The world has changed since the war in Ukraine began. Like the coronavirus – which not only shut down the world but also accelerated profound changes in economic, political and social relations – the war launched by the Russian regime acts as an accelerator of crises and shifts. Some developments are not yet completely foreseeable. But it is already clear that issues like inflation are taking on large proportions in Germany. These are already greatly exacerbating political instability, illustrated in the three state elections held, so far, this year.
The Ukraine war is still in full swing months after the Russian invasion. An imminent end to the war, which has already claimed tens of thousands of deaths and large-scale destruction, does not currently seem to be in sight. On the one hand, the Russian army does not yet seem to have deployed its full military strength. On the other hand, the upgrading of the Ukrainian armed forces by Western powers is constantly taking on new dimensions. Without major changes on the battlefield and while not ruling out further negotiations and temporary ceasefires, one must prepare for a long, bloody war.
Global consequences of war
The Ukraine war’s consequences for the world and its capitalist (dis)order are already considerable. Even if the NATO states do not want to intervene with their own soldiers in the war for fear of an uncontrollable escalation – the confrontation with Russia has reached a new quality in the inter-imperialist tensions.
This also has wider implications for international relations, as the West’s current conflict with Russia takes place in the shadow of the tensions between the US and China. In the emerging multipolar world, the war in Ukraine will not be the last and some powers now sense an opportunity to have their fingers not so closely watched. In April, the NATO member state, Turkey, launched heavy bombardments and the use of ground forces against Kurdish positions in northern Iraq. And Israel carried out a missile attack near the Syrian capital, Damascus.
But the war also has profound economic consequences for the world. It exacerbates the deglobalisation tendencies and drives up energy prices further. Russia and Ukraine are also important export countries for food, such as cereals and sunflower products. According to the United Nations, global food prices rose by 34 per cent in March compared to the same month last year. This development threatens to trigger or intensify a hunger crisis in numerous countries and thus further massively worsen the already catastrophic social situation of tens of millions of people in the neo-colonial world. In many countries, debt crises threaten, as is currently the case in Sri Lanka, further conflicts, including wars or uprisings. But also in the imperialist countries, many will be impacted by inflation.
For the ruling class in Germany, the war brings with it special problems and challenges. However, the so-called “turning point” also opens a new chapter: the rulers want to appear more decisively on the international stage.
German economy hit hard
The German economy is fundamentally extremely dependent on exports and thus more susceptible to international crises and slumps in world trade. The problems of industry, which was already in difficulties before the outbreak of war due to unstable supply chains and partial shortages of components, have been exacerbated by the war. Again and again, short-time working and production stops have been imposed, for example, in the steel industry or at car manufacturers. The falling living standards due to inflation will simultaneously depress demand both in Germany and internationally.
Economic development was already unstable before the war. As everyone now knows, German energy imports are fed to a very large extent from Russian sources. The rising prices of energy since last year have, since the beginning of the war, exploded worrying German capital. In the wake of Western sanctions and Russian countermeasures, a complete halt to Russian gas supplies cannot be ruled out.
Possible ban on natural gas imports
Among the German capitalists, there is great fear of a complete ban on the import of Russian natural gas. In particular, those based on processing raw materials, like the steel and iron industry, glass production and the chemical industry, would be massively affected by an immediate gas embargo and would probably have to shut down production to a large extent. The CEO of the chemical giant BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller warned that this would mean the “destruction of the entire economy”. A supply or import freeze would have far-reaching consequences not only for the affected areas but also for the other links in the value chain in other industrial companies. The chemical industry, alone, consumes 15 per cent of total natural gas consumption. In this sector alone, there are 464,000 employees plus another half a million working in its supply chain.
But it was not the case that the German economy was perfectly healthy before the war. Contrary to the forecasts of the numerous experts that a rapid recovery (a V-curve) would begin after the massive slump in the 2020 corona year, the gross domestic product stagnated. Already at the end of last year, the economy shrank again and there were warnings of a so-called “technical recession” in the first quarter of this year, something which was only narrowly avoided. Still, unlike twenty other EU member states, the German economy has not yet reached pre-crisis levels.
