Germany: Back to Keynes?

Submitted by Anon on 16 April, 2004 - 8:36

The coalition government in Berlin between the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, led by Gerhard Schröder, is in crisis. Nothing new there.

The SPD is on around 25% in opinion polls, and Schröder recently resigned his post as SPD chairman in order to concentrate on governing - which basically means wheeling and dealing to ensure that his government is not defeated in any votes in the Bundestag, the German lower house, as well as pushing through welfare cuts, known as "Agenda 2010".

The unions have belatedly begun some kind of fightback, and a section of trade union bureaucrats have made noises about forming a "new party of the left".

Former finance minister and one-time SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine has hinted that he would support any such party should it be launched. Lafontaine announced his 10-point-plan for reconstruction of the welfare state, including the abolition of the 10 Euro (around £7) charge per quarter for visiting the doctor (introduced in January), an increase in pensions, and a large increase in tax on the super-rich. A Keynesian programme is roughly what unites those who want a "new party" - "old SPD" instead of Schröder's neoliberalism, if you like.

At the same time, various groups have formed inside the unions to discuss organising a challenge to the SPD from the left. In Nuernberg the group "Campaign for Work and Social Justice" already exists; members of the United Services Union, Verdi, have formed a group calling itself "Electoral Alternative 2006"; in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt an "Alliance of Social Movements" has been launched; and on Hannover City Council in Lower Saxony, a few councillors have split from the SPD to form the "Hannoverian Left".

Thomas Händel and official of the engineering union IG Metall, from the Campaign for Work and Social Justice, described the SPD as the "major cause of redistribution of wealth from those at the bottom to those at the top".

Händel, for 33 years a member of the SPD, was threatened with expulsion from the party, "for defending social democratic principles", as he put it. If he and his co-thinkers are expelled, he said, "we will for sure look for a new political home - and if we don't form a new party, others will".

However, Händel's plans for a new party have been put on ice - he hasn't "given up hope that the social democratic soul of the party is still alive". But the option remains open, he says.

Any new party won't be a "party of the unions", though. DGB union federation leader, Michael Sommer, has said that the policies are more important than the party. And the DGB, despite effectively being linked with the SPD, defends its "party-political independence".

In Berlin, the "Electoral Alternative 2006" has not yet given up. A nationwide network to discuss forming an alternative to the SPD - and the ex-Communist PDS, enthusiastically cutting public services wherever it is in government - exists, and a meeting is planned for June.

"Political resignation and passivity will not bring any nearer the unavoidable change in policy in favour of the vast majority of the population, but instead it only strengthens those who want to demolish social benefits even further than the SPD and the Greens."


Matt Heaney, Berlin

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