“Democracy is sometimes a little bit difficult“, said the mayor of Stuttgart, facing a mass movement against the railway project, ‘Stuttgart21’.
A clear majority in Stuttgart city as well as a majority in the state of Baden-Württemberg are against the project, of which costs may rocket to €14 billion.
[Please see here for background information.]
After the movement took began at the end of July, we have seen a new escalation, following the start of construction work on 25 August. Protests against it resulted in mass street blockades and train stoppages. A TGV to Paris was blocked for 45 minutes. Since then, attendance at regular Friday and Monday demonstrations has reached new records. On 27 August, 50,000 marched through Stuttgart (a city of 600,000 inhabitants), followed a week later by a marche of 65,000 participants. Monday demonstrations have reached 17,000 twice since then.
The movement has swept the city and the area. Badges and accessories expressing opposition to Stuttgart21 are widely seen among local people. Discussions about the project are frequent. The common regional greeting “Grüß Gott“ is often replaced by “Oben Bleiben“ (“stay above”), the most well-known slogan of the movement.
Construction area blockade
The construction work began with the demolition of the north wing of Stuttgart train station. This step was taken earlier than planned in order to demonstrate that construction had begun and was now irreversible. They hoped that the movement would not develop during the summer holidays. Obviously, this was not the case.
After the beginning of the demolition, activists started a blockade at the gate of the construction area. The fence around it turned into a symbol of resistance, decorated with numerous leaflets, posters, letters and so on. Although the police were able to break the blockade with dozens of police officers, the situation is still unpredictable for them. Demonstrations and occupations take place on a daily level. A live emission by a well known political TV programme attracted a couple of thousand people at 10 30 pm on a Tuesday. The TV-Interview turned into a new demonstration.
Under the pressure of the movement, the Stuttgart21 backers had to propose negotiations. This offer was matched by Green party officials “on behalf” of the opponents of Stuttgart21. The Green party, widely seen as the political leadership of the movement, have increased their support in the polls on a state level to 24%. This represents a doubling of their result in the last elections.
Nevertheless, the green party is trying to ‘calm down’ the movement, in order to keep control over it. While local green politicians speak out loudly against Stuttgart21, representatives on the state level, who proposed the negotiations and the Green party’s state chairwoman said, that they could not guarantee a stop to Stuttgart21 after the state elections, due next March, indirectly advocating a coalition with the Christian Democrats.
However, leaders of the movement reject negotiations taking place without an end to construction work. While the press and the Green party push for negotiations and even the church offered their building for the so-called “round table”, activists understand that negotiations at this stage would only be used to weaken the movement. One activist wrote with a crayon on the floor: “Round tables can be bought at Ikea”!
The negotiations also brought up the question of democratic structures for the movement very clearly. While actions are organised by an alliance, involving NGOs and the Greens on the one hand and a basic democratic initiative with over 20.000 online supporters on the other, the movement has no democratically elected spokespeople or structures. The Green party have attempted to appoint themselves as sole spokespeople for the movement. Developing democratic meetings, discussions and elections is an important task for the movement.
The left party “DIE LINKE” is not fulfilling its potential in the movement. Although they can present themselves as the only party clearly opposing Stuttgart21, they stood at only 4% in the last opinion polls in Baden-Württemberg. Left Party MPs have started to support the protest and one of their city councillors is seen as supporter of the movement, who was arrested for breaking the police line at the protest some days ago. But DIE LINKE does not use its full resources for the protest. Frequent stalls, proposals for the movement, posters and solidarity actions in other cities are necessary in addition to the parliamentary initiatives they have taken.
As outlined in an earlier article the SAV (CWI in Germany) has been fighting against Stuttgart21 from the beginning. Members of the SAV have produced material on the project and are active on the demonstrations and blockades. Together with Linksjugend [’solid], the youth wing of DIE LINKE, SAV members started the campaign “Jugendoffensive gegen Stuttgart21” (Youth offensive against Stuttgart21), which calls for a school student and youth strike on 30 September. The youth initiative is present on every demonstration and developed with a youth contingent and serves as a pole of attraction to young people in the movement. Through daily actions and discussions, the ‘youth offensive’ has received some press coverage and credibility in the movement.
The perspectives for the movement are open. The mood amongst the enemies of Stuttgart21 is electric and everybody feels the possibility of success. Stuttgart21 backers have already had to make some concessions to the movement, resulting in even more self-confidence. A victory is possible in the short term, as well as a prolonged struggle against the project. The real demolition of the train station will not take place before 2011 / 2012. The trade unions have not become decisively involved in the movement yet. This will be a key factor for the further development of the Stuttgart21 protests. The question of strikes against the project might be discussed more intensively after a successful youth strike on 30 September.