G8 Summit Rostock: Thousands of immigrants’ rights protesters defy police repression

Protesters plan to blockade meeting of war criminals and exploiters

Tens of thousands of protesters, demanding full rights for immigrants, as part of anti-G8 events, bravely defied massive police repression, on 4 June, in Rostock, Germany. Reportedly, 16,000 police, equipped with water cannons, riot gear, police trucks and helicopters, were mobilised around Rostock.

When the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) contingent from a nearby protesters’ campsite attempted to join the midday demonstration, they were forced to go through several police ’controls’. When protesters were finally allowed to link up with the rest of the demonstration, which planned to march into Rostock city centre, the police refused to let the 10,000-strong event proceed. Despite body searching many protesters, the police made the ridiculous claim that the demonstration could not go ahead because some protesters were probably carrying ’axe heads’!

For hours, the protesters were contained by rows of riot police and police water cannons at standby. The protest was repeatedly allowed to march just a few hundred metres and then stopped.

The vast majority of protesters were disciplined and resolute in the face of these provocative police tactics. Official demonstration organisers asked protesters not to allow the police actions to provoke clashes, which would be used to attack the demonstration. In particular, this would also have put the many immigrants on the demonstration in a vulnerable situation. Included on the protest were many ’illegal immigrants’ who could face detention and possible deportation if they were arrested. The vast majority of protesters understood and respected the organisers’ appeals, including youth influenced by anarchistic ideas, who removed face masks and scarves covering their faces, as requested (wearing masks on protests has been made illegal and can be used by the German police as an excuse to attack and arrest protesters).

Protesters link arms

After hours of containment and making little headway towards Rostock city centre, protest organisers called for people to leave the demonstration in small groups and to proceed past police ranks to a planned music concert. CWI supporters, and many other protesters, did not agree with this call by the official organisers. It potentially put marchers in a much more vulnerable and dangerous situation, as they would be forced to meet aggressive riot police in small groups. In contrast to the official organisers, the CWI, along with others on the left and many individual protesters, decided to march to the city centre in a large, well-stewarded contingent. Protesters linked arms and stayed disciplined. The police did not attack.

Despite being forced to remain almost static on the road for hours, CWI supporters got an excellent response to our socialist ideas from marchers. Over 60 copies of Solidarität, the German CWI paper, were bought in around just one hour.

The CWI was also one of the liveliest contingents on the demonstration, and certainly the most political. As CWI supporters marched through Rostock’s streets they chanted, "One hundred million euros wasted on the G8 summit ’security wall’ – Better spent on Rostock people!", which got a great response from local townspeople. MC Holger Brunner, a well-known rapper in German left and radical youth circles, and a CWI member, raised protesters’ morale during long hours of containment with his political music.

Lafontaine’s left speech

As well as taking part in the immigrants’ rights march, CWI supporters participated in several other anti-G8 protests and events over the last few days. We held successful CWI public meetings at the largest protesters’ campsite, on the edges of Rostock. Nearly 50 people, including dozens of new people, attended a CWI meeting on the way forward for the German left, on 4 June. This meeting was addressed by Lucy Redler, formerly a member of the WASG (Electoral Alternative for Social Justice) national executive, and a well-known opponent of the national WASG leadership’s decision to merge with the PDS party (the former East Germany ruling party) to form Die Linke. The PDS has an appalling recent history of making anti-working class cuts at local and city council government. Lucy’s socialist alternative got a warm response.

The radical mood of German protesters was also reflected by a very left wing speech made by Oscar Lafontaine, a leader of the WASG, and now of the new merged party, who spoke to a rally of hundreds on Sunday night near Rostock. Lafontaine called for re-nationalistation and condemned police repression against G8 protesters. These comments by Lafontaine were welcome to G8 protesters. In contrast, a PDS leader spoke at the same rally and repeated that party’s ideas, which enthused no-one.

These two differing public opinions show how the new merged party will face big contradictions from the start. The CWI in Germany (SAV) calls for the left to adopt a fighting, socialist programme and to build a campaigning, pro-working class profile. If the new left party continues the PDS’s anti-working class policies, this will lead to widespread disillusionment.

Although Lafontaine seemed to propose a radical alternative at the big rally and made one of his most left wing speeches in recent years, he did not mention the ongoing German telecom workers’ strike, which is a crucial issue for the German left and workers’ movement, today, and a strategy to win the industrial struggle. The telecom workers’ union leadership is playing a restraining role, threatening to lead to the defeat of this important struggle, which will have big repercussions for the whole German working class.

Absence of workers’ movement

The next few days will see more large-scale anti-G8 protests, and the CWI will participate in them, offering a socialist alternative to the bosses’ system. A mass demonstration against militarisation took place on 5 June, with over 3,000 participating. Police again harassed the protest, by preventing it from marching from a G8 protesters’ campsite to Rostock centre. Protesters were forced to go most of the way by trains to the city rally. An attempted blockade of the military airport which brings in George Bush and other G8 leaders, also takes place on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the first mass blockade attempts of the G8 summit take place, involving thousands of radical youth.

All these events need planned, disciplined stewarding, to stop inevitable police harassment and provocation from causing clashes and to protect protesters from possible police attacks. The absence of the organised German trade unions at the anti-G8 protests means the large demonstrations largely lack cohesion and proper stewarding, as well as the visible social weight of the organised working class. This situation, alongside highly aggressive policing, can lead to some desperately frustrated youth to get involved in counter-productive clashes with the police. These scenes are quickly seized on by the pro-capitalist media and G8 leaders to try to demonise and discredit anyone who opposes their social system and to divert attention from their criminal wars, neo-liberal policies, and class exploitation.

CWI on streets of Rostock

As well as energetically participating in the G8 protests, local CWI supporters in Rostock run regular street stalls, and are holding local public meetings, such as, ’What has the G8 to do with the people of Rostock?’ This allows the CWI to explain the reasons for the G8 protests to local people, who are bombarded with daily anti-protester propaganda and lies from politicians and the media, and who find their city in a state of siege, with thousands of police on the streets. On 5 June, MC Holger Burner was in Rostock city centre, performing to youth under the banner of ’Reclaim the streets!’

The CWI’s local city councillor in Rostock, Christine Lehnert, issued a press statement on the same day, stating she will be with the G8 protesters trying to blockade the G8 summit rather than participating in a ’special’ Rostock council meeting, called on the same day to discuss minor local matters. This absurd pretence of ’business as usual’ by the other local councillors will be completely irrelevant to working people and youth in Rostock, let alone the mass ranks of radical G8 protesters.

The G8 summit looks set to be a diplomatic and PR disaster for the big powers. Even before the heavily fortified and hugely expensive G8 meeting outside Rostock convenes, the Bush administration tore up very modest proposals to try to deal with climate warming. The European G8 leaders and the White House are also clashing with President Putin over missile deployments in Europe, with Russia threatening to aim nuclear arms at European cities!

Moreover, the failure of the G8 leaders to seriously address ’Third World’ poverty and debt relief since the false promises of the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit, in Scotland, will discredit the body in the eyes of many millions of youth and working people throughout the world. Many will conclude that neither the G8 nor capitalism can be changed for the better but that we need system change. To these radicalised young people and workers, the CWI offers a socialist alternative.

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June 2007