Germany's radical left is facing a new challenge. Last week the conservative CDU and CSU parties came to an agreement with the centre left SPD, similar to Britain’s Labour Party, to form a “grand coalition” government.
The CDU, led by Angela Merkel, narrowly won September’s general election, having promised to increase neo-liberal measures. The outgoing SPD government had already made itself unpopular by imposing attacks on the unemployed.
Now the SPD has gone against its election pledges in order to remain in government.
The first measures of the new grand coalition will be very harsh. During the election the SPD campaigned against a rise in VAT. It called this a “Merkel tax”.
Now this will go up from 16 percent to 19 percent. This is a consumer tax that will hit ordinary people the hardest.
The government will also allow bosses to sack new employees without any reason for 24 months after they have started their job. There was previously job security after the first six months.
It also wants to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 and to freeze the state pension for the next three years.
There will be another attack on the unemployed. The Hartz IV initiative, which reduced payments to the unemployed, was one of the key reasons for the fall of SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Now the grand coalition government plans a new law that will deny payments to those under 25. It argues they should be living at home with their parents.
In order to give the impression of national unity, the government also plans to introduce a limited increase on the top rate of tax.
The grand coalition’s programme marks a complete break with the SPD’s election campaign, in which the party used left wing language to try to hold on to votes. The party’s U-turn has led to a great deal of anger, reflected in the German press. Bild, Germany’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper, has been talking about how it is always the poor who pay.
The left wing of the SPD has been completely silent about the proposals. The new Left Party, which made a big breakthrough in the election winning 8.7 percent of the vote and shocking the establishment, is now talking about what it should do to oppose the government’s programme.
Activists are talking about initiating protests next year, which would be a very good step for a new party. However, the media is ignoring the new left’s criticisms of the proposals because it does not want people to know about a new left alternative.
There are still a number of debates taking place within the Left Party, which is made up of the former East German Communists of the PDS alongside people who broke from the SPD because of its pro-market policies, and revolutionary socialists. There is still a discussion about when and how to formally create the new party.
One crucial question is what will happen in Germany’s local elections which are set to take place next year. In the capital, Berlin, the PDS is in a coalition with the SPD.
Here the SPD has followed the same policies locally that the grand coalition wants to push nationally — seeking to reduce costs by making cuts. There have been protests against its cuts and hospital workers in Berlin are planning to strike against them. There is a debate in the Left Party about how to relate to the SPD. Because it is obvious we have to be in opposition to the new government’s programme it makes the arguments easier for those on the left.
There is no justification for the left to enter a right wing coalition imposing worse conditions on workers. PDS members who form coalitions with the SPD in local government have to accept that this can blunt resistance on a national level.
Workers, students and the poor will have to fight to defend themselves from new attacks. This will create the possibility for the left to mobilise a mass opposition in a new party in the heart of Europe.
Florian Butollo is a member of Linksruck, Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Germany
Go to www.linksruck.de (in German)