Kate Davison interviewed Christine Buchholz, German Federal MP for Die Linke (“The Left” Party) and supporter of Marx21, about their efforts to build solidarity with Greek workers facing severe austerity measures imposed by the German government and the EU.
Tell us why you decided to vote against the Greek bailout in the German Parliament.
Many people in Parliament talk about this package in terms of “helping Greece”, but this is not true at all. In reality, this money is to go directly to the banks, for the benefit of the banks, and is connected to a whole row of measures against the Greek working class. These include privatisation measures, lay-offs, pay cuts and the cutting of the minimum wage. These are clear attacks on the working class, tied to the so-called “rescue package”, which is why Die Linke voted decisively against it in the German Parliament.
The German government is pushing savage austerity measures into Greece, but this is causing political strain inside the European Union. What do you think the implications are for the future of the EU?
What is being exposed at the moment is that the EU is a “union” which exists to assert and enforce the interests of European capital. Of course, there are contradictory interests within that, so for example this time it is Germany and France who set the course for the “weak” or poor EU states.
But the actual purpose of the EU is to form an economic block in order to be more globally competitive. In this context, the EU is showing its true face in the manner in which it is coping with the global financial crisis, and I think that the contradictions are too big for it to continue to exist in its current form.
For us, it is therefore always important to say that it is possible for there to be a European solidarity from below—that the Europe we want can only be collectively built from below, with the working people of Greece, Germany, France, and all other countries, in which we collectively assert our interests against those of European capital.
It is important to point out the mutual interests of German capital and Greek capital, of the German political class and the Greek political class, to push these measures through, because what is being done in Greece right now is a massive, concentrated upward-redistribution process, exactly like what has happened in Germany over the past 10 years through the “Agenda-2010” policy.
Although there was moderate growth in Germany in 2011, it is expected that the German economy will go into recession this year. Is Merkel likely to impose austerity measures in Germany as well?
In Germany major cuts and austerity measures have already been in operation as part of the “Agenda-2010” policy. Under the SPD/Greens coalition government from 1998 to 2005, labour market reforms were pushed through, which meant that workers who become unemployed are now forced to transfer to the ‘minimum-existence’ rate of the dole within one year of becoming unemployed (whereas previously they had been entitled to higher dole rates for the first 18 months of unemployment), the low-waged sector was massively increased, and the age of retirement was increased. These were the core measures which led to the regeneration of the German economy at the cost of German workers.
So that’s one aspect. The other is that the Merkel government has already introduced measures which target above all the unemployed, and we assume that there will be further attacks. There is already pressure in the states and in local councils to impose strict debt-limits. This means that social services which fall under local council funding, such as kindergartens and creches, are receiving even more limited funds than before.
Although the official unemployment rate has decreased, this has been overwhelmingly in the low-waged sector and in short-term employment.
There will surely be more cuts in Germany, but at the moment we do not yet have the kind of acute situation that exists in Greece or Spain.
What are the prospects of solidarity across Europe against demands for austerity? How have the austerity measures in Greece been justified in Germany?
There is an attempt to undermine solidarity, in which we are being given a picture of “lazy Greeks”: living beyond their means, corrupt, with a bloated state apparatus. The tabloid papers, most notably the Bild Zeitung but also others, have run a very hard campaign against the “lazy Greeks”, and we therefore have a situation where at the moment there is hardly any really active solidarity. The feeling of being personally negatively affected [by the economic crisis] is not very strong in Germany.
But the feeling that it is the German ruling class that is pushing attacks on the Greek ruling class is not very widespread.
It is therefore important that a broad coalition was formed in February which has issued a call out for a European anti-crisis protest in Frankfurt in May 2012, against the policies of the German government, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. It is our political task to show that it is not the Greek or Spanish people who are personally responsible for the crisis, but rather that what we have right now is a class conflict on a European level, and that we have a duty to organise solidarity against these measures.
It is clear that when wages are cut, and social welfare is dismantled and privatised, the pressure to drive through further attacks in Germany and other countries which have hitherto been spared from the euro crisis will also increase.
How has Die Linke and the German left in general responded to the euro crisis and Germany’s role in the EU?
Die Linke from the very beginning opposed the rescue package policy. In the Parliament, there were very critical speeches from the other opposition parties (SPD and the Greens) but ultimately both of those parties just waved these billions of euros through the Parliament—Die Linke was the only party that voted against the bailout package. Die Linke is officially supporting the mobilisation for May in Frankfurt.
Now the question is whether Die Linke will be able to transform this political critique of the crisis, into an active mobilisation against the euro crisis. For example, to what extent will Die Linke be able to strengthen those forces inside the trade unions that are against what one might call “crisis cooperation”—that is, to what extent will Die Linke be able to support and strengthen the tendencies within the trade union movement that are prepared to take action and want to mobilise against the government’s crisis policies? This will become more clear over the coming weeks and months.