In an opinion poll, 16 per cent of people in Germany said that because of the rising costs of living they have to do without one meal per day, another 13 per cent said they are considering doing that. Inflation stands at the highest for decades, as it does everywhere in Europe, while an energy crisis is looming as Germany is highly dependent on imported Russian gas. But reacting to western economic sanctions Putin has reduced the export of gas to Germany.
The German government of social democrats, Greens and liberals, the so-called traffic light coalition, brought forward a 100 billion Euro armaments special programme and increased its weapons’ deliveries to Ukraine. At the same time, it has agreed on several relief packages which were and are meant to limit the social consequences of inflation. A previous package included a highly successful nine euro monthly ticket covering all local and regional public transport throughout the whole of Germany. But this ended on September 1st.
Protests against the government’s policy and for more effective measures against rising prices and energy shortages have begun. These protest calls are coming from both the left and the right. In Leipzig, 5,000 participated in a demonstration called by the Left Party on September 5th. On the same day in Berlin a new alliance in which the German CWI section, Socialist Organisation Solidarity (Sol), participates, organised the first protest of 1,000 in front of the Green Party headquarters. Angelika Teweleit, leading Sol member and spokesperson for the Network for Fighting Trade Unions, gave a speech at this protest. On the initiative of another Sol member in Berlin, the big public sector and services union ver.di has come out in favour of a mass demonstration in autumn. A ‘hot autumn’ is possible. At the beginning of September’, the government tried to cut across this mood with a new relief package. We publish here an article about this latest relief package and the Sol programme against inflation and the capitalist crisis.
Our answer to the “relief package”: Get onto the streets!
Government measures do not protect millions from poverty and hardship
The eagerly awaited new “relief package” of the federal government shows once again that the traffic light coalition is not prepared to go after the profits of the corporations and the wealth of the super-rich and to guarantee effective protection of the working class and the socially disadvantaged against price increases and crisis. The response of trade unions, tenants’ and social associations, the left party DIE LINKE and social movements must now be to really organise a ‘hot autumn’ with mass demonstrations, boycotts of gas and electricity price increases and strikes.
The federal government wants to impress with a high figure: 65 billion euros! How this figure comes about and whether it has been calculated correctly is difficult to comprehend at the moment. What is clear, however, is that the measures adopted will cushion the effects of the price increases somewhat, but not fully by a long shot. This is also made clear by a figure: the trade union-affiliated Macroeconomic and Business Cycle Research Institute assumes that the increased energy prices will burden Germany with about 200 billion euros in 2023.
So millions will still have to prepare for a drop in their standard of living and, in the worst case, even a slide into poverty and insolvency while the rich and super-rich continue to sit on their gigantic fortunes and the banks and corporations continue to rake in profits.
What is planned?
In contrast to the previous package, pensioners and students will now also receive a one-off payment. However, the 300 or 200 euros will be eaten up very quickly in the truest sense of the word and will have no lasting effect. Improvements in housing benefits could have a greater effect, not least because the number of those entitled to receive it is to be expanded. However, this will only come into effect in the New Year, as will the much too low increase in child benefit, and will thus have no immediate effect on the cost of living, which has been rising for months.
The price reduction for a basic supply of electricity and heating is part of this package, but what, when, and how exactly it will come is written in the stars. What is not written in the stars is that the nine-euro monthly public transport ticket is not to be extended. As a successor, tickets costing between 49 euros and 69 euros are to be offered. That may be a concession for people who now have more expensive monthly season tickets. However, it is neither to be expected that poor people will be able to afford this ticket, nor that car drivers will leave their cars behind or even get rid of them because of it. This will especially so if no investment offensive in local, regional and long-distance transport leads to better services.
The changes in income tax will primarily benefit people with higher incomes. According to DIW (German Institute for Economic Research) head, Fratzscher, thirty per cent of taxpayers will receive seventy per cent of the tax breaks.
And still, the government does not even dare to skim off the so-called excess profits of the crisis and war profiteers. Only “windfall profits” (whatever that is exactly) will possibly be taxed. But then only if the EU agrees. When that will happen … is written in the stars.
