Germany: 20,000 people give ECB “the finger”

Big demo and blockade against the reopening of the Central Bank

Did Greece’s Finance Minister, Varoufakis, give Germany the finger in 2013? This was the most debated question in recent media-coverage of the European crisis in Germany. With the opening of the new ECB Building, 20.000 people gave the ECB the finger and showed what they think of the Troika’s policy.

The protests on 18 March were been planned long beforehand by an alliance called “Blockupy”. It originated in 2012 from parts of the Occupy-Movement and the Left and already organised big mobilisations against European austerity policy in the city of Frankfurt.

Even before the mobilisation by Blockupy started this year, the announcement of the protest in itself was a victory. The reopening of the ECB was changed from a big party of the ruling class of Europe to a small ceremony, as they were being shamed for the expensive new building (the new symbol of the troika and their austerity politics cost over €1.3 billion).

Thousands joined the protest against the austerity measures of the troika despite the march taking place on a working day. People came from all over Germany, even a special train with around 900 people came from Berlin. Many of the participants were young people, radicalised by the crisis and developing a firm anti-capitalist consciousness. The main part came from left and grassroots movements such as Interventionist Left, Attac, Refugee Rights Initiatives etc. DIE LINKE was an important factor in the demonstration, as it helped to organise the demonstration. Sahra Wagenknecht (DIE LINKE), speaking at the main rally, put forward a strong critique of the banks, the billionaires and the politics of the German establishment which earned her a lot of support. The youth and student organisation of DIE LINKE (Linksjugend-Solid and SDS) was supported by the SAV (CWI in Germany).

The only union to call for nationwide support for the protest was the GEW (Teachers’ and social workers’ union). Another famous supporter was the journalist, Naomi Klein, who condemned the police repression and said to the ECB “You don’t set fire to cars, you are setting the world on fire.” Workers from Amazon joined up with Blockupy whilst being on strike. In light of the recent strikes that took place all over Germany in both the public and private sectors, it would have been a massive boost to the protest and a great way of strenghtening both struggles, if more unions would have joined up with the Blockupy movement.

Police repression

The massive police presence set the tone for the protest. Street checkpoints by the police were set up earlier that week, and journalists were excluded from the opening ceremony. The police brought 28 water cannons, SWAT teams and over 10,000 officers to Frankfurt to secure the ceremony with its 25 guests.

One participant in the protest was carrying a sign with a quote from Heinrich Böll saying: “Violence does not only exist on the street, in bombs, pistols and stones. There is also the violence in a bank account and the violence traded at the stock exchange.”

When the first Blockupy actions took place in 2012, a precedent was set by removing democracy from Frankfurt for a week, as demonstrations and protest were banned. One year later, the demonstration was attacked by the police, the first contingent was ‘kettled’ and many people were injured.

With regard to the past actions of the police, their massive presence, the expensive new ECB building and the politically organised impoverishment of Southern Europe, the riots in the morning were an understandable reaction, although not a good one, since the riots were used to justify the repression afterwards. The riots are hard to explain, since it is impossible to discern the role of police provocation and the justified anger from the protestors.

A statement by a former police officer that went viral before the protests said: “I know that we used to have undercover officers present in protests that were likely to escalate, who were working as agent provocateurs, who would throw rocks and hide between protestors as an excuse for a reaction from the police.” It was obvious that the barricades were left burning on the streets for an ample time to ensure sensational footage for the media, after which there was a harsh action by the police with tear gas and water cannons, which left 134 activists wounded.

We will not allow the politicians and media to use the violence as an excuse to depict the Blockupy movement as an inherently violent movement. This is merely an attempt to hide and distract from the everyday violence of capitalism, a violence which causes death and poverty on a daily basis. The riots will also be used to justify massive police repression in the coming G7 summit which will take place in June in Elmau in Bayern.

The international character of the protest

It was clear that the protest was an international one: activists came from all over Europe. Activists from Italy were present in their hundreds and clearly visible, all speeches were both in German and English. There were speakers from Greece. The SAV held a meeting in Frankfurt on the topic of Syriza and the way forward, with a speaker from Xekinima (CWI in Greece). A European mobilisation should be used as a future tool for the fight against austerity.

The Green party and the question of violence

During the last Blockupy protest, the Green Party was in the government of Frankfurt, and should be held accountable for the actions of the police back then. Now, as a part of the regional government of the state of Hessen, the leader of the Greens, Tarek Al-Wazir, even took part in the opening ceremony of the ECB. At every level of government the Green Party has taken part in the campaign against the activists of Blockupy and DIE LINKE.

The anger aimed at police repression and austerity is understandable and logically vents itself against banks and the police. But there is also a part of the Blockupy movement that considers riots and destruction a political method, in order to make these kinds of summits impossible to finance and organise.

We think these arguments are wrong and are non-valid, since the political credibility of the movement has been damaged and has been portrayed as only violent. Destroying windows and fighting with the police give the media the chance to only report on the violence and ignore the political content and the mass movement that is Blockupy. The economic damage that was caused during the riots will be paid for by insurance or will be paid with taxpayers’ money; in the end it will mean a loss for the working class itself.

Every strike action, every blockade questions the monopoly of violence by the state, in the form of collective mass action, not individual resistance and violence.

The fight against austerity in Germany isn’t yet at the same pace as the rest of Europe, partly because of the refusal of the union leaders to take part in this movement and help the struggles develop up to their true potential. However, individual actions and violence are no shortcut in creating a mass movement. Instead it will be movements such as Blockupy, which succeed in gathering over 20,000 people on the streets against the ECB and the banks, that elevate the consciousness of the masses and are a step in the right direction in terms of how to fight against austerity.

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March 2015