Archive article from The Socialist Issue 320
Germany in Crisis:
'This Policy Deserves No Applause - But Resistance'
TRADITIONALLY, THE German chancellor and the leaders of the political parties would speak at the national congresses of the big trade unions and expect a warm response. But instead, SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder got a roasting at this year's congress of the IGM metal workers' union.
Sascha Stanicic, Berlin
Some delegates held banners calling for strikes against the government's policies. Others showed placards saying: "This policy deserves no applause".
The reason for this anger is because Schroeder is acting in the interests of the ruling class. The crisis of German and international capitalism has led them to the conclusion that only through sharp attacks on the living standards and the rights of the working class can profitability be restored. From their point of view the times of social partnership and compromises between the classes are over.
A three-year long period of economic stagnation and recession has led to growing mass unemployment (officially 4.2 million) and a huge state deficit. Germany is unable to meet the Eurozone criteria regarding its public debt and budget deficit. Most local councils are in a catastrophic financial crisis.
But public debt is only one side of the coin. The other side is the growing wealth of the capitalist class. Big corporations like Daimler Chrysler (6.9 billion euros profit), Deutsche Bank (3.5 billion euros) or BMW (3.3 billion euros), make huge profits but don't pay any taxes. Yet the government is cutting the tax for the rich!
On the other side the government is pursuing a vicious programme against workers and the unemployed - Agenda 2010. It means the welfare state is about to be dismantled.
While the Schroeder government is struggling to implement its agenda the employers' associations and the conservative Christian Democratic opposition are calling for even more attacks. They want to destroy the general industry-wide pay agreements and the industrial relations legislation, including the right to strike.
Crisis of the SPD
This anti-working-class policy has led to a deep crisis for the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD). More than 30,000 members left the party this year (100,000 since Schroeder formed the government in 1998) and the membership has gone down to around 650,000 from 900,000 in 1991. In opinion polls the party stands at 25% which is a historical low.
A small group of six so-called "left" MPs had indicated that they might vote against the reforms in parliament, thereby threatening to bring down the SPD/Green-coalition government. However, all but one of them voted for the anti-working-class legislation on 17 October. This reflects the character of the 'left' SPD MPs and reaffirms the need for a new working-class party.
Why has Germany not joined the league of Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Greece and other European countries which have seen mass and even general strikes against similar attacks?
The trade union leaders, closely linked to the SPD, declared in the spring that they were not going to organise more public protests against Agenda 2010 but would try to achieve something via negotiations.
But pressure is building up in the unions for actions against the government's attacks. Mobilisations and even strike actions have started on a local and regional level.
In the federal state of Northrhine-Westphalia 45,000 state employees marched against attacks on their working hours and Christmas and holiday pay. In the city of Bremen 3,500 public sector workers marched. More than 15,000 metal workers in Southern Germany took strike action against attacks on the general industry-wide pay agreements and the industrial relations legislation.
On 14 October, around 12,000 Mercedes workers from two shifts at the Daimler Sindelfinden works in Stuttgart stopped work to attend an IG Metall meeting to protest at the various attacks on the legal basis of wage contracts. This was one week after worker stoppages at Daimler, Porsche and at Bosch, all in the Stuttgart area and all on the same issues.
In the city of Kassel members of Socialist Alternative (SAV - CWI, Germany) and International Socialist Resistance initiated a youth strike of 1,500 mainly young apprentices on 17 October.
In the federal state of Hessen the teachers' union is calling for strike action for 18 November. Socialists in the public sector union Verdi are calling for an all-out strike on that day against the plans of the Hessen government and of the federal Schroeder government. Even the police trade union is threatening a general strike.
The question of the general strike is increasingly being raised amongst trade unionists, despite the fact that the general strike has no tradition in the post-war workers' movement in German trade unions.
An important step is the call for a national demonstration against the government's attacks on 1 November. SAV has consistently argued for such a demonstration as a first step to strikes and a one-day general strike. Despite the fact that trade union leaders are against such a demo a number of local and regional trade union organisations are mobilising for it.
International Socialist Resistance has initiated a coalition of youth groups to form a youth contingent on the demo which is supported by the public sector union youth and others. Well over 100 busses are already booked to come to Berlin on that day.
All the ingredients are there for a social explosion in Germany: the attacks on the working class, the polarisation between the classes, the arrogance of the capitalist class, the anger and frustration of the masses, a growing preparedness to fight. The only thing which is missing - and which is delaying such an explosion - is the lack of a militant leadership of the working class.