A rolling programme of strike action by public sector workers across Germany, which started on Monday of this week threatens to destabilise the neo-liberal agenda of the country’s recently elected “grand coalition” government.
The strikes come as 40,000 demonstrated on Saturday of last week in Berlin against the so called Bolkestein directive, which would severely weaken wages and conditions for workers in the European Union.
The European TUC is also backing the campaign against Bolkestein. It organised another protest in Strasbourg on Tuesday of this week.
These mobilisations across Europe have already won gains. MEPs have agreed to water down the directive by scrapping the “country of origin principle” that would allow companies operating in one EU country to apply labour regulations found in another.
Germany’s striking public sector workers, members of the Verdi union, are angry over relentless attacks on their working conditions by central, regional and local governments.
Having already torn up collective bargaining procedures and scrapped a 35-hour working week, employers now want to extend the working week to 40 hours.
This proved to be the final straw for Verdi members, who were already unhappy at concessions made to employers by the union leadership.
Some 95 percent of workers in the regional state of Baden Wüttemburg voted for strike action, despite relentless propaganda against them in the mainstream media.
The strikes have now spread to ten of Germany’s 16 regional states. Some 40,000 workers are involved in this week’s action, which could rise to up to 120,000 – the largest public sector strike for 14 years. Union leaders say they are in for the long haul, with the action lasting weeks if not months.
At the same time, industrial action is also being threatened by private sector workers organised in the IG Metall union.
Recent months have seen many private sector firms announce record profits such as Deutsche Telekom and Volkswagen – yet these companies are now threatening to lay off thousands of workers and clamp down on wages.
This storm of anger against neo-liberalism by workers in Germany has severely damaged the credibility of the grand coalition, which includes both the Tory CDU and the centre left SPD.
Last year’s general election in Germany saw all major parties losing. The CDU, led by the new chancellor Angela Merkel, threw away an early poll lead by running a hard neo-liberal campaign.
The SPD, in contrast, prevented a catastrophic defeat by talking left and campaigning against neo-liberalism. Yet now they are back in power, SPD ministers have been central in pushing through attacks on pensions, working conditions and benefits.
These betrayals have made many ordinary SPD activists bitterly angry. And Germany’s new radical left force – the Linkspartei, which won 54 seats in last year’s general elections – is poised to do well out of the latest wave of anger.
Stefan Bornost lives in Berlin and is the editor of Linksruck, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Germany.