The war in Ukraine has directly exacerbated Germany’s economic problems. All German research institutes had to lower their growth forecasts, in some cases by more than half. The legally based “Council of Experts” reported to the German Government that the economic situation has “drastically” worsened and now they expect this year’s growth to be 1.8 per cent compared to their previous 4.6 per cent forecast. The pro-union IMK predicted a deep recession of minus six per cent this year if Russian gas imports were halted (and half of the shortfall was covered from other sources). Whether this will happen and what developments are still to come by the end of the year is anything but foreseeable at the moment. At least in the short term, a slump in March and the following months is likely. The fact that the German economy will be de facto stagnating by the end of this year currently seems to be at the upper end of the expectations of bourgeois economists. However, it can also go a long way downhill from there.
Another trouble spot could develop in the financial markets. The increases in the key interest rates of the central banks and stepping back from ‘Quantitative Easing’ (QE) in response to inflation is already further weakening economic development and producing turmoil in the financial markets. In addition, the current lockdown in numerous Chinese cities is also a factor that increases the crisis potential for both the global economy and the German economy, which is in part extremely dependent on China.
The increase in imperialist tensions, including with China, poses major problems for the German capitalists – especially in the automotive industry. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and Co. are still making record profits – last year alone, earnings per new car rose by 61 per cent. How long the Chinese market will support this development, however, is an open question.
But the profits that continue to rise despite the crisis also have another source. Because the other economic development that everyone is feeling is inflation. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the general price increases of 7.3 percent in March and 7.4 percent in April were as high as in 1981. This development is driven in particular by energy prices. Crisis profiteers include the oil companies. According to a study by Greenpeace, the additional gross proceeds amount to over three billion euros since the beginning of the Ukraine war – in Germany, alone, it is 38.2 million euros per day. On the other hand, inflation eats up wages. Consumer prices for household energy alone rose by almost forty percent in March. However, many are likely to feel these and other increases not gradually but abruptly when the bills arrive in the mailboxes. Families without reserves will run into massive problems.
A new awareness of the crisis
Together with the war, these bleak economic prospects lay the foundation for a profound change in the consciousness of broad sections of the population. The outbreak of the Ukrainian war, its geographical proximity and the potential for escalation of the nuclear powers involved – all initially shocked the vast majority and brought the fear of war to the fore. But without these fears disappearing, fears about the future generalize and include economic development.
According to a survey by Allensbach, only one in five Germans is optimistic about the future, the worst figure since 1949. According to a SPIEGEL survey, four out of five fear a global economic crisis and an economic upheaval in Germany. While in the corona crisis year 2020 never more than thirty percent of the population expected deterioration of their own economic situation in the next few years, now it is 43 percent. There are many other surveys that show that inflation no longer only affects the very poorest, but the broad mass of the population. Incomes are being eroded and many are beginning to limit themselves. Broad sections of the population are coming to the realization that we are in times of economic crisis and that these do not pass quickly.
This will mean that social issues and questions of the distribution of wealth will increasingly enter the public debate in the coming months, although concerns about the spread of the Ukraine war or, for example, climate change will not disappear. In the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, price increases were the most important issue according to the polls. For the (no longer so) new ‘Traffic Light’ federal government of the SPD, the Greens and radical pro-market FDP this is the next source of problems. Already in their first months in office, their pompously formulated claim to establish a new kind of politics was confronted with reality. Again and again, differences break out within the government. Even if there was a small increase in approval for a short time with the outbreak of war, this has already disappeared again. Political instability is on the rise – not least in view of the various debates within the ruling class. According to an Insa survey in April, 55 percent are now dissatisfied with the government and 49 percent with the work of Chancellor Olaf Scholz; within a few months of its September 2021 election defeat the conservative CDU was able to overtake the SPD in the polls.
Mandatory vaccination debacle
This also has to do with the fact that the government’s balance sheet has already been massively damaged by the failure of the general covid vaccination programme – just over 77% of the population have had two vaccine doses, of the big European countries only Britain has a lower rate. This is a disastrous outcome for a central project, and especially for the Federal Chancellor and the Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach.
The hopes for a more cautious pandemic policy, which some had associated with Karl Lauterbach, are also likely to have evaporated since his announced withdrawal of the obligation for corona-infected people to isolate. It is quite clear that this government is also pursuing a pandemic policy that does not follow the interests of the working class, but the path of the least possible burden on the banks and corporations.
