Germany: 100,000 on union demonstration

Workers on the streets – but union leaders face the wrong way!

The 16 May saw one of the biggest trade union demonstrations since the beginning of the world economic crisis. A reported 100,000 followed a call by the German trade union federation, DGB, as part of the European Day of Action that saw other protests in Prague, Madrid and Brussels.

While 100,000 sounds like a massive figure, the turnout, in reality, was lagging behind the potential which exists for a massive workers’ response to redundancies, factory closures and forseeable social cuts – if only the trade union leadership would give a combative lead. On 28 March, two demonstrations organised from left-wing trade unionists, social movements and socialist groups, mobilised almost 60,000 people and were much more energetic and combative than last Saturday’s DGB demo.

There were groups of workers on the DGB demonstration demanding a general strike and a combative mood existed amongst the contingents of the trade union youth who sang traditional workers’ songs and even demanded ‚revolution’ and ‘system change’. But the trade union tops misused the demonstration to call for a re-newed pact with the SPD (Social Democratic Party – which is part of a grand coalition government). Just a few days before the demonstration, a joint statement was issued by the DGB and the SPD. Top politicians from the SPD, and also the Green party, marched in the front line of the demonstration, next to the trade union bosses, and official speakers only criticised the conservative CDU and liberal FDP. A the same time, there were calls for they openly called for a vote for a minimum wage at the forthcoming European elections (a demand which is by now put forward by the SPD and the Greens).

While one slogan for the demo was “Those responsible for the crisis should pay” another slogan called for a “social pact”. In the trade union leaders’ logic of co-management and defence of the capitalist market economy, this will mean that the mass of working class people should carry the consequences of the crisis. This is reflected by the metal workers’ union chairman, Huber, comment: ‚as few jobs as possible should be lost’.

The government of conservatives and social democrats are trying to postpone making big attacks against working people until after the general elections, at the end of September. But in one industry after the other, announcements of mass lay-offs and factory closures have begun. It is not ruled out that big industrial battles will erupt even before the elections. But what is sure is that after the elections, industrial struggles will come together during massive attacks on the welfare system, and the potential for a united fightback of the working class will grow. The question of a general strike will come onto the agenda.

It is important that class struggle-based forces and left-wing currents in the trade unions prepare for these events and develop an organised opposition against the pro-capitalist union leaderships.

Physical attacks by official trade union stewards against left-wing stalls

The character of the trade union tops was revealed by physical attacks made by official trade union stewards against several left-wing demonstration stalls at the square where the final rally was held, including an attack aginst the Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI in Germany) stall. While the ‘workers’ wing’ of the conservative party CDU was allowed to run a stall, the stalls of left-wing political groups were banned by the union leaders. When left-wing activists explained that they are not prepared to leave their stalls, they were physically attacked by a group of official union stewards and the tables were damaged.

SAV members participated in the demonstration with the slogan, For a One-Day General Strike, and participated in different activities. Many youth SAV members joined the youth contingent calling for an education strike, which was 500-strong and mainly consisted out of young members of the Left Party. Other SAV members helped to distribute placards produced by a coalition campaign that organised the demonstrations on 28 March. The placards called for a political (i.e. general) strike and said “Fight instead of giving up!”. And other SAV supporters participated in a small contingent from oppositionist trade unionists from the Daimler car corporation.

Demonstration photos can be found at:

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May 2009