Archive article from The Socialist Issue 411
Grand coalition against workers
GERMANY'S GENERAL election on 18 September saw a defeat for both of the so-called big peoples' parties (the social democratic SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU).
Sascha Stanicic, Socialist Alternative, Berlin
For the first time since 1953 their share of the vote fell below 70% as the SPD and CDU/CSU lost 2,294,000 and 1,851,500 votes respectively. This was a rejection by many of the working class and unemployed of the neo-liberal and anti-working class policies for which both parties stand.
The electoral bloc of the Left Party (the renamed PDS) and the newly formed WASG (Electoral Alliance Work and Social Justice) scored a big success with 4,118,000 votes, 8.7% of the vote and sent 54 MPs into the Bundestag.
The losers have now agreed to form a grand coalition government under the conservative Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor in Germany's history. Both parties will have few problems in finding an agreement on the government's policies. In fact, many major decisions of the last social democratic and green government (especially the massive attacks on the social security system called Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV), were supported by the conservative CDU/CSU.
Under the pressure of the mass protest movements of 2003 and 2004 against the destruction of the so-called welfare state, and the emergence of the WASG as a new political alternative on the left, the SPD put on a more left-wing cover in their election campaign. They hypocritically called for the defence of some workers' rights - which Merkel announced she would scrap if there was an election victory for the CDU/CSU and its first choice coalition partner the liberal FDP.
The SPD is now trying to gain a 'social' profile by claiming that they secured agreement in the negotiations with the CDU/CSU over the launching of the Grand Coalition so that the collective bargaining legislation will not be changed and that bonus payments for night and weekend shifts will remain untaxed.
This is, however, not due to a change in the SPD's policy but due to the clear signal of the election result: no more cuts in social services and workers' rights! The mood amongst workers and the pressure from below led even right-wing trade union leaders to threaten illegal political strikes in case of a change in collective bargaining legislation.
But this government will be a government of anti-working class policies. It is likely that the legal safeguards against redundancies will be worsened and the coalition agreement includes a call on the trade unions to accept more company-based wage and working hour agreements, which effectively means an undermining of industry wide collective bargaining.
Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schrder had previously threatened to change the legislation if the trade unions did not accept a "companyisation" of wage and working hour agreements. Also, a new austerity programme is likely with further attacks on the social security system.
This goes hand-in-hand with an ongoing offensive by the capitalists in the workplaces. Mercedes, Siemens, AEG, VW and many other companies have announced big job reductions. Wages and working hours are attacked as well.
But the election result means a strengthening of the Left and a motivation for activists in the trade unions and social movements. It is the task of the new left-wing faction in parliament to use its positions and resources to build a strong movement against this capitalist government and support workers' struggles. On that basis a new mass socialist party of the German working class can be built.
Strong Left wing
However, the reformist policies of the national Left leaders like Lafontaine and Gysi (along with the participation of the Left Party/PDS in regional governments which implement social cuts and privatisation), makes this uncertain. It is therefore necessary to build a strong socialist force in the process of building a new left-wing party in Germany.
The possiblility of organising a fightback, if a lead is given, is shown by the striking university hospital workers in southern Germany. Thousands have taken strike action recently in defence of their wages and working hours in a sector which has no tradition of struggle.
The new government will be a government of instability and crisis and it is an open question as to whether it will last its four year term. It will be confronted with a new and strong left-wing opposition in parliament and resistance against attacks by the working class.
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