It should not be forgotten that Karl Lauterbach in particular worked on steps towards the marketisation of the health care system as an advisor to then-Minister Ulla Schmidt. He was jointly responsible for the flat-rate case DRG system which meant that hospitals are now financed by fixed payments per case treated.
While the war has pushed the pandemic into the background as a permanent headline issue, in April there still were record incidences of infection and thus very high sick leave and burdens in hospitals and public institutions. Sometimes more than 300 people were dying every day. Despite more than two years of the pandemic, the health care system is still geared towards profit, with hospitals billed with fixed DRG charges irrespective of patients’ needs and still no legal staffing levels for patient care
Even if the virus does not circulate so strongly in the warmer months, it is likely that it will make a comeback in the autumn with new variants and the still low vaccination rate in the older cohorts. This makes it all the more important that employees at the university hospitals in North Rhine-Westphalia and Dresden want to take up the baton of the Berlin hospital movement and fight for more staff.
Historic military upgrade…
The immediate reaction of the German government to the war, however, was the historic decision to make a qualitative change in the demands and possibilities of German foreign policy. A special 100 billion euro fund will be established to finance a rearmament programme while the annual military budget is to be raised to the NATO target of two percent of economic output. An amendment to the Basic Law, the German constitution, is proposed to make it possible to take on new debts to finance the 100 billion armament fund – thus proving that the rules of the ‘debt brake’ that limits state debts can be lifted if the ruling class so desires. This massive rearmament, which will not spare a single person in Ukraine any suffering, has the sole aim of making the Bundeswehr – as Finance Minister Christian Lindner said – “the most powerful army in Europe” and bringing the military weight of the Federal Republic in line with its economic weight. This is a significant further step in the German ruling class’s attempts to be able again internationally act as the other imperialist powers do.
Germany’s rulers are using the war in Ukraine as a cover to militarise their foreign policy. Putin’s attack on Ukraine means that, for a change, the Western powers do not appear as the clear aggressor and thus they can better hide their own responsibility for the now years-long inter-imperialist struggle for influence and strategic positions in eastern Europe and the successor states to the former Soviet Union.
For the first time in the Federal Republic’s history, a “National Security Strategy” is to be elaborated, including the strengthening of European military capacities and armament industry. The German ruling class is taking advantage of the widespread feeling of solidarity among the population with the people in Ukraine to establish new standards for arms exports to pro-capitalist forces, including those in crisis areas, and to strengthen the Bundeswehr, the German military.
An ideological campaign is being driven forward by large sections of the ruling class, which focuses on and criticises past “mistakes” in the Russian and Eastern policies of German (ex-) politicians, especially those from the SPD. In the past, important parts of the German establishment had relied on cooperation with Russian leaders to serve the interests of German capitalism.
This campaign is also directed at the current SPD leadership and parts of the Greens in order to suppress criticism of the massive rearmament. Gerhard Schröder, who has continued to enrich himself as a Putin confidant even after his chancellorship, or Manuela Schwesig, the regional premier in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, whose dubious entanglements around the Nord Stream 2 project may yet be her undoing, provide a welcome target. But in view of the rearmament, it would be wrong to speak of a 180-degree turn in German foreign policy – after all, the last federal governments were not averse to supplying weapons to authoritarian, belligerent regimes, such as Saudi Arabian, or to providing the Bundeswehr with more money year after year and to send it into wars to protect “German” interests, such as in former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
But now there is an attempt to shift gear so that military interventions will be in future be more of a part of the normal repertoire of Federal Governments and that the Bundeswehr will become more of everyday life at home. If NATO’s two percent target is met, Germany’s military budget would be the third-largest in the world. This growing role of German imperialism will, over a period of time, also deepen the differences in the European Union, as well as the tensions between the world powers.