At the same time, Russia declared that gas delivery through the Nordstream 1 pipeline will be stopped for the time being because of an alleged oil leak. Between September 3rd and 5th, the price of gas rose another 35 per cent. A recession is becoming more and more likely. The first companies have already announced the closure of plants. This means that for many wage earners, increased prices are compounded by the threat of unemployment. And even if some may have a better chance of getting a new job relatively quickly because of the current shortage of staff, these jobs will often be temporary, with worse conditions and lower wages …. and will increase the hardship!
In view of this situation, trade unions and DIE LINKE should also demand an end to economic sanctions against Russia and the commissioning of Nordstream 2. It is simply not true that the sanctions can dissuade Putin from his criminal war. Rather, they are part of an economic war waged by the West against Russia as part of the international capitalist competition. These wars and conflicts, which the rulers are waging for their power, influence and profits, are not the conflicts of the working class in the different countries. They are only fought on their backs. Apart from the fact that the effect of the sanctions on Russia is obviously limited, they hit the Russian population and drive them into Putin’s arms rather than into opposition against him. An end to the sanctions is therefore in the interest of ordinary people in Germany, Europe and Russia.
What is necessary?
Completely different measures would be necessary – and possible. For example, a real and affordable cap on energy and food prices and rents, an automatic adjustment of wages and social benefits to the inflation rate, and a significantly higher taxation of profits, assets and large inheritances. Above all, however, energy supply must no longer be left to the market with its profit-friendly pricing, in which the highest price of one provider automatically applies to all! As DIE LINKE in Saxony has rightly demanded, the energy companies should be publicly owned – but under the democratic control and administration of the working people instead of by bureaucrats and politicians who are desperate for the market economy!
What must be done?
It is a scandal when the head of the German Trade Union Confederation, the SPD’s Yasmin Fahimi, praises the relief package instead of calling on her six million members to take to the streets. Because that is what is needed now: mass protest. Alliances have formed in many cities and the first demonstrations have already taken place. This must now be put on a broad footing and it must be networked nationwide through an activist conference of trade unions, social movements and left organisations and by setting a date for a nationwide mass demonstration. The decision of Berlin-Branenburg region of the public and service workers union ver.di for such a demonstration should be put to a vote all over the country in ver.di committees and thus pressure should be exerted on the national leadership.
Millions are stronger than millionaires and their government. But there is much to suggest that demonstrations alone will not be enough.
Many people will not be able to pay their heating and electricity bills in winter. Trade unions, tenants’ associations and DIE LINKE have the responsibility not to leave these people alone. The time is ripe for a mass and organised boycott of the payment of gas and electricity price increases. That this is possible has been shown by a number of boycott campaigns like those in Britain (against the ‘Poll Tax’ in the early 1990s) and Ireland (against refuse and water charges). In the UK, this is now being attempted again. We should take an example from this.
In addition, collective bargaining rounds are coming up in the metal and electrical industries and in the public sector. Here the demands must be fully enforced through strike action and the wage struggles must be coordinated and linked to the general protests against price increases. When the government offers tax and contribution exemptions for bonus payments by companies to workers of up to 3000 euros, this is only an attempt to undermine the upcoming collective bargaining struggles. But only increases in wages and salaries that affect collective bargaining will have a lasting effect. The trade unions must reject the concerted action of the federal government and do justice to their task as fighting organisations.
Against racism in the movement
The far-right AfD and other racist and fascist organisations which now try to act as representatives of the “little people” cannot be alliance partners for such protests. It is an illusion to believe that one has to forget “left” and “right” as long as one fights for the same cause. Firstly, right-wing populists and fascists divide the resistance because they discriminate against the millions of migrants who live and work in this country and divide the working class along national and religious lines. Secondly, instead of nationalist politics, an international connection between the working people and their unions would be necessary to solve the internationally existing grievances also internationally. And thirdly, the AfD, for example, also represents a programme on this issue that is neoliberal at its core and benefits the rich. For when the AfD calls for VAT cuts and other measures (such as the abolition of inheritance tax!) without saying that the rich, banks and corporations should pay more taxes, this is a programme for a poor state. This, in turn, inevitably leads sooner or later to social cuts, privatisation and a lack of investment in health, education and the environment. Only the rich can afford a poor state!
