Berlin “Together on the street” demonstration sends important signal

More than thirty organisations and initiatives had called for the demonstration “Together on the street – public instead of private” in Berlin, last Saturday, 18 September. Representatives from almost all movements and campaigns currently taking place in the capital were there: striking hospital workers, tenant activists of ‘Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and Co.’ and other initiatives, trade unionists from the GEW teachers’ union, and the campaign ‘School in Need’, GDL train drivers union activists from the Berlin S-Bahn railway system and the anti-privatisation initiative ‘S-Bahn for all’, individual branches of the trade unions and many others.

Nevertheless, the size of the demonstration with about 700 participants was not a full expression of the size and scope of these struggles. This was because many of the sponsoring organisations had decided to support the demonstration politically, but had not seriously mobilised. Nevertheless, the organisers were pleased that in recent weeks they succeeded in carrying an important message into the city’s trade union and social movements: that the different forces should be united in action as their struggles were about common interests, common causes of problems, and against common opponents. This demonstration, a week before both the 26 September general and Berlin city elections, was part of mobilising for the struggles that will both continue and start after these votes.

Socialist Organisation Solidarity (Sol) had taken the initiative for the demonstration and was able to involve more groups than had initially been hoped for. This is important for the future in view of the fact that the implementation of a successful vote in the referendum, also on September 26th, on whether to expropriate the large property companies by a future Berlin city government is not likely; that there is little willingness of the management of Berlin’s biggest hospital groups to meet the demands of its workers currently on strike; and given the fact that an austerity budget is to be expected after the Berlin’s city election. All this means that it will be all the more important that joint resistance continues to be organised in the future.

Urgent need to fight for socialist change

But as Sascha Staničić, national spokesperson for Sol, said in his speech there is also an urgent need to fight for socialist change: “I ask you: when did an election change something fundamentally in the interests of the working class? The last federal government of SPD and Greens brought us Hartz IV (social cuts), the diagnosis-related group (DRG) payment system in hospitals, precarisation and war. The participation of DIE LINKE (the Left Party) in Berlin and other governments did not lead to left policies being implemented. If that was the case we would not have to demonstrate today. The Left Party’s place should be here and not on the lap of Olaf Scholz or Franziska Giffey (the SPD candidates for Federal Chancellor and for Berlin’s mayoral position). Giffey made clear that she will not accept a vote in the referendum in favour of expropriating the real estate companies. That is capitalist democracy – democracy is only accepted in how far it will not harm the capitalists. Therefore we should fight for another kind of democracy: democracy from below, the democracy of the workers and socially vulnerable, democracy for all without discrimination – socialist democracy. On the demonstration of the striking hospital workers, we often hear ‘capitalism out of the hospitals’. It is time to raise the system question but not only for the health sector. Capitalism out of our lives! It is time to raise the property question not only for the real estate companies because profit logic and private ownership of the economy are harming human beings and the environment in every sector.”

After the demonstration the organisers issued a press statement summing up the day that, slightly edited for an international audience, we publish here:

In total, a broad alliance of 39 organisations had called for protests against cuts and privatisations in hospitals, schools, daycare centres, the S-Bahn and the entire public sector. The demonstration with 700 people moved from Washington Platz by Berlin’s central station through the city centre to the ‘Red City Hall’, the seat of the Berlin Senate, the city’s government.

Along the way, the demonstration halted at places that stand for privatisation and austerity. The first stop was at the building of PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the ‘big four’ international accounting and business services providers, the former employer of social democrat Berlin Finance Senator Kollatz and source of ideas for the “school renovation company”. “The school renovation company, with HOWOGE [a city-owned property company], has not completed a single school building. That was foreseeable!” criticised Carl Waßmuth from the Initiative GiB (Common property in citizens’ hands).

In front of the Charité hospital, the ver.di trade unionist Melanie Meißner, who is employed by a Vivantes’ subsidiary and active in the hospital movement, stressed: “We do not strike because we want to, but we strike because we have to! Before the election we need more staff in hospitals and care and TVöD (national wage agreement) for everyone on the Spree!” [a major river in Berlin].  Fighting closure of a hospital by the Vivantes’ group Charlotte Rutz-Sperling, a ver.di shop steward and from the ‘Wenckebach Hospital Must Stay Initiative’ demanded, “The Wenckebach Hospital must stay! For responsible health care in Berlin, there must be no reductions in beds and no clinic closures.”

At the S-Bahn station Oranienburger Straße, Ava Matheis of the action alliance “An S-Bahn for All” and a DIE LINKE (Left party) member emphasised: “The privatisation and break-up of the Berlin S-Bahn must be prevented at all costs. We need public transport provided from a single source. Only in this way can we achieve a social and ecological transport turnaround. For safe and good working conditions for the employees and for fares that everyone can afford instead of profits for corporations from our S-Bahn!” This was supported by Uwe Krug, chairman of the GDL local group S-Bahn Berlin: “The local group “S-Bahn Berlin” of the German Train Drivers Union (GdL) is against any privatisation of the S-Bahn. Privatization divides the workforce. We support the hospital movement in solidarity!”

Patricia Machmutoff, activist from the ‘Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co’ campaign, which had also called for the demo, declared: “Berlin can only remain the colourful and solidary city if we oppose speculation and repression. Therefore: Vote for the socialisation of the big real estate companies on 26 September. Let’s make history together – let’s take back the city!”

Anne Zetsche from the initiative ‘Schools in Need’, also a supporter of the alliance, demanded in her contribution: “We also need relief and more staff in schools and kindergartens! School cleaning must finally be re-municipalised. Good cleaning needs good working conditions!”

Referendum

The Berlin IG Bau (building workers’ union) leader, Christian Stephan, sent a message of greeting: “The IG Bau actively supports the hospital movement and calls for a vote “Yes” in the referendum ‘Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co’. I wish us all every success in the fight against privatisation and austerity.”

The finance company “BlackRock & Co are not only the defining owners of Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, but also of Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia. This complicity of federal and state governments must finally be made a public issue and ended!” read a greetings message from the well-known investigative journalist Werner Rügemer.

At the final rally in front of the Red Town Hall, Gerlinde Schermer from the “Water Table” emphasized that currently “Public services (such as the S-Bahn) are to be privatised further or, like the water companies, are themselves managed according to profit targets instead of the needs of the people. We need investing instead of cuts! Expansion of public services for the general good! No profits from health, water, housing, education, and the S-Bahn!”

Gotthard Krupp (member of the ver.di Berlin Brandenburg regional committee and leader of its ‘Privatization and Deregulation’ working group): “Ver.di fears a new wave of austerity after the elections. But Berlin urgently needs more staff and investments in public services, as the intolerable situations in hospitals, schools, and administration show. Thousands of workers are lacking in all these areas. Never before have there been so many social protests and strikes before elections as this time.”

René Arnsburg from the Network for Combative Trade Unions (VKG) argued, “The burden of the pandemic and the crisis must not be passed on to workers. We must fight for this together! The colleagues at Charité and Vivantes are currently doing this for us.”

Georg Heidel, from the DGB (German trade union federation) Tempelhof Schöneberg local association in Berlin and a ver.di member, summed up: “It is necessary that the various Berlin movements and the trade unions unite and act as an alliance after the elections against privatization and austerity policies. Only together can we change something!”