… in a great hurry
But even in the historic “turning point” of the Traffic Light government, deeper contradictions and instability are already emerging. Even if it can be assumed that a “turning point” in the foreign policy of German imperialism was not only desired but also prepared by some political figures for a long time, its implementation was sprung as a surprise and effectively bulldozed through. Before Scholz’s speech in the Bundestag announcing the package, only a small group of people and not even all members of the government were informed of the extent of the proposed rearmament. Apparently, the aim was to quickly create facts that no one in the government ranks would challenge, thus members of the governing parties’ parliamentary majority were surprised by Scholz’s surprise rearmament announcement. However, there is agreement on the massive rearmament among the established, pro-capitalist parties, even though they have not yet been able to agree on the exact measures. The CDU, whose votes would be decisive in the event of an amendment to the Basic Law, are demanding that the billions should only flow into the Bundeswehr and not into other areas, as the Greens are demanding. In addition, the Federal Government’s new financial plan does not yet plan to increase the regular expenditure of the Bundeswehr in addition the 100 billion – contrary to what has been announced. Even if all representatives of the pro-capitalist parties are definitely in favour of more rearmament, the deeper instability is also expressed in the debates they are having.
Consolation patchwork “Relief package”
Not surprisingly, the size of the Bundeswehr’s rearmament package is more than the so-called “relief package” that the government has decided to implement against the effects of rising prices. Employees are to receive a gross one-time 300 euro lump sum. Students or pensioners will not receive any extra payments. Recipients of basic security receive an additional 100 euros – this does not change the far too low standard rates, which were increased by an almost mocking three euros a month in 2022. At the same time, fuel taxes are to be reduced in the summer. But who controls whether the rebates do not end up in the pockets of the oil companies? All in all, these measures will not be nearly enough to absorb the rising costs and, according to a survey, that is what two out of three people in Germany think.
The decision to limit the monthly ticket for regional and local public transport to nine euros for three months is likely to meet with approval from many. But why only three months? And isn’t it absurd that shortly after the announcement even the transport ministers of the federal states spoke out in favour of a zero-tariff because it would lower administrative costs? It is absolutely clear that public transport as an alternative to private transport should not only be free of charge for three months but be permanent and must be massively expanded. In the summer, there is a risk of chaos due to the increased passenger volume, but this is not being catered for by providing, for example, more staff and trains. This is one of the reasons why the 100 billion euros of the Bundeswehr special fund should be used for the benefit of wage earners.
Even now, however, the measures from the “relief package” are only a supplement to the massive propaganda arguing that sacrifices need to be made, something which is intended to prepare all sections of the working population for cuts in living standards. The new CDU leader, Friedrich Merz, says that “we have passed the peak of our prosperity”, meaning prepare to get poorer. Clearly, the CDU leader doesn’t mean himself as this former BlackRock manager, who counts himself among the “upper middle class” with his estimated fortune of 12 million euros, has enough to live very comfortably. From the ranks of the Federal Government, the tone is set that the belt must be tightened again. The bourgeois economists warn in particular against the so-called “wage-price spiral” and call on the trade unions to moderate their demands.
Leftists and trade unions must not fall for this propaganda. Firstly, it is not rising wages that are responsible for the price increases. The main reasons lie in the chaotic market situation since the Corona slump, the associated rising energy prices and profiteering in some sectors, although now the Ukrainian war is affecting some sectors. We have seen energy and oil companies make extra profits, just like speculators on the stock market. The other capitalists pass on the increased prices in order to protect their own profits. Capitalism is a chaotic system in which the sole purpose of production is expected profit, which goes into the pockets of a small minority of society. It is the working class that ultimately toils social wealth with its labour-power. Just because the elite at the top wants to preserve their profits doesn’t make the working class guilty of further inflation when it demands higher wages. On the contrary, rising wages above the inflation rate, i.e. real wage increases, are necessary to halt the falling living standards of broad sections of the population.
Programme against inflation
In Germany, too, capitalism is not in a position to maintain the standard of living of broad sections of the population, let alone raise it sustainably. Only a socialist democracy, in which the big banks and corporations are publicly owned and democratically controlled and managed by working people, can ensure this on the basis of democratic planning – in harmony with nature. In this situation, the Sol demands, among other things:
- Higher wages against rising prices: The unions are fighting for reference demands for ongoing collective agreements! No new wage contract to last more than 12 months and not have a real wage increase!
