Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1808

A glimpse of a new spirit

This article is over 19 years, 6 months old
POWERFUL groups of German workers have taken on their employers and won in the last few months. The strikes have a special importance as there is a general election on 22 September. STEFFANIE HAENISCH and CHRISTINE BUCHHOLZ from Socialist Worker's sis
Issue 1808

IN RECENT months metal workers, postal workers, print workers, construction workers, bank workers, telecoms workers and others have been on strike. It is amazing that these strikes are happening just months before a general election, with an SPD (Labour-type) government in office and the Tories ahead in the polls.

This has never happened before. Other big strikes in recent history have been with the Tories in power. The background to the latest strikes is the deep disillusion with Schroeder’s SPD government that was elected in 1998. Schroeder promised that if workers accepted wage curbs, cuts in business taxes and weaker pension rights then unemployment would fall from four million to 3.5 million or less.

All the attacks on workers have gone through-but unemployment is still four million. So one popular slogan is ‘It’s still four million!’ The strikes are not directly against the government. But they rest on the sense of disappointment with the SPD. The bosses have also launched a new wave of attacks. They want to cut a third from the basic pay of bank workers for example.

The combination of these factors has pushed people to resist. The leader of the construction workers’ union is an SPD MP. But he could not stand apart from the struggle. The union leaders tried to avoid strikes, but were forced from below to offer a fight.

The SPD has stopped talking about the ‘Neue Mitte’ (new middle) which was Schroeder’s version of Tony Blair’s Third Way. Some people put the argument that the Tories will gain from the strikes and we will just get the right winger Stoiber as prime minister.

But the reason some workers feel they will vote Tory, or will not vote at all, is that they are angry with Schroeder and resentful of all politicians. Strikes are a positive response to the SPD’s betrayals. They will actually help the left vote. All the strikes are marked by a new energy and a craving for unity.

A striker was quoted in the German press saying, ‘This is not about a few percent on our wages. It is about social justice.’ That’s a common feeling. One of the exciting developments is the way that people from one dispute are supporting others who are fighting. In Frankfurt when the construction workers went on strike other workers came to support them.

The construction workers then went off to support the bank workers’ picket lines. This was not organised by the official levels of the union. It was a spontaneous feeling from below.

In Berlin the construction workers’ strike was even more interesting. Four years ago there was a strike by construction workers which was broken when the employers brought in scab labour from Poland. The union leaders made no attempt to explain what was happening to the Polish workers so they crossed picket lines. The strikers were left in an aggressive, racist mood towards Polish people.

This time the bosses tried a similar trick. They brought in Portuguese workers. But, because of the mood that is about in society, the strikers were ready. They talked to the Portuguese workers and chanted ‘Portugal, Portugal’ on the picket line.

The two groups came together in a joint picket. The scabbing failed. Berlin construction workers then joined a rally of striking kindergarten workers and the kindergarten workers came to the construction picket lines. A construction worker visited a student occupation. He brought two gifts. The first was a tube of special building glue to help them do their occupation better next time! The second was a flag for the demonstration which is coming on 14 September.

This has been called jointly by the ATTAC anti-globalisation group and the youth of the union. It is for social justice. War It could be brilliant. During the recent demonstrations against US president Bush’s visits to Germany we saw the anti-capitalist movement on the streets in large numbers for the first time.

There had been protests against the war in Afghanistan, but the anti-Bush ones were much younger and livelier. Many people had come on their own or in small groups with their own placards. These developments among anti-capitalists are happening at the same time as the strikes.

Of course one should not overstate what is happening. Total generalisation of the struggle is confined to individuals at the moment. But what has already taken place gives a glimpse of the potential and of the much wider mood for different strands of the battle to come together.

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