This crisis is a crisis of the capitalist system. It shows, just like climate change and wars around the world, that a system based on private ownership of factories and companies, profit maximisation and private competition is bringing us more and more hardship and misery. It is necessary to defend a socialist programme in the coming protests against price increases and crisis and to make clear that a change of the system is urgently needed. Sol will use all its strength to take protests onto the streets and into the workplaces and at the same time propagate a socialist alternative. All are invited to do this together with us!
Together against price explosion, crisis and capitalism – the socialist programme of Sol
Social security now! The rich should pay!
– Increase wages, pensions, student grants and social benefits! Automatic adjustment to the inflation rate!
– Minimum wage of 15 euros per hour!
– Social minimum security and minimum pension of 900 euros plus warm rent plus 700 euros per child – without ‘Hartz IV’ harassment!
– Immediate withdrawal of the gas levy! No to the planned storage levy. Abolition of all taxes and levies on energy for private households (VAT, C02 levy, electricity tax….)
– Affordable, state caps on food prices, energy prices and rents! Abolition of VAT on basic goods.
– Immediate rent freeze and introduction of regulated and controlled cost rent! Transfer real estate corporations into public ownership under democratic control and management! Ban on electricity and gas cuts! No forced evictions!
– Keep the 9-euro ticket on regional transport! Free local public transport! Instead of tanks and luxury cars, trains and buses must be built for the massive expansion of public transport. More staff, higher wages and better working conditions for railway and transport workers!
– Reduction of working hours to 30 hours per week with full wage and staff compensation and distribution of work to all!
– Stop the 100 billion extra funding for the armed forces! Disarmament instead of the 2 per cent NATO target.
– No to social cuts! Abolish the ‘debt brake’ on public spending! Massive public investment in social welfare, education, health and the environment!
– State support for small traders and small farms in need.
– For a tax system to relieve the working class: introduce a simple tax system of direct and progressive taxes on profits, income, inheritance and wealth. Re-imposition of the wealth tax – 10 per cent from one million euros! A one-off tax of 30 per cent on the financial assets of millionaires and billionaires! Higher taxes on corporate profits and capital income! Close tax loopholes and tax havens.
Secure energy supplies!
– Immediately end the sanctions against Russia. These sanctions do not end the war and do not weaken the Putin regime. Under them, the population in Russia, Europe and worldwide suffers from energy shortages and exploding energy prices.
– No forced lowering of temperatures and no forced energy-saving measures in private households, day-care centres, schools, lighting on pavements and in workplaces and elsewhere at the expense of the working population. Stop the waste of energy of the capitalist throwaway and competitive system (e.g. neon signs, advertising, breaking points etc.).
– Disclose the accounts of banks and corporations to democratically elected representatives of the working people.
– In the case of supply shortages: Democratic control of energy supply and supply priorities by elected representatives of trade unions, consumer organisations and the working population.
– Expropriation of the energy and arms companies profiting from the war under democratic control and administration of the working people. Convert the arms industry to the production of public transport, heat pumps and other socially useful products.
– Conversion of the energy supply to renewable, decentralised energies as quickly as possible through massive investments financed by the profits and assets of the energy industry! No extension of nuclear power plant lifetimes
Trade unions go on the offensive!
– No to job cuts and plant closures! Full wage continuation instead of short-time work!
– No to joint ‘concerted action’ with government and capital – For a trade union campaign against price increases and for wage increases – Discussions and action plans in all trade union bodies, on the agenda at company meetings! For a major trade union demonstration in autumn.
– Unions must fight for real wage increases – no demand below 10 per cent – no deal longer than 12 months!
– Demands for supplementary payments within existing collective agreements with long terms. – Organise workers in companies not covered by collective agreements and involve them in the struggle.
– Coordinate collective disputes and strikes – joint strike rallies.
– For a nationwide activist conference organised by trade unions, tenants’ associations, DIE LINKE and social movements.
– Formation of local alliances of trade unions, DIE LINKE, tenants’ organisations and social movements
– For weekly, local mass protests organised by trade unions, left organisations and social movements against policies that make everyone poorer! Don’t leave the streets to the right!
An end to capitalism!
– Transfer the big banks and corporations into public ownership under democratic control and management of the working people.
– Capitalism means crisis: end the logic of profit! For a democratically planned economy that puts the needs of the people and saving the environment at the centre! For socialist democracy!