- Minimum wage without exceptions of 15 euros per hour! Social minimum security and minimum pension of 900 euros plus warm rent (including fuel) for each adult and 700 euros per child – without means of testing and harassment! Automatic increases according to average wages or inflation (whichever is higher)
- Automatic increase of all wages and pensions to the general price increase!
- Introduction of price caps for basic goods and state price controls!
- Opening of the business books of oil, energy, food and retail companies, among others, to democratically elected representatives of employees, trade unions and consumers
- Transfer of the big banks and corporations, starting with the energy industry, into public ownership under democratic control and management of the working population!
In the trade unions, the left party DIE LINKE and social movements, we are committed to ensuring that the coming struggles over the distribution of income and wealth have such a programme and are led offensively from the left. Clear proposals need to be presented to the working population for self-organization and mobilization. There is no alternative because the class struggle is being waged from above one way or another and in response, there needs to be a tougher line.
The war has arrived in Germany, especially in Berlin and other major cities, with the arrival of well over 700,000 refugees from Ukraine. As in 2015, the first reaction was characterized by the great solidarity of the working population through donations in kind and money. Many thousands took refugees into their homes. Once again, it was the helpfulness of volunteers at train stations and arrival centres, without which the state authorities would have been completely overwhelmed with the situation. Officially more than 700,000 people have arrived in Germany, so far – but there are likely to be significantly more, as many do not have to register directly as with their Ukrainian passport they can move freely within the EU. This is in blatant contradiction to the treatment of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria or the African continent, who continue to be rejected at the EU’s external border by Frontex, the EU’s border force, and find far more difficult conditions if they make it to Germany. There are reports that refugees from other countries have had to vacate their accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. The racist unequal treatment has not escaped many people.
Even though some refugees certainly hope to return to their homeland soon, it is not clear how long the war will last. Many are looking for apartments, school and day-care places and jobs, while these were already a scarce commodities in many cities such as Berlin. If the necessary investments are not made in affordable housing, day-care and school places as well as sufficient staff in the public sector, it cannot be ruled out that divisions and racism will increase again in some places.
Polarization and danger of the right
The overall economic and social development suggests that political polarization in Germany continues to increase and may also become more visible at the electoral level than in the past. The danger from the right by the AfD has by no means been averted (and politicians of other pro-capitalist parties can also switch back to an open racist course if they hope to gain support from it). After the resignation of Jörg Meuthen, the AfD’s exit from the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament and its losses in the North Rhine-Westphalia election, the party has been weakened overall.
However the extreme right-wing “Flugel” tendency in the AfD has strengthened its position and, despite election losses, the party continues to be a serious force. The conspiracy theorist ‘Querdenker’ have not disappeared either, and the repeated raids and weapons finds on Nazi groups and right-wing extremist members of the Bundeswehr, which have almost become marginal notes in the shadow of the war, must continue to be alarming for the left and the workers’ movement. The mood towards refugees or (supposed) migrants can change again. In times of growing social conflict, this will also be used by those in power to find scapegoats for declining living standards.
Against this background, it is above all the task of the trade unions to counter the division by declaring that there is enough money for the reception of refugees and the improvement of the living conditions of the entire working class and by taking up the fight for higher taxation of the rich and corporations.
‘Debt brake’ and upcoming attacks
And sooner or later there will be battles over who gets and who pays for what. Be it the rearmament, the deceptive package “relief package”, the economic aid for the corporations or the investments in the energy transition: they are all currently financed by the new national debt. Many pro-capitalist commentators worry that the state will distribute money too generously “with a watering can” that it does not have itself. They are worried about the future because the debt pushes the crucial question in front of them: Who pays the bill? Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) is determined to reinstate the ‘debt brake’, the legal ban on new state debt, from 2023. In the new financial plan of the Federal Government for the 2023 budget, the difference between the estimated tax revenues and planned government expenditures results in a minus of 62.7 billion euros without further loans. Cuts in key state social spending and attacks on living standards and workers’ rights are then imminent. These can be implemented at different levels. For example, the Minister of Health has already announced rising health insurance contributions. The back and forth on the cuts in Berlin’s education system, which the ‘red-green-red’ Senate, the city government, is currently discussing in Berlin, are also a foretaste of cuts in municipal and state budgets. Resistance is needed, especially from the trade unions.
