Archive article from The Socialist Issue 394
Germany - workers punish Schröder
FOLLOWING THE catastrophic, though not unexpected, election result in the region of North Rhine Westphalia, the German social democrat (SDP) Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, announced an early general election for September 2005.
After thirty-nine years in power, the SPD will no longer be represented in the government of its former heartland and most populous regional state. The CDU (Christian Democratic Union), the main opposition party, benefited most from the more than 6% increase in turn-out. (63%, compared to 56.7% in 2000) With 44.8% of the vote, they gained an extra one million votes.
This by no means reflects high hopes for a CDU-led government but rather a determination to make the SPD reap what they have sown - the implementation of the most vicious and anti-working class policy since the end of the Second World War and the dismantling of the welfare state.
While the SPD's total vote only went down by 83,373 they were not capable of mobilising enough voters to prevent the dramatic squeeze in votes percentage-wise. While their share of the overall vote dropped by 5.7%, it dropped by 9% amongst workers and trade unionists.
Many working-class people welcomed the SPD leadership's adoption of a more anti-capitalist rhetoric in the last few weeks, attacking greedy "locusts". But at the same time, they did not trust the SPD.
THE SPD is facing a severe crisis, stumbling from one electoral defeat to another, and they have come under pressure from various sides.
The bosses in Germany want to see further attacks on the welfare state and in the workplaces. They want to create an even larger low-wage sector and get rid of the labour laws which they still regard as too rigid.
In the eyes of the bosses, the SPD is no longer their most reliable ally to push through any further attacks.
The SPD has also come under pressure from the so-called left within its own ranks. Oskar Lafontaine, former finance minister of the first term Schröder government who resigned from that post as a consequence of Schröder's neo-liberal policy, is openly saying he would join a new formation which involved both the PDS/WASG parties (see below). He has a lot of authority amongst wide layers of the working class.
Given the dire economic situation and a further drop in tax revenues, the government knows that they have to implement further attacks. By autumn 2006, the initial date for the general election, they would have been even more exposed and hated. Such a time delay would have given the WASG enough time to develop more of a national profile and to develop into more of a substantial force, which the SPD clearly does not want to see happening.
The SPD, and trade union leaders will campaign on the basis that they are the "lesser evil", but this does not at all take into account that the biggest drop in post-1945 living standards has been brought about by this SPD led government!
On the other hand, Schröder and Co. think that by going back into opposition, it will give them some breathing space to get the party back under control.
Even if taken by surprise by Schröder's decision, the CDU stands every chance of winning these elections. In opinion polls, they are receiving up to nearly 50% of the vote.
But the ruling class could underestimate the the huge anger and dissatisfaction that exists amongst the working class with any of the established parties.
A CDU government would attempt to increase attacks on the working class and would undoubtedly be confronted with an increase in struggles including major clashes with the trade unions. Unlike under a SPD government, the trade union leadership would find it difficult to keep workers in check as a CDU-led government attacked living standards.
The economic situation will lead to greater turmoil and instability. As these elections have shown, events can and will change very rapidly in the near future. This will provide the workers' movement with great challenges and big opportunities.
Work and Social Justice - the Electoral Alternative (WASG):
WASG (Work and Social Justice - the Electoral Alternative), the new party launched by trade unionists and activists from the social movements, received 181,886 votes (2.2% on average). In the main, their vote came from former SPD voters (50,000) as well as from people who had not voted in the previous election (60,000).
WASG did very well in the cities in the Ruhr area where they often received 3% and, in the case of Oberhausen, scored 4.3%. Members of SAV, (Socialist Alternative, CWI in Germany) stood as WASG candidates in the elections, receiving creditable votes. In Alsdorf, SAV member Jo Schieron won 3.4% of the vote, one of the best results for the WASG in North Rhine Westphalia.
In the national media, WASG's result was reported as a good start for a relatively new formation.
WASG has correctly decided to stand in the general election even if, as a small party, it will be organisationally difficult to do so.
But the challenge is more of a political nature. The massive sympathy the SPD received for their attack on the 'locusts' or what was called the "debate on capitalism" showed that there is a huge layer within society that is fed up with capitalism and its greedy nature.
The working class want to see an end to mass lay-offs, longer working hours, wage cuts and attacks on their living standards. But as long as there is no clear alternative to the madness of capitalism, there will be further attacks.
It is possible that the SPD will continue with a more left-wing rhetoric to keep voters and parts of the party on board.
It is not enough for the WASG to expose the SPD as hypocrites; they will have to explain that, in order to really bring about long-lasting change in the interests of working class people, the policies of the Schröder government have to be completely rejected and the workers' movement has to act to bring an end to profit-ridden capitalism.
SAV members will continue to argue the need for the WASG to adopt a fighting socialist programme. The WASG party conference in May showed that there is an openness for socialist ideas and the need to discuss alternatives to capitalism.
The SAV candidate for WASG's NEC received 27%. This was a very good result, underlining the point that socialists have a place within WASG.
How the other parties fared
THE GREENS are now no longer represented in any regional state government. With the prospect of a change in the national government, they are likely to face an internal debate on strategy and orientation as well.
The PDS, the former East German state party, received 0.9% of the vote. Gregor Gysi, one of the most prominent leaders of the PDS, has said that: "In the foreseeable future, the PDS will not play an important role in the West". Part of Gysi's own agenda is to open up discussions with the WASG in order to come to some form of collaboration.
The liberal party, the FDP, the bluntest representative of the ruling class, lost a third of the votes they received in the 2000 elections.
The neo-fascist NPD was not capable of repeating its previous electoral success in Saxony, where they now form a parliamentary group in the regional parliament. However, with 0.9% or 73,959 votes, they managed to significantly improve on their 2000 election result of just over 2,300 votes.
Given the fact that at the beginning of the election campaign, they were confident of getting the necessary 5% to enter the regional parliament, this is a blow to the NPD which may lead to internal tensions and a possible questioning of the "parliamentary road" by the openly violent wing inside but also outside the party.
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