Germany: Merkel and refugees

Polarising situation, but 250,000 march against free trade agreements shows potential for mass resistance against establishment

Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, is working on an image overhaul. During the Greek euro-crisis drama, where Greek protest placards showed her in a Nazi uniform because of her policy of imposing draconian cuts on the Greek people. But recently there were even proposals to nominate her for the Nobel peace prize because of her policy in regard to the refugee crisis, which has been dominating news in Europe for weeks and months. When the refugee crisis in Hungary was close to a violent escalation in August, Merkel took the “unbureaucratic” decision to open the borders of Germany for those refugees who were marching to the Hungarian border in a desperate attempt to cross it by whatever means necessary. This was an unexpected step by a government which was not known for a humanitarian approach to refugees and asylum seekers. Previously Germany had seen a growing number of refugees’ protests, including hunger strikes, against deportations and the treatment of refugees.

However there was soon a strong reaction to the Chancellor’s opening of the borders from within her own political camp. Bavaria’s prime minister, Seehofer, and other politicians from the conservative CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian counterpart, Christian Social Union) openly criticised Merkel’s decision as a mistake. An open rift developed within the CDU/CSU and inside the ‚Grand Coalition‘ government of the CDU/CSU and the social democratic SPD, over migration politicies.

Comparison to early 90’s

More than 800,000 refugees are officially expected to come to Germany this year. When a similar situation developed in the early 1990’s, mainly because of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the capitalist establishment unleashed a strong racist campaign, claiming “the boat is full”, the large number of asylum seekers were responsible for housing shortages, the public finances could not stand the burden of extra expenses and that, anyway, many asylum seekers would not be political refugees or fleeing from war but “economic refugees” who were “just” looking for a job or wanted to get into the German social security system. As a consequence, in 1993 the German constitution was changed, with the votes of today’s government parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD (plus the liberal FDP which is not represented in parliament today), and the right to asylum was severely restricted. Another consequence was that the far right felt motivated by this state racism, and presented itself as the force which really fights against immigrants, and was able to grow in numbers and influence. In these years asylum seekers‘ hostels and migrants families homes were burned down by fascists. A mass anti-racist movement developed in which the CWI-led Youth Against Racism In Europe (YRE) played a key role winning hundreds and thousands of young people not only to anti-racist but also anti-capitalist and socialist ideas and establishing a tradition of mass direct resistance against Nazi meetings and marches. In the early 1990’s, east and west Germany had just re-unified. The West German capitalists took over the East German economy, exploiting their workers as cheap labour and with millions falling into mass unemployment. Today the economic and social background and the interests of the German capitalist class is different, which leads to a different approach to migration and the refugee crisis.

Different situation

When the number of refugees, especially from Syria, started to rocket there was no campaign in the bourgeois media against it. On the contrary. Even the right-wing tabloid Bild newspaper adopted a sympathetic approach. Government politicians emphasised the humanitarian duty of Germany to help the people who had to flee the war in Syria. And then the borders were opened for those who were stranded in Hungary. Why the turnaround by the establishment?

First of all there is a decisive economic background. For many years, German capitalists complained about a lack of skilled workers. This is partly because they failed to invest in training and the education system and also because of the decline in the German population. They see the influx of refugees as an opportunity to get trained workers on the cheap, especially as many refugees from Syria are highly educated.

There is also a political side to the change in policy, which has different aspects. The German government has been part of the alleged ‚war on terror‘ in Afghanistan and of anti-Muslim propaganda over the last years. But not to give help to the desperate victims of the so-called Islamic State in Syria would have been seen as hypocritical by many people and a contradiction of the government‘s stated policy of ridding the world of ISIS.

Another factor connected to the new immigration policy is that over the last two years, Germany saw an anti-Islamic, racist movement under the banner of PEGIDA and the rise of a new right-wing populist political party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). This was viewed by the majority of the German ruling class as a threat to stability. The growth of the far right led to a mass anti racist movement since the beginning of this year. So the government’s policy is (a failing) attempt not to give more ammunition to the right wing populists and the far right.

However it also must be emphasised that Merkel’s decision to open the borders (for a short time) for the refugees who wanted to get out of Hungary, was done under the pressure from refugees who made clear through their actions that they were prepared to resist to get out of Hungary. Merkel realised that this could have led to violent clashes with the Hungarian police, with possible deaths, escalating the crisis and with repercussions for the whole of Europe.