At the same time, it is not set in stone that the ‘debt brake’ will be fully implemented again from 2023 onwards, partly it depends on the economic and social situation. Special funds are one way of circumventing it in the future. Due to its economic strength, Germany has many more possibilities than other countries, including European countries, to continue debt-financed management (although such a course is likely to lead to further tensions with those EU countries that Germany is simultaneously exhorting to balance their budgets). But regardless of the exact form, the signs are for more attacks on wage earners next year. A dual strategy of capital seems likely: on the one hand, a form of crisis Keynesianism with state investment and possibly far-reaching measures, including interventions in private property rights where it suits the interests of capitalism – such as the current state control over Gazprom subsidiary Germania. At the same time, on the other hand, neoliberal measures, cutbacks and social cuts, and further privatisation.
Crisis of the political parties
The war in Ukraine exacerbates what Marxists call the objective crisis of the capitalist system. This makes the need for a socialist transformation all the more urgent, but for many such an alternative to capitalism seems further away than ever – there is no major political force expressing such a programme. On the contrary, since the beginning of the Corona crisis, we have seen a widespread capitulation of left organisations and parties and a high degree of political confusion.
The left party DIE LINKE is now in a crisis that threatens its existence. Last year’s federal elections, in which the party only just entered parliament and lost millions of votes, were an absolutely low blow for the party, and this year’s state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia continued the chain of disasters. In Saarland, the party was thrown out of the state parliament, and in North Rhine-Westphalia, it halved its percentage result and lost more than 250,000 votes. DIE LINKE is now represented in only three western German parliaments, two of the city-states. In Lower Saxony, where elections are still to be held in October this year, the party is well below the 5 percent hurdle according to current polls. The current allegations of sexual assault have further aggravated the crisis within the party and the resignation of Susanne Hennig-Wellsow as co-chair of the party has fully revealed that the party is on the brink of collapse – and its June Party Congress is unlikely to resolve the issues.
Actually, a left party should benefit from the coming struggles in the future, but its current state and real development of DIE LINKE make this anything but certain. On the contrary, since the outbreak of war, its pro-capitalist reform wing has been on the offensive to force a reorientation in the party’s peace and foreign policy at the June Congress. On this question, the conflict with the forces around Sahra Wagenknecht may also come to a head again and the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine suggests that these forces see their future outside the party.
However, just because DIE LINKE cannot seem to emerge from its crisis does not mean that the established, pro-capitalist parties enjoy stability. The recent state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia have shown this. In all three elections, voter turnout declined. In North Rhine-Westphalia turnout was just 55 percent, meaning over 1,275,000 fewer voted now than in 2017.
In Saarland, too, the turnout dropped massively – more than one in three did not vote. There 22.3 percent of valid Saarland votes are not represented in the state parliament due to the undemocratic five percent hurdle – an indictment of parliamentary democracy. It is against this background that the SPD’s election victory, which in absolute terms won just over 40,000 additional votes, must be judged and the real “strength” of the SPD ruling alone in the Saarland government assessed. This SPD success was due to DIE LINKE’s weakness and the more social profile the SPD gave itself there. But in Schleswig-Holstein, the incumbent prime minister of the CDU won significantly and the SPD lost more than 12 percent or 100,000 votes.
The elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) also illustrate the instability in the political system. All the major parties, with the exception of the Greens, lost votes. The historic decline of the SPD continues. In 1990, it received 50 percent of the vote (with a turnout of nearly 73 percent), but this May it was under 27 percent. It lost over 740,000 votes compared with 2017. But even the CDU, which was celebrated as the winner of the election and was able to increase its percentage result on a lower turnout, lost in absolute numbers over 240,000 votes compared to 2017. This NRW election, which some commentators call a “small federal election” because of the size of the federal state, is a further damper for the ‘Traffic Light’ federal government – especially for the SPD and the neoliberal FDP, which only narrowly entered the state parliament. It is likely that the CDU will continue to lead the government of the most populous federal state. Even though the federal government will not fall over this result, it shows that it does not have a stable social basis. In view of growing criticism of some ministers, further reshuffling of the cabinet is possible. Dissatisfaction with the government may continue to grow with the economic crisis and it is far from foreseeable that it will last the entire legislative period.
