Germany: Challenges, dangers and opportunities

OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT has reached over 5 million, a new all-time high in
post-war German history.

Tanja Niemeier

Still, according to Welt am Sonntag, the real figure is closer to 8 million
if you add those who have given up looking for a job and are no longer
officially registered at the job centres and those who are looking after
family members.

As a result of recent changes in unemployment regulations, Hartz IV, about
100,000 people will be forced to move into smaller and cheaper accommodation.

All this is part and parcel of the neo-liberal policies of the social
democratic-led Schršder government and the bosses’ offensive in the
workplaces. These examples only give a small glimpse of the incredible changes
taking place in a country which was once renowned for its quality welfare

While there has been working-class resistance over the past year, the need
for a political and programmatic alternative becomes ever more obvious.


ACCORDING TO a recent opinion poll, 3% have indicated that they would
certainly vote for the newly formed left-wing party Work and Social Justice (ASG)
in the next elections. 19%, particularly workers and young people, have
indicated they would consider voting for it.

This underlines the potential that exists for the building of a new party
that is not aligned with the political establishment and offers an alternative
to the policies of falling living standards.

However, with a membership standing at 3,800 nationally, ASG has not tapped
into this potential.

With the regional state elections coming up in May in North-Rhine
Westphalia, Germany’s most populous and traditionally "red" regional state,
ASG has the possibility of turning the situation around and beginning to
concretely establish itself; provided that they engage in a serious campaign
on the streets to defend jobs, wages and conditions and put forward a clear
alternative to the cuts policy of the government.

What programme?

SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE (SAV), the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in
Germany, has been involved in promoting and building the new party from its
early days and has argued for a programme that breaks with capitalism.

However Klaus Ernst, IG Metall union official with a high profile within
ASG, and others, consistently say that the new party’s programme should remain
within the framework of capitalism.

At the end of February, around 200 members held a convention in Gottingen.
Because of the great need to discuss programmatic issues, the agenda was
extended. SAV members intervened into the discussion to explain the need for a
socialist programme.

There were only four speakers that came out explicitly against a socialist
programme. One member of the party’s executive (also a member of Linksruck,
the German sister group of the British SWP), explained that a socialist
programme would frighten off people.

Socialist programme – a barrier?

In Rostock, a city in one of the most deprived regional states in East
Germany, SAV member Christine Lehnert was elected to the city council in June
2004. Since then, SAV and Christine have been involved in numerous campaigns
to defend the interests of working-class people.

Most importantly, SAV struck a victory against the neo-liberal attacks of
the government. In Rostock, the unemployed cannot be forced to move into
cheaper accommodation and cannot be forced to accept the so-called "Û1 an hour
jobs". This proves: a socialist programme based on active campaigning and
linked to day-to-day issues is not a barrier.

Furthermore, a government opinion poll published last August found that 51%
of west Germans and 79% of east Germans thought socialism was a good idea that
had been "badly implemented".

Top down approach

SAV MEMBERS in Rostock have also been involved in building a local ASG
branch in the city. Three leading SAV members, amongst them councillor
Christine Lehnert, have now been denied membership of ASG, a decision that was
approved by the NEC.

Elements within the leadership of ASG are adopting bureaucratic measures
which, can be a major obstacle for developing and building ASG into a mass
force that is so urgently needed to fight government policies.

This contrasts with SAV’s call for the party to be open to all and have a
democratic and federal character.