Last but not least, Merkel also saw the opportunity to restore her personal image and the image of Germany after her government came under massive criticisms for its role in the Euro crisis.

Divide and rule

At the same time it must be said that also during these weeks the establishment always made sure that a distinction was made between the “war refugees” and alleged “economic refugees”. In particular, asylum seekers from the west Balkan states were labelled as unjustified asylum seekers (including Roma). Last year, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia were given the status of safe countries of origin, with other West Balkan countries following this year. This is a reflection of an attempt to divide the refugees and to keep a racist card in the hands of the government, and to appease the right wing nationalist forces in the CDU/CSU.

As in other countries, the pictures of desperate refugees in Hungary and of the dead body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach led to a wave of solidarity from the German population for the refugees who arrived in Munich, Berlin and other cities. For a while the mood tilted in favour of refugees. According to a poll, one fifth of the population participated in helping refugees in one way or another. Scandalously, the state rested on this civil solidarity work to care for the refugees. State infrastructure has been allowed to erode and no preparations were made for the foreseeable refugee crisis. The authorities were completely overwhelmed with the numbers arriving.

At the same time, the far right and right-wing populist forces seized the opportunity to step up their mobilisations. Protests in front of asylum seekers’ hostels, regular arson attacks on such buildings and protest demonstrations of several thousands against asylum rights and an alleged "Islamisation" of society reflect the growing polarisation in society. These forces can play on social fears amongst the population. These are reinforced by existing housing shortages and increasing rents in many cities. Also the government announced budget cuts ’because of the refugees’ and pro-capitalist commentators demanded the lifting of the minimum wage of 8,50 Euro per hour for refugees. The right-wing populist party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), is gaining in polls while Merkel’s approval ratings have gone down. This is a stronger phenomena in parts of Eastern Germany where the PEGIDA has made gains. In Dresden it is able to hold weekly marches of up to 9,000 people against „islamisation“ and asylum seekers. In Thuringia the AfD held some marches of several thousand. In Saxony one third of people between 30 and 59 years of age say they would vote for either the AfD or the fascist NPD.

Consciousness and mood are rapidly changing and in the last weeks there is a trend against the refugees again. Within just one month, the numbers saying that Germany has more advantages than disadvantages from migration fell by 10%, from 45% to 35%.

With the numbers of refugees not going down (and probably the bosses required number of cheap workers reached, for the time being) the tone of the government parties has changed again. One conservative politician after another states that there is a limit to how many people Germany “can take”. A set of measures has already been agreed by the government which are meant to make deportations easier and to worsen the conditions for asylum seekers who have come to Germany. Border controls to Austria have been re-imposed. But the situation is a real dilemma for the ruling class. This is reflected in tensions amongst the government parties. Merkel still adopts a more conciliatory tone and rejects all demands to further change asylum legislation. This is partially a “good cop, bad cop” policy on the part of the conservative party, which is also used to avoid a protest movement from the Left against racist government policies. But, even more, it reflects the fact that there are different interests at stake and the capitalists have no solution to the situation.

Polarisation growing

All this takes place in a country which is the supposed winner economy of the euro crisis. German capitalism successfully put the burden of the crisis on the weaker economies in Europe. But despite reaching the pre-crisis GDP levels earlier than other countries, and continuous, if small, economic growth and relative political stability, social and political polarisation is increasing.

2015 has seen the biggest number of strikes for many years. Some disputes were long and bitter, in particular at the state-owned railway company, Deutsche Bahn, the German Post company and amongst social and kindergarten workers. While the train drivers at Deutsche Bahn won their battle, the strike at the Post company was lost and the social and kindergarten workers were forced into an unsatisfactory compromise by the trade union leadership. While these strikes were very important, especially as we can see the beginnings of a new layer of activists developing, they did not yet put class issues to the fore in society in a way which could cut across the development of racist prejudice and nationalist sentiments among sections of the middle class and also workers. The trade union leadership carries a lot of responsibility for this because they were not prepared to seize the opportunity and organise a joint fightback of the different struggling sections of the working class. This could have turned individual collective bargaining disputes into a political class movement for the redistribution of wealth, from the top to bottom of society.

