the Berlin WASG candidates there were representatives of social and workplace protest movements. One of them was , Carsten Becker, convenor of the workplace trade union group at Charité, Berlin’s largest hospital, as well as other trade unionists.

The Berlin WASG was radically different from all the other parties, not just in its political goals, but also in the emphasis of its election campaign. As part of its election campaign, the Berlin WASG carried out concrete protest actions against further privatisation of public housing, and practically supported the strike of the Charité workers.

The Berlin WASG’s aim of getting seats in the Berlin parliament were not achieved on election day. Nevertheless, the 52,000 first, and 40,600 second, votes, are a respectable result. Last, but not least, the WASG candidature was an important factor in weakening the fascist NPD. However, the NPD gained seats in 4 borough councils and the Republikaner (another far right party) won seats in the borough of Pankow. This shows the need to wage a more intensive fight against the far right.

Why were 5% not achieved?

More people do not trust politicians and parties, anymore. The Berlin WASG gained a positive response during the election campaign on the streets and amongst trade unionists. All election campaigners knew that the potential for 5% support was there. But widespread frustration and hatred against politicians and parties also effected the WASG. This contributed to the WASG not being able to fully gain from its potential. Many people did not trust the WASG to stay true to their promises, once it would entered parliament. The WASG now has to earn this trust through campaigns, by supporting and aiding trade union battles and social movements, and by the example of its elected councillors acting on behalf of working people in the borough councils.

Another factor leading to the election result was the relatively low level of protests and struggles, both social and trade union battles. Although the immediate period before the Berlin elections was influenced by the hospital strike, a school students’ strike, and a blockade of the Bosch-Siemens factory gates, the weeks and months before the election were not characterised by resistance. This made it more difficult for the WASG to inspire potential voters to vote on 17 September, as part of a a protest against social cuts.

The Berlin WASG did, however, enormously increase its profile during the election campaign. But its low election budget of 55,000 euro (the SPD had an election budget of 1.4 million euro) made it impossible to achieve a profile across Berlin.

There was also opposition from a minority within the ranks of the Berlin WASG, which must have irritated potential voters. These people, who opposed the Berlin WASG standing independently and who sided with the national WASG leadershipk, went as far as lying outright. Some WASG members, some of whom were also L.PDS candidates, published an advertisement in the name of the WASG regional committee, in Neues Deutschland, the L.PDS-linked daily newspaper, the day before the election. In the advertisement, which featured the WASG party logo, these people called for a vote for the L.PDS.

The role of SAV

The SAV (German CWI) made an important contribution during the Berlin WASG election campaign. Lucy Redler, an SAV member, was the leading WASG candidate. She was able to give the election campaign a fighting and determined profile. Over 150 SAV members and members of SAV sister organisations from Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Israel, and other countries, came to help the election campaign in Berlin. Three SAV members: Antije Zanders, Anne Engelhardt and Michael Niedworok were elected as local borough councillors.

The SAV will carry on helping to build the WASG Berlin, as an alternative to those parties carrying out social cuts, and to transform the great support shown during the election outside parliament, on the streets, in workplaces, schools, universities and communities. At the same time, the SAV will campaign for a debate on programme to combine these activities with a socialist perspective. Within the confines of the capitalist profit system, it will be impossible to get rid of poverty, social cuts, and bad working conditions. This is why the WASG Berlin has to be built further. But this is also why all of those who wish to achieve a socialist transformation of society are invited to join the SAV.

A start made

To carry on after the WASG election campaign, more fighters have to be won for a fighting party against cuts policies. The WASG will carry on supporting the battles of the Charité hospital workers. It will also mobilise for the trade union demonstration on 21 October against the grand coalition. After a thorough analysis of the election campaign and its result, it will be necessary to carry on campaigning: Against the selling of council flats, against the privatisation of the Berlin Sparkasse, against education cuts!

The council seats have to be used to articulate the concerns of people living in the boroughs, to carry those into parliament and to strengthen resistance.

The decision of WASG Berlin to stand independently is proven correct. It was made visible for everyone that the WASG will not give direct or indirect support for the policies of the LPDS in the Berlin parliament, which led to that party’s huge collapse in support during the elections. The 52,000 votes for the WASG, and its gaining seats in 7 borough councils, can be built upon. A fusion with the L.PDS, a party that shown in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern how not to build a left force, and which will carry on with its policy of participating in cuts governments, has to be opposed. We resist the "the lesser evil" argument. In Berlin, it is important to carry on with a determined and independent policy against social cuts, privatisations and job losses. The Berlin WASG has to keep and defend its independent structures.

Many WASG members hoped for an even better result on 17 September. Nevertheless, the result has a lot to show for itself. It should be remembered that others did not believe the Berlin WASG would achieve anything. The ‚Kölner Tagesanzeiger’ newspaper wrote on 18 September, the "party national secretary, Dietmar Bartsch, was completely wrong with his prognosis for the election. He estimated that the 850 members strong Berlin WASG with its young, rebellious Trotskyist, Lucy Redler, at the top, would achieve ’a result not even as high as 0.0%’".

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September 2006