No to more sacrifices by working people!
Economic developments will lead to capital wanting to put pressure on wages and working conditions. It is well known from past crises that trade union leaders give in to this pressure far too often and far too willingly. The fact that no jobs are saved by giving up is shown by the job cuts that have massively increased in many industrial companies since 2019, even before the outbreak of the pandemic.
At the same time, there are still too few educators, nurses and teachers. But in the current collective bargaining rounds in the social and educational services, the representatives of the municipal employers refused to negotiate the central demands of ver.di for wage rises and relief from overwork. These would have been the urgent measures needed to attract more workers to these professions. However, the ver.di leadership has accepted a deal with only few partial improvements which will not be enough to achieve this goal. Instead of giving in, it would have been necessary for the ver.di leadership to have seriously prepared a full-scale strike and for the DGB unions to support such a struggle with a broad solidarity campaign.
There is also growing pressure from below in the trade unions to counter rising prices with corresponding wage demands. In view of the falling living standards of the working population, the trade unions have a duty to go on the offensive in the collective bargaining rounds this year and not to limit themselves to warning strikes.
Against this background, it is wrong that the IG BCE leadership went into the first major bargaining round of the year in the chemical industry without a concrete wage demand. This was done before the outbreak of war, which cannot be a justification for it anyway, since the cost of living has increased even more since then. Further negotiations have now been postponed until the autumn without a struggle. The one-off payment of 1400 to 1000 euros, the exact amount of which depends on the company’s financial situation, is not an increase in wage rates and is also below the current level of monthly inflation. However, the fact that the chemical pay round now coincides with that in the metal and electrical industry (M+E) provides an opportunity for a joint struggle. This should be used by IG BCE and IG Metall to prepare joint mobilisations and parallel strikes. After no wage increase was won in the last M+E round, IG Metall has to fight for a wage demand above inflation. In the steel industry, it has now demanded 8.2 percent more pay over a twelve-month period. This is a much higher demand than in the past, which certainly also expresses the expectations of the colleagues. But since the union leadership is already thinking about the compromise when setting their demands, it is clear that they want to accept a deal below the rate of inflation. The trade unions have to fight for the full implementation of the demand and no long term wage contract – also with the means of a ballot and determined strike action.
At the end of the year, the collective agreement for the federation and municipalities (TVöD) will expire. Real wage increases must also be fought for here and it would be a scandal if, on the one hand, over 100 billion were to be spent on rearmament, but on the other hand, the federal and municipal governments claimed that there was no money to meet the demands of their employees.
Unions on the offensive
But living standards are already starting to fall. Unions have a responsibility to lead an immediate fight to stop this by demanding action to increase wages, pensions and benefits to maintain living standards and improve them for the poorest. This demand should be taken up by trade union activists and DIE LINKE.
Because if there is one thing Germany does not lack, it is money. 70 billion euros in dividends alone are to be distributed to shareholders this year – more than ever before! Most of society’s wealth is in the hands of a small minority, for whom the term “oligarchs” can be used just as appropriately as for their Eastern European counterparts. According to Forbes, Germany is the country with the fourth-largest number of dollar billionaires worldwide. These ladies and gentlemen alone have an estimated fortune of 555 billion euros. As a first step, this wealth should be used immediately in the interest of society, i.e. the working majority, to secure and expand jobs and incomes; to expand public services, health and education; to create affordable housing into public hands and convert the energy supply to renewables. The ‘Traffic Light’ government is a pro-capitalist government that will not mess with the super-rich and capitalists and therefore will not solve the numerous crises in the interests of the wage-earners. A socialist government could do this by taking the big banks and corporations into public ownership, subjecting them to democratic control and management and democratically working out a socialist economic plan that focuses on the needs of the working people. Such a government will not fall from the sky, nor will it suddenly be elected one day. It can only come from large mobilisations, strikes and general strikes of the working class, the building of strong trade unions and a socialist workers’ party. Even if this still seems far away for many: a prerequisite for this is to stand up for such a programme today in various movements and class struggles.
[This article has been updated since it was first published on the Sol website on April 28, 2022]