Germany: 55,000 say “We won’t pay for your crisis”

On Saturday March 28, 30,000 people marched through Berlin, the capital of Germany, and another 25,000 people protested in Frankfurt, Germany’s financial centre.

These were the first big demonstrations in Germany against the economic crisis and attempts to make ordinary people pay for it. They were a successful start for a movement of resistance against government cuts (which the government tries to delay until after September’s general election), job losses, factory closures and so on, although the demonstrations were not yet comparable to protests in countries like France and Ireland.

The decisive aspect of these demonstrations is that they developed from below. In January the ver.di (public sector trade union) Stuttgart regional organisation, attac and some others held a meeting to prepare such demonstrations. However the national trade union leaderships did not back the March 28 demonstrations. In fact they tried to sabotage them by later helping initiate the European trade unions’ call for demonstrations on May 16, this they used as an excuse not to support these protests. But as the March 28 protests gathered support the national ver.di leader, Frank Bsirke, said at the last minute that he would march, but only as a “private” person! The LEFT party (Die LINKE) supported the demos but without putting many resources into the mobilisation for it.

In the end it was an important number of local and regional trade union bodies, the LEFT party, the SAV, smaller left organisations, immigrant organisations, attac, unemployed organisations etc. who called for the demonstration.

The demonstrations showed the anger of the participants, but also their creativity. Many had handmade banners and placards. As one article in the bourgeois media commented on these there was more reference to capitalism than to the crisis.

A large part of young people participated in anti-capitalist contingents or in a contingent which mobilised for a planned ‘education strike’ in June. Placards called for nationalisation of corporations and banks, a shorter working week without loss of pay, a minimum wage of ten Euros per hour, an increase of the minimum social benefit to 500 euro per month (plus rent) and the abolition of all the anti-unemployed so called ‘Hartz legislation’.

The two leaders of the LEFT spoke, Gysi in Berlin, Lafontaine in Frankfurt. Gysi branded capitalism as the cause of the crisis but then only put forward demands for the regulation of the capitalist market economy. However, to big applause he called for the nationalisation of the whole banking sector and the expropriation of the owners of the Hypo Real Estate bank. Lafontaine in Frankfurt was even softer. He repeated his idea that the staff should get shares of companies (up to 49 per cent) which receive government aid. He described other capitalist countries as models (including Britain, because of its property taxes). Some sectarian groups tried to silence him with whistles and booing. Some of them even threw eggs and apples at him. Following speakers were correct to condemn this divisive behaviour.

Tom Adler, who is a member of the Betriebsrat (works council) at Mercedes in Stuttgart, spoke for the “trade union left” and was much more radical than Lafontaine. He called for the introduction of a 30 hour week. Faced with the massive overcapacities of the car industry he supported the conversion of car industry to socially and ecologically useful production. (At a local meeting the Wednesday before he mentioned Lucas Aerospace in Britain in the 1970s as a model for developing alternative production and supported the idea to revitalise old concepts like workers control of production.) Adler criticised the national trade union leadership for their attempts to cooperate with the bosses and the government to protect their company or Germany from the effects of the crisis at the expense of other companies in other countries. Instead the workers of multinational corporations should fight united across borders. He finished with the old trade union slogan “Millions are stronger than millionaires”, adding that this is true if the millions are on the move and the task is to build this movement now.

Many speakers referred to the next activities: protests against the 60th anniversary of NATO on April 4, May Day, the May 16 national trade union demonstration in Berlin 16, the planned education strike of school and university students in June etc.

General strike demand

At the protests Sozialistische Alternative (SAV, the German section of the CWI) argued for a one day general strike as the next step to build the movement. In Berlin we had one of the biggest banners of the demonstration with the slogans: “Next step: 24 hour general strike!” and “Nationalisation of banks and corporations!”

SAV members marched on the demos wearing plastic bips with slogans like “Against unemployment: for a 30-hour-week without loss of pay”, “Socialist democracy instead of capitalist crisis”, “Hello Oskar and Gregor: capitalism does not need a doctor but a gravedigger”.

In Berlin Carsten Becker, a member of the workers council and chairman of the trade union group at Berlin’s largest hospital Charité (and a member of SAV) received a lot of applause for the demand of a general strike and for the call for a “social and socialist solution to the crisis”.

Bernd Riexinger, district secretary of the public sector union ver.di in Stuttgart and one of the initiators of the demo, said in Frankfurt: “A general strike prepared step by step would be an essential contribution to push through the social and political demands”. Many participants signed SAV petitions for a general strike, both in Berlin and Frankfurt and some argued that one day would be to short. Now it is the task of the forces who came together to organise this demonstrations to start a campaign to popularise this idea and to put pressure on the trade union leaderships.

The demonstration could have been much bigger if the national trade union bodies would have supported it. But the mobilisation for March 28 forced them to propose May 16 as an alternative. So this date will be the next national mobilisation and the organisers of Saturday’s demonstrations called on everybody to participate on this demo.

The demonstration confirmed the contradictory character of the LEFT party. It was the only party represented in parliament which supported the demo. Many of its members played an important role to win the support of their trade union bodies for the demo. In some regions the party mobilised actively for the demo. In other regions, like Berlin, it did hardly so. The official party speakers Gysi and Lafontaine were very moderate. But Riexinger and Adler, who were significantly more radical, are members of the LEFT, too.

Police violence

In Berlin the peaceful demonstration was overshadowed by massive police violence at the end. Parts of the demonstration left the official demo route. This was harmless but the police reacted with a baton attack against the crowd and caused panic. Obviously the police tops wanted pictures of violent clashes to justify their harassment of the demonstration. During this police attack one SAV stall was attacked and (according to eye witnesses) consciously destroyed. Some police even jumped onto the stall and trampled onto it. One demonstrator was severely injured and others lightly.

In spite of this Sozialistische Alternative’s intervention was successful. Many participants were very interested in our “Socialism Days” weekend in April and hundreds bought our newspaper Solidarität.

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April 2009