GERMANY SAYS its biggest ever mobilisation for social justice and against cuts in social benefits took place on Saturday. More than 500,000 people, mostly workers, took to the streets-250,000 in the capital, Berlin, 120,000 in Cologne and 150,000 in Stuttgart. The German demonstrations were largely focused on the government of Gerhard Schršder, a coalition between the SPD (equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain) and the Greens.
Saturday's bigger demonstrations were called by a coalition of the German Trade Union Council, the anti-globalisation network Attac and welfare associations. There is a growing fightback against the massive package of cuts, called Agenda 2010, introduced by the Schröder government last year.
Among other things, the package includes massive cuts in unemployment benefits, public health insurance and pensions, and forced labour for the unemployed. On the other hand, the government has given massive tax relief to the rich and big business.
The German Tories seized the momentum to call for further cuts and to enforce longer working hours for public sector workers in the regions they control. Speakers at the rallies said they were prepared to take action to stop the cuts in unemployment benefits. They rejected competition among working people as a race to the bottom and stressed the need for resistance on a European level.
One of the marchers, Tuncer Karabulut, said, 'The employers are fighting us. They fight against the employed, the unemployed and students. 'They spend money on the military and on wars and we get cuts. We can't take that. They want to privatise the universities-they want elite universities. This means students from working families, or whose parents are unemployed, can't afford their studies any more. The cuts hit foreigners especially hard. It's even harder for foreigners to get a job. It's upsetting me that the government breeds fear and hysteria about terrorism. Muslims are being portrayed as enemies.'
After Agenda 2010 had been introduced last March, the unions hesitated to fight back. But the mood in the rank and file was very much in favour of protests. On 1 November last year 100,000 workers from all over Germany took part in a demonstration in Berlin organised by left rank and file networks inside the unions.
At the European Social Forum in Paris two weeks later some of those activists caught the mood of the international anti-capitalist movement. People at the meeting of the German delegates agreed on the need for another, bigger demonstration which was called on the European day of action, 3 April which also saw some 500,000 march in Italy.
The rising mood of resistance inside the unions has already led to Schršder resigning as the leader of the SPD, but staying on as leader of the government. The party itself has lost tens of thousands of members since it took power. For the first time in decades, a debate has started on how to build a left electoral alternative to Schröder.
Two initiatives to create such an alternative have been set up by left wing union officials, SPD members and intellectuals close to the labour movement. The initiatives are working together to mobilise a big conference in June.