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52,000 vote WASG against cuts policy
TENS OF thousands of Berliners voted against social and wage cuts in the 17 September election of the city's parliament, the Abgeordnethaus. Berlin WASG (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice) won over 52,000 constituency votes, 3.8%, and over 40,000 list votes, 2.9%. This was a very significant vote in its first ever election campaign, but less than the 5% needed for election into the Abgeordnethaus.
The size of this vote is important as the WASG's national leadership did not support its Berlin region. Instead they backed the LeftParty.PDS (L.PDS) in this election, despite its participation in the last five years in a cut-making coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
It took a big struggle, where members of Socialist Alternative (SAV - the CWI in Germany) played a prominent part, to ensure the Berlin WASG could stand in this election. A leader of the SAV, Lucy Redler, was number one on the WASG's list of candidates.
In the elections 14 WASG members, including three SAV members, were elected into seven of the city's 12 district councils (BVV) where winning 3% of the vote was necessary.
These regional elections in Berlin, and in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, showed the unpopularity of political parties involved in the accelerating offensive against living standards and social services in Germany. The results also showed the possibilities open to a party clearly campaigning against the cuts and a warning of how the neo-fascists can exploit the absence of any left alternative.
In both states, Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered their worst-ever results, a sign of the rapid fall in the Federal government's popularity less than a year after it was elected. This is a big blow against the national grand coalition.
Both the Christian and Social Democrats are glad there's only one regional election due next year. Both states saw drops of around 10% to give their lowest ever voter turnout.
Before these elections both Berlin and Mecklenburg were ruled by a coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and L.PDS, the remnant of the former East German stalinist state party.
Big social and wage cuts were implemented in Berlin and in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, probably Germany's poorest state with 18.2% unemployment, the highest in Germany's 16 regional states. Berlin is the second highest with 17.4% unemployed.
In Mecklenburg, where the SPD-L.PDS coalition has governed since 1998, the SPD's vote dropped from 40.6% in 2002 to 30.2%. In Berlin the SPD did not lose so much, partly because its slightly radical sounding local leader, Klaus Wowereit, is currently probably the most popular SPD leader nationally.
But the L.PDS in Berlin suffered massively for its cuts policies. Its vote fell from 22.6% in 2001 to 13.4%. Its leaders knew their policies weren't popular and had hoped to "only" drop to 17% but they fell far lower.
As the Berlin WASG warned, the L.PDS's policies alienated many working people. Oskar Lafontaine, the former leading Social Democrat who is now WASG leader, wasn't responsible for the Berlin L.PDS's policies. But Lafontaine's support for Berlin L.PDS made it harder to build a large anti-cuts alternative.
Lafontaine will have to explain why WASG's national leaders supported the L.PDS whose vote in its east Berlin heartland slumped from 47.6% in 2001 to 28%, now. This massive defeat for the Berlin L.PDS and the Berlin WASG's 52,000 votes should be the starting point for a real discussion on the left's future in Germany, particularly next year's proposed fusion of the L.PDS and WASG.
The potential for an anti-cuts movement was also seen in the 30,000 jump in the Berlin vote for Die Grauen (Grey Panthers) a party representing pensioners - a group hit hard by cuts.
The national grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats is losing popularity. A recent opinion poll showed national support for the Christian Democrats (CDU and CSU) at 34% and the SPD at 28%. Both are way below their votes in the September 2005 general election (40.8% and 38.4% respectively).
Now 70% of voters are "dissatisfied" with the Federal Government's work. 51% of last year's Christian Democratic voters are disaffected with the government and 22% would not vote the same way again; amongst Social Democratic voters the figures rise to 67% and 33%. The question is how can this dissatisfaction express itself?
The trade union leaders have announced details of the five regional protest demonstrations on 21 October. This is a welcome step forward, but the DGB trade union federation says it opposes some government policies but not the government itself. Clearly they are not planning a serious campaign.
This puts more responsibility on activists and the left to build from below as was done for the 100,000 strong 1 November protest in 2003 that helped open the way for the WASG's formation in 2004.
In 1998 in Mecklenburg and in 2001 in Berlin the L.PDS received record votes as it was seen as the party most opposed to cuts in living standards. But in both states these high votes were immediately followed by the L.PDS joining cutting coalitions.
This was one reason for the movement to form the WASG that started in 2004. In Berlin the WASG was able to offer a fighting alternative to many, but in Mecklenburg the WASG's very small size has allowed the neo-fascist NPD to exploit the anger against the established parties.
The massive jump in the NPD's Mecklenburg vote from 0.8% in 2002 to 7.3% is a warning, particularly its 17% of the youth vote. In Berlin significantly the NPD got fewer votes than the WASG.
What happens next is vital. The Berlin WASG's 52,000-plus votes are a basis for future struggles against the German ruling class's onslaught and for an alternative to the misery of capitalism.
Now the lessons of this election campaign need to be discussed as the WASG and the left works out its programme and strategy. The SAV will explain the importance of combining a determined fight to defend and improve living standards with socialist policies that can provide a way out of the morass of capitalism.
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