The left in Germany were celebrating this week after making a significant breakthrough in two regional elections.
The results are the first major election victories for the new left party, Die Linke, in the former West Germany.
The polls in Lower Saxony and Hesse saw representatives of Die Linke elected with 7.1 percent and 5.1 percent respectively.
The collapse of the vote for the governing right wing CDU reflects growing anger at the way Germany’s economic boom is failing to improve the lives of workers.
Roland Koch, the state premier of Hesse, had fought a dirty campaign that had centred on opposition to immigration, and urging a crack down on “youth crime”.
After seeing his party’s vote collapse by 12 percent, Koch is unlikely to be able to sneak back in as leader.
Meanwhile the New Labour-like SPD, which is in coalition with the CDU in the national government, has been forced to make a dramatic shift to the left in order to relate to the growing anger.
“There is a huge political radicalisation going on,” says Stefan Bornost, editor of the Marx21 magazine. “It is being fed by the feeling that the boom is only benefiting the rich.
“Around 1.3 million people are on a scheme that sees them working a 45 hour week, with pay that is subsidised by the government – but only to the level of unemployment benefit.
“There are regular announcements of factory closures, like that of Nokia in the town of Bochum, which are then followed by record profit figures from the companies making the closures.
“Die Linke was very successful at tapping into that mood of anger, but so was the SPD.”
The SPD adopted a number of Die Linke’s policies in a failed attempt to stop the left from being elected, and it is now worried that the left party’s breakthrough will see it threatened in coming elections in the city of Hamburg.
The party is also frightened that being forced to shift to the left will cause severe problems in national coalition government.
“The public sector pay round is just beginning, and the Verdi trade union is pushing for rises of around 8.5 percent,” says Stefan.
“Across Germany there is huge support for the unions’ demand for higher pay, and ‘warning strikes’ are set to start in just a few weeks.
“At the same time the bosses are leaning on the CDU in order to get them to keep a lid on pay, and the SPD is caught between its pledges in regional elections and its actions in the national government. The result is complete government paralysis.”
Die Linke is now hoping to capitalise on its election success by recruiting thousands of new members and building strong party organisation in all areas.
It is also hoping to translate some of its election policies into broad-based movements against privatisation and in support of strikes.
“The effect of this election success should not be underestimated,” says Stefan. “The left has been given an historic opportunity that we must grasp by developing genuine mass campaigns.”
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