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Fighting the neo-liberal offensive
SOCIALISTS FROM many parts of Europe helped in the Berlin election campaign of the WASG (Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice) that culminated on 17 September in over 52,000 constituency votes and over 40,000 votes in the list elections (for analysis and background see the socialist 455).
NEIL CAFFERKY, a Socialist Party member in London, was one of them.
MY OWN campaign began on 14 September. I was introduced to members of Socialist Alternative (SAV - the CWI in Germany) and the CWI contingent and then sent in a team to campaign in Lichtenburg, a working-class neighbourhood in East Berlin.
(Picture, Lucy Redler, the SAV member who was top of the WASG list in Berlin)
In the last state elections this area returned a sizeable vote for the PDS, the former state Stalinist Party in east Germany, that still had a left-wing reputation. This time, the PDS, renamed as Left Party.PDS (L.PDS), had been part of the Social Democratic Party-led coalition that introduced massive cuts. So, the only two parties who seemed to have a presence were the WASG and the neo-fascist NPD.
The NPD presence was a stark reminder of what happens when supposedly left parties like the PDS betray working-class voters by attacking living standards. The NPD were blatantly channelling people's anger in racist directions.
One poster showed a picture of two blonde-haired children with the slogan: 'It's either immigrants or us'. The cute-looking kids did nothing to hide the poster's sinister undertones.
Perhaps because of this, the WASG's presence as a pro-working class party was a welcome antidote for many residents. Many people nodded as they read our posters. One worker shouted down from his apartment balcony that we should poster over the fascist posters as they were causing an eyesore in the neighbourhood!
On Friday 15 September I went to the Charité, Berlin's largest hospital where government cuts and a refusal to make a wage offer, led to the workers taking strike action. Charité's management had just announced their latest callous cost-saving measure: Patients would only be allowed one litre of free water daily, anything more would have to be paid for.
To highlight this injustice, the WASG handed out one-litre bottles of water decorated with slogans condemning the cuts. The media were out in force as we unfurled a banner calling for solidarity with the strikers.
By Saturday I was distributing leaflets outside an Aldi store in Pankow. While some people showed an interest in our material (one woman even made a spontaneous donation to the SAV) many people wanted nothing to do with anything that smacked of elections. The mood of disillusionment with politics was evident across Berlin.
That afternoon, the area's SPD candidate joined us with her entourage. Her political contribution seemed to involve handing out red balloons to children. It says a lot about the SPD that between one socialist who could barely speak German and six SPD activists the amount of politics discussed was about equal!
POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING is banned on election day but the election still loomed large in most people's minds, particularly whether WASG would reach the 5% of the vote necessary to obtain a seat in the city parliament.
Polls closed at 6pm but there was an unofficial exit poll due at 5. There was a general feeling of nervousness and expectancy at the WASG election party. At 5:25pm the exit poll finally arrived. WASG at 3.5%.
Obviously everyone had hoped for 5% but once again the SAV proved itself the heart and soul of the organisation. Leading SAV members moved through the hall emphasising that 52,000 people had voted for us, that we achieved a higher vote than the fascists and helped cut across them, and that the struggle will go on.
The mood though was really boosted when official figures revealed the scale of the PDS losses. Voters had delivered a decisive verdict on the policy of a 'left' party implementing cuts. The WASG in Berlin had at least maintained the banner of a fighting alternative.
Morale lifted even further when Lucy Redler, the SAV member who was top of the WASG list in Berlin, returned from the count centre to be cheered up to the stage with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds booming from the sound system! Lucy's speech, combined with the news that WASG had won 14 seats in the local council elections meant there was almost a party atmosphere in the building by 11pm.
I found the whole election campaign a marvellous experience. The most inspiring thing for me though was seeing the SAV and CWI members work alongside German workers to oppose neo-liberalism.
As the class struggle in Europe heats up, CWI members across the continent will be to the forefront of new workers' formations that will be created in response to the bosses' attacks.
Going forward from this result in Germany, the CWI is well placed to arm working-class people with the idea of an independent political party as a weapon in their day-to-day struggles. This will be an important step towards ending the rule of profit over the people of Europe through building socialist societies spanning the whole continent.
Siemens strike appeal
WORKERS AT the Bosch-Siemens-Hausgeraetewerk factory in the Spandau district of Berlin are fighting against 570 redundancies and the planned closure of production at the site early in 2007. This factory produces household goods.
On 25 September, the workers began an unlimited strike after a 94.97% strike vote.
Please send messages of solidarity to: email@example.com
In The Socialist 28 September 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis