Germany: Flood disaster affects hundreds of thousands

Flood damage in Hagen, NRW, Germany, 15 July 2021 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The extreme weather conditions of the last few days have reached unimaginable proportions in the German federal states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as in Belgium, the Netherlands and other neighbouring countries. Up to 148 litres of rain per square metre fell within 48 hours. Normally, the average is 80 litres for the entire month. The floods have so far claimed the lives of more than 130 people and it is feared that this number will rise. Hundreds of people are still missing and more than 100,000 people are still without electricity. Countless houses have been destroyed, the damage to property is in the billions.

Immediate, unbureaucratic measures must now be taken to help those affected and to repair the damage. No one must be left homeless, unemployed or without income, or fall into poverty as a result of this disaster. At the same time, there can be no going back to the “status quo” after this flood! Climate change, which is ultimately responsible for such extreme weather situations, must finally be combated.

This must go hand in hand with billions in investments in the reconstruction of the affected cities and municipalities and climate protection concepts. In the end, capitalism, which puts the interests of a small minority of business bosses above those of society as a whole, stands in the way of all this. More urgently than ever, we must overcome it!

The floods left a trail of destruction in many places and the peak has not yet been reached in some places. In some places, there is still a danger that dams will burst, power lines will be exposed or that toxins will enter the water through industrial plants.

Immediate measures in the interest of the population

Those affected must therefore be offered immediate and uncomplicated help. People who have been evacuated must be given rooms – for example in empty hotels or flats. Clothing and food distribution must be organised and hygiene stations set up where this has not yet taken place. Appropriate material and vehicles must be procured for clean-up work. All those affected who have lost houses, cars and other valuables in the floods should be entitled to immediate payments of 10,000 euros each. Further aid should be paid out according to need. Workers who are unable to work because of the floods must be given continued pay and job guarantees. Vacant properties must be taken over to provide living and work spaces, no profits should be made from this disaster.

Organise solidarity from below

Many politicians from the established parties now express their sympathy for the victims of the disaster. But they should not be judged by what they say, but by what they do – for those affected and against climate change. This should not be forgotten: It is also they who, with their hesitant action in the fight against climate change, are partly responsible for this catastrophe.

Instead of politicians, in many places, it was the people themselves who provided emergency aid. First and foremost, the many emergency workers who have been tirelessly fighting the disaster for several days and who themselves lost colleagues in the floods. In many areas, residents immediately organised solidarity actions and supported each other in packing sandbags, clearing out flats and accommodating those affected. Nationwide, donations in kind and money are already being collected by sports clubs and aid networks, and volunteers from other places are ready to help in the areas. The solidarity from below shows the enormous potential to overcome the disaster together and gives hope.

This solidarity needs to be organised and coordinated. Democratically elected relief and action committees could organise the relief and clean-up work and plan the reconstruction, with the involvement of the emergency workers on the ground. Past disasters have unfortunately shown that aid and donations can end up in the wrong pockets or are misused. Democratic control by those affected and people on the ground could prevent this. The trade unions, which still organise six million members in Germany, could also mobilise voluntary aid workers. But they also have a duty to engage in the inevitable discussion on the lessons to be learned from this flood to put their own demands in the interest of the working people to those in power.

Insurance and disaster costs

When the floods recede, the next crisis is already waiting for many. The storm destroyed houses, cars and shops. Whole neighbourhoods were flooded and houses made uninhabitable. Yet many people, especially in Rhineland-Palatinate, are not insured against floods. In Rhineland-Palatinate, only 35 per cent of property owners have so-called natural hazard insurance. This is often due to the fact that premiums are far too high or that insurance companies are not willing to offer such policies in high-risk areas. Even if you have one, the process of getting a payout is often tedious and bureaucratic. For many, the absurd question will arise whether they could afford the floods in the first place! Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (Sol) therefore calls for all insurance companies to be merged and transferred to public ownership under democratic control in order to help all those affected as quickly as possible. No one should lose their livelihood because of a natural disaster.

The effects of this crisis will be felt for a long time. From the Ahrweiler district, which was particularly affected, it is said that the restoration of the gas supply can take months. This means no hot water and no heating when autumn and winter come. All such problems must be addressed immediately.

Let the rich pay!

One question will arise: Who will pay for these necessary measures and the reconstruction? So far, the state government in Rhineland-Palatinate has promised 50 million euros in state support. That is less than a drop in the ocean.

The state must use all available resources for the necessary measures. But after that, the working population must not pay through cuts elsewhere. What was already necessary due to the pandemic and the economic crisis is now even more urgent: the wealth of millionaires and billionaires must be tapped – immediately through a one-time levy of 30 per cent on the first million euro of financial assets, the reintroduction of the wealth tax and higher taxes on profits. The debt brake, the law that pushes public authorities into austerity, must finally be abolished and the municipalities must be provided with the necessary financial means for investments.

In past flood disasters, the alleged opportunity in the crisis was repeatedly propagated by the bosses. Repair and reconstruction work, for example, could boost the economy in the construction sector. The logic behind this: money can be made from people’s misery. The chaos surrounding the Corona test centres and the many operators who enriched themselves at state expense alone should remind us that the market cannot take over this task in the interest of society. Therefore, the transfer of the entire construction industry into public ownership under democratic control is necessary in order to rebuild the affected areas as effectively as possible and to ensure that no one lines their own pockets. Crises must not be used to increase profits!

Election campaign

This flood will change the mood in the country and the campaign for September’s general election. Possibly there will be larger demonstrations demanding action while the fight against climate change will gain renewed importance in the election debates.

The Christian Democrats apparently only discover climate change when their own website servers are flooded. A real about-face is not to be expected from them. NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet, now the Christian Democrat candidate to replace Merkel as Chancellor, may now appear on television in rubber boots and calling for more speed in climate protection. But his answers to climate change remain the same when it becomes concrete. In an interview with WDR on 16 July, his core statement was: “Because now is such a day, you don’t change policy.” In other words: the interests of the corporations will continue to come before those of the people and the environment.

It is possible that the Greens will benefit from the coming debates. But it would be wrong to place hopes in them. They have been complicit in environmental sins in various state governments. In Baden-Württemberg, the state government under a Green Minister-President is currently planning budget cuts of 250 million euros. But how they want to become the promised “climate protection state number one” with austerity policies remains their secret.

Socialist action to stop climate change!

Climate change has long been a threat. Rising temperatures are putting more and more water into the atmosphere. This water has to come down again at some point. Extreme weather, such as heavy rain or drought, lasts longer than in the past. It is not enough just to finally declare war on climate change in concrete terms. Now, because those in power have waited too long to act, extreme weather situations like the current ones will inevitably occur more often. This is true not only for Germany but also worldwide. In the USA and Canada, peak temperatures of 49.6 degrees Celsius have been measured in recent weeks and wildfires are raging in Siberia. It is therefore now necessary to react to the climate change that is already taking place and to protect ourselves – and not only specifically in the case of extreme weather. All areas of society – including urban and transport planning, as well as workplaces – must be put to the test with regard to necessary protective measures in the interest of the working population and the socially disadvantaged.

Despite all this, the world’s ruling politicians refuse to take serious action. Targets keep getting pushed back and weakened. They do this because pressure from corporations and their profit interests outweigh concerns about the impacts of climate change.

In order to counteract climate change, we have to break with the interests of the corporations. The interests of the people and nature must be decisive, not those of the capitalists. Among other things, the big energy companies and climate killers must be nationalised and converted to renewable energies. Public transport must be massively expanded and become free of charge; long-distance transport must become significantly cheaper in order to create an alternative to the car and air transport. Climate-damaging production must be switched to socially useful and sustainable goods, without any employee losing their job or income! All this must not be implemented at the expense of the working population but at the expense of the profiteers of this capitalist system.

DIE LINKE, as an anti-capitalist party, should present such a programme in the election campaign. Neither the CDU, nor the Greens, nor any other pro-capitalist party will be willing to do so. But if one is serious about fighting climate change, one must not accept the limits of this system. Then, overall, the economy must no longer be managed according to profits and instead according to the needs of people and nature. This can only be done with socialist measures: the transfer of banks and corporations into public ownership under democratic control and management and a democratically planned economy.

One disaster follows the other!

At the moment, one disaster follows the other. After the pandemic and the economic crisis, now the floods. What will happen tomorrow? Time and again, the ruling classes have failed to deal with crises in the interest of the majority. The response to the economic crisis was short-time work and lay-offs. A few pharmaceutical companies profited from the pandemic, while the majority of the working population was exposed to the virus for months without protection and still is worldwide. What the crises have in common is that the profit interests of a few have always been taken into account. Capitalism is the overarching crisis that we can only overcome together. Therefore, get active with us and fight for a safe and good future for all – a socialist future!

For immediate measures that really help all those affected:

·     Free distribution of clothing and food for all those affected by the disaster.

·     Free hotel rooms for all those who have lost their flats and houses as an immediate solution. Confiscation of vacant properties and expropriation of the big real estate companies.

·     Special and risk allowances for all emergency personnel.

·     Guaranteed financial assistance for all those affected! Immediate payment of € 10,000. Further assistance if required

·     An end to the ‚black zero’/debt brake! The municipalities must be able to react immediately.

·     Form democratically elected relief and action committees in towns and villages to plan clean-up, disaster response and reconstruction, and prevent a few from profiting from the crisis.

·     Expansion of disaster control and development of climate protection concepts.

·     Continued payment of wages and job guarantee in case of work stoppage for affected workers.

·     Transfer of all insurance policies into public ownership under democratic control and administration by the working population. No one who is not insured against flood damage should be disadvantaged!

·     Transfer the construction industry into public ownership to guarantee rapid reconstruction in which no one can enrich themselves.

·     The money lies with the rich: Finance all measures and reconstruction through a one-time levy of 30 per cent on assets of one million euros or more.  Re-impose wealth tax and higher taxes on profits!

Put an end to the climate catastrophe:

·     Coal phase-out as soon as possible! Guaranteed equal continued employment for all workers. Where necessary: retraining at the expense of the corporations.

·     Complete conversion of the energy supply to renewable energies!

·     Free and well-developed public transport!

·     Compensation payments from the corporations for the costs of the environmental damage caused!

·     Transfer the largest banks and corporations into public ownership under democratic control and administration by elected representatives from the ranks of the working population with the involvement of representatives of consumer and environmental protection organisations!

·     Switch to ecologically sustainable and socially meaningful production!

·     Democratic cooperation and sustainable planning of the economy and energy production according to the needs of people and the environment!

·     Get to the root of the problem: overcome capitalism, for socialist democracy!

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July 2021