The existing potential for mass resistance against the capitalist establishment expressed itself on the streets of Berlin on 10 October, when 250,000 marched against the free trade agreements, TTIP and CETA, including a large number of trade unionists. SAV members found a high interest in socialist ideas amongst the demonstrators, and we had record sales of our paper, Solidarität (more than 600 were sold) at such an event.

The tragedy in this situation is that DIE LINKE (Left Party) seems incapable of using either the strikes or the polarisation in society to build and put forward a clear strategy to fight. When it comes to the question of migration and racism, DIE LINKE does not raise the social issues at stake in a way which could put class issues to the fore and undermine racism and nationalism. Instead of turning all its fire against the established parties and capitalism, it works together with the “democratic” government parties against a racism which is bred by those same parties. In East Germany, especially in Saxony, where the far right is getting stronger, DIE LINKE completely fails to organise a fightback.

SAV members within Linksjugend (Solid – the youth wing of DIE LINKE), together with others, formed BAK Revolutionäre Linke (Revolutionary Left national working group ). This is a radical, socialist current within the youth wing that stands for combative, anti-capitalist policies and is now working with young people in 28 cities. BAK RL launched a campaign which has the aim to fight for affordable homes for all, for the right to stay for migrants, for the fight against the root causes of people fleeing and to make the rich pay. This is an attempt to combine the fight against racism and the necessary solidarity with refugees, with the social issues posed and the fight against capitalism.

Protection and solidarity for all refugees! Fight the root causes!

SAV stands against racism, discrimination and division, and calls for the collective struggle for social rights and improvments for all, irrespective of skin colour, nationality or religion, including refugees.

The SAV has begun an intensive discussion on our demands regarding refugee policy. This position paper by the SAV National Executive Committee is a first draft which will be discussed and, if neccessary, ammended by SSV members. SSV calls on everyone to advocate these demands in the trade unions, DIE LINKE and anti-racist groups.

Protections and solidarity for all refugees! Fight the root causes!

  • No to the worsening of asylum laws – no to Fortress Europe
  • Those responsible for people having to flee must be held to account
  • Joint struggle for affordable housing for all, for a minimum wage of 12 Euro and against social cuts
  • Make arms companies and the rich pay

No to Fortress Europe

  • No to the worsening of asylum laws by way of the so-called catalogue of measures of the federal government, which would deny many refugees any form of support or accomadation
  • No to Fortress Europe: Abolish Frontex. Tear down the fences at the external borders of the EU. Abolish ’Safe country of origin’ status
  • End the Dublin III agreement – for the right to seek asylum in a land of ones choice
  • For safe and legal ways of reaching the EU and Germany for asylum seekers – abolish visa requirements for refugees
  • Create a genuine right to asylum: A basic right to asylum in cases of threats to life and safety due to political or trade union activity, national or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender, war, environmental destruction, social crisis or persecution by the state or by non-state entities
  • For the unrestricted right of families to be reunited

Fight the root causes

  • Withdraw all German armed forces deployed overseas
  • End support for the wars of the USA, Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Ukraine and other leading and dictatorial states
  • Germany out of NATO
  • Ban arms exports
  • To prevent illegal exports of weapons: Export controls by democratically elected comittees of workers at airports, seaports and loading stations
  • Take the arms industry into democratic public ownership, conversion to civilian production while guaranteeing all jobs
  • End the economic exploitation of other peoples, an end to free-trade agreements, deregulation, privatisation and the ’Structural adaptation programmes’ of the IMF, World Bank und ECB.
  • End the EU economic policy at the expense of less developed countries (fishing off the coast of western Africa, destruction of local producers by way of low pricing etc)

No one is illegal

  • No to deportations – right to stay for everyone – close the deportation prisons
  • No to racist special laws for migrants – for a complete abolition of residency restrictions
  • Against state racism and discrimination based on nationality, skin colour or religion thorugh means such as „racial profiling“, discrimination on the housing or employment market etc.
  • Equal rights for all those resident in Germany

Help and protection for refugees

  • Creation of action committees. Telephone chains etc. to protect refugees accomadation and to prevent deportations; coordination of these groups by democratically-elected representatives of refugees, residents, trade unions and anti-racist initiatives
  • Full entitlement to benefits instead of expensive and disenfranchising ’benefits in kind’
  • Full healthcare provision for refugees
  • No extension of the time to be spent in initial reception facilities, instead: faster moving out to normal homes
  • No shortening of the appeal deadlines in asylum cases
  • Uniform implementation of compulsory schooling for refugee childern all over the country
  • German language lessons and job qualification offers, free of charge for all refugees

No profiteering from the plight of refugees

  • The creation of legal routes of entry would put people-smugglers out of business
  • Refugees should be accomodated decentrally, where possible, and should have the possibility to live self-determined lives. If logistical reasons make central reception points unavoidable, all associated tasks should be in public hands
  • No to the running of refugee accomodation facilities by private companies
  • No to exorbitant rents for containers
  • Building and running of refugee accomodation should be in public hands under democrativ control and management
  • Costs for accommadating and supplying refugees to be paid for by those responsible for war, environmental destruction and poverty: Banks, corporations and their super-rich owners.

We will not be divided! Homes and jobs for everyone!

  • Every person, whether refugee or not, needs an affordable home:

    Every person, whether refugee or not, should have the possibility of meaningfull, appropriately paid work

    Every person, whether refugee or not, has the right to a dignified social minimum level of income, if society does not provide employment

    For an immediate building programme financed by the federal government to create 250,000 local authority social housing units with a basic rent of no more than four euros per square metre

  • In every city and every local authority: Compilation of a summary by housing authorities of all sites and buildings, including privately owned ones, which are lying empty, could be transformed into living space or built on. Democratic control of this process by elected representatives of tenants’ associations and trade unions
  • Confiscation of residential property, office and commercial space which is lying empty. For a public annoucement for people to report buildings lying unused.
  • Development of a plan for society, as a whole, on all levels (federal, state, region, local authority), starting with determining what is needed (homes, childcare places, schools / extension of schools, university places, healthcare). Determine the potential available in terms of labour, machines etc. Develop a plan by means of democratic participation of all those affected in order to alleviate the problems in a short time
  • Stop local authority cuts
  • A comprehensive programme of public investment in more childcare facilities and schools, as well as sports and leisure facilities
  • No to ’one-Euro-jobs’ and the secondary labour market. Equal pay for equal work – abolish discriminatory rules and laws determining who gets a job – minimum wage of 12 Euro for everyone
  • Creation of public sector employment, paid according to collective wage agreements, in worthwhile areas such as construction of housing, renewable energy, environmental protection, health, childcare and education.
  • Distribute the available work amongst everyone by reducing working hours without loss of pay
  • Invest in public transport, healthcare, culture and leisure activities in rural areas to even out the discrepancy between urban and rural areas
  • Instead of Hartz IV or benefits in kind – a minimum incom of 750 Euro plus rent including heating for everyone – whether refugee or not

Fight together!

  • Reject the attempt to play refugees and public sector employees off against each other! There is enough money for humane accomadation and care for refugees as well as a significant upgrading of social and childcare work – the money is merely in the wrong hands
  • Refugees into the DGB – for the organisation of migrant workers and unemployed to prevent wage dumping – joint struggle against the social causes of racism
  • For the strengthening of self-organisation of the refugees – creation of democratically elected refugee committees in every accomodation facility with networks at regional and nation level
  • For international solidarity via trade unions and DIE LINKE, for the building of a multi-ethnic and anti-capitalist workers’ movement in the Middle East, Africa and worldwide
  • For an anti-racist campaign by trade unions, DIE LINKE, anti-racist groups and migrant organisations, including workplace assemblies, creation of local alliances, local information meetings and demonstrations, distribution of millions of leaflets and posters, participation in mobilisation against racist and fascist demonstrations and and a nationwide mobilisation for a demonstration under the slogan „Fight the causes, not the refugees! Solidarity instead of division – eliminate the root causes of racism! Hold those responsible to account!“

Make the rich pay!

  • Cost of accomating and caring for refugees to be carried by the federal government
  • Introduction of a one-off billionaire’s tax of 25% on all fortunes of 1 billion Euro (this would raise approximately 170 billion Euro) and a wealth tax of 10% on fortunes over 1 million Euro to cover these expenses as well as social investments for all

The root cause is capitalism

  • Take major banks and corporations into public ownership under democratic control and management by working people
  • Democratic planning and cooperation instead of competition and production for profit
  • For socialist democracy worldwide

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October 2015