Concrete web-magazine

3Dec/130

Fortress Europe – Castle Keep Germany

As much, as the state of the world must depress anyone, who wishes for social progress and moving beyond the constraints of the capitalist society, sometimes there are things that make hopeful not all is lost yet.

In particular, the tenacity, with which refugees and their supporters in Germany stem themselves against the tides of the racist mainstream, is impressive. This is all the more praiseworthy, considering that throughout this year, Germany seemed to be headed back to the dreaded times of the early nineties. Back then, a wave of nationalism caught the German public in the aftermath of the reunification and quickly found its expression in a series of pogroms against asylum-seekers. Media and politics fanned the fires with slogans such as: "the boat is full" or complaints about "asylum abuse", implying the refugees headed for Germany only intended to leech of social security.

Racism in the early nineties culminated in the Rostock-Lichtenhagen riots in 1992. Government sided with the rioters, interpreting these riots as an expression of justified worries and used them as a pretense for a de-facto abolishment of the (constitutional) right to political asylum.

In many ways, 2013 reminded of 1992. The public debate was heated, many politicians on the right (including the German minister of the interior Hans-Peter Friedrich) warned about a rise in the numbers of asylum-seekers and especially the upcoming integration of Romania and Bulgaria into the open labor-market of the European Union was cause for panic. There have also been large public protests against several asylum-seeker homes, including the "Lichtelmarsch" in the small Saxonian town of Schneeberg, and in one case against a housing-block populated mainly by impoverished Roma in the city of Duisburg.

The slogans reminded us of the early nineties, including the parole of the reunification "Wir sind das Volk" - "We are the people", which had quickly acquired a nationalist meaning during the reunification in the sense of "Wir sind EIN Volk" - "We are ONE people". The subtext is that anyone not part of our blood and soil community by birth is not deserving of a life within these borders. Furthermore that the German government is not representing the national interests of the Germans as a unified and monlithic people, but foreign interests. The proximity to Nazi propaganda about the enslavement of the German people by foreign countries or a sinister jewish conspiracy controlling government and media is not a coincidence.

Comparing the pogroms of 1992 and the protests of 2013, even the participants looked the same.

Therefore, the way in which the organisation of the refugees themselves and their protests resonated in parts of the German public must be considered all the more impressive. In particular in Hamburg, large protests have repeatedly criticised the refusal of the local government to grant asylum to a group of refugees from the war in Lybia who are currently sheltered in a church in the district of Sankt-Pauli. Arriving through the island of Lampedusa, Italy had already granted these people political asylum but then urged them to move onwards, considering the desastrous conditions for refugees in the country.

The city of Hamburg insists that the refugees apply for asylum again, at the same time signalling that this would be the first step to deportation. Officials of the social-democratic government in Hamburg consider themselves and their city not responsible, considering the Dublin-II agreements which define that refugees can only seek asylum in those countries of the European Union in which they first arrive. The Dublin-II agreements have been harshly criticised in the past as a way for countries in central and north Europe to rid themselves of the responsibility for refugees at the expense of the poorer (and now: crisis-ridden) countries along the European borders.

There is not enough room to give a full chronology of the protests in Hamburg, but they first started with smaller protests in May this year and a first demonstration drew roughly 600 people at the 8. of June. The group, calling itself "Lampedusa in Hamburg" gathered further public attention when the sinking of a ship overloaden with refugees at the coast of Lampedusa (resulting in the death of about 390 people) was widely reported in the media. Meanwhile, police started a campaign of racial-profiling in the district of Sankt-Pauli with the explicit goal of identifying the refugees and forcing them to leave the country.

From here on, protests intensified. The refugees found allies not only, but very prominently, in the "Rote Flora" and the activist groups organized within the structures of what is perhaps Germanys most prominent Squat. A first illegal protest of about 1000 people at the 15. October was stopped violently by the police, gathering additional attention for the cause as pictures of the clashes were sent on German television (riots are a surefire way to get good audience ratings).

At about this point, protests started to spread throughout Germany. Many smaller towns saw people gather in solidarity with the refugees in Hamburg. Furthermore, a campaign of militant protest flanked the demonstrations, causing property damage to a variety of targets, but popularily the beuraucratic institutions responsible for the treatment of refugees in Germany.

The largest protest (thusfar) occured at the 2. Novemberg, gathering something between 10.000 and 15.000 individuals. The significance of this protest (and the one following a football match some days before that which saw 9.000 participants) is the realization that the refugees found supporters far beyond the "usual suspects" of the radical left and a few humanitarian organizations. Furthermore, their supporters seem to possess quite some stamina, as there are at least weekly protests and the last one, occuring last weekend at Saturday, still had about 1.000 participants. There is also the upcoming large protest march on the 21. of December, planned as a march in support of the "Rote Flora" squat, which will likely become a large solidarity march for the refugees as well.

Of course, Hamburg isn't the only city in Germany where refugees protest. Munich and Berlin both saw groups of refugees camp out on public spaces and start a hunger strike for their demands to be granted basic human rights. However, the notable difference here is, that neither enjoyed public support anywhere comparable to what is currently happening in Hamburg. In fact, large parts of the German public likened the hunger strikes to "blackmail".

There is, no matter how hopeful the events in Hamburg may make one, still a growing racist sentiment within Germany. In times of capitalist crisis, especially when lacking any answer pointing beyond the constraints of bourgeoise society, many individuals will resort to violently defending what little privilege they had been granted. The recent wave of racism in Germany therefore often has a very prominent social-chauvinist aspect, insisting that refugees are just here to get social security and that they are just plain too expensive to be granted aid when unemployed Germans have to suffer cuts to social security themselves. Of course, in such a world view, impotence of the individual is a very prominent factor: to complain in such a way, I must first accept the cuts to social security as some sort of unstoppable fate and (super)natural in origin.

Finally, one word of warning: following the riots in Rostock-Lichtenhagen and the numerous assaults on migrants in Germany in the early 90s (resulting in numerous gruesome deaths) several large, publicity-gathering protests occured where Germans held light-chains against racism. The practical effect of these protests was no reversal of the anti-asylum politics of the government or any kind of improvement for migrants or those perceived as foreigners by virtue of their "un-German" looks. The practical effect was merely a restauration of Germanys image in the eyes of the rest of the world which had looked with worry at a reunited and powerful Germany where racism ran as rampant like this.

The goal must be an end to the discrimination an the European isolation from refugees. To achieve this, we all must be wary not to let ourselves be instrumentalized for the sake of Germanys foreign policy, clouding the worlds view at how racist German society really is.

27Sep/130

The Minimum is a Wage

Following the recent elections in Germany, the parliament is now made up entirely of parties which have voiced their support for the introduction of a legal minimum wage in some shape or another. The last bastion of vocal opposition to this demand that had initially been introduced to the public by the ex-communist Left Party a few years ago, the Free Democracts, have failed to win the necessary amount of votes to cross the 5% threshold barring minor parties from access to the German parliament.

But if I were asked to make a prediction, I would state with great certainty that this measure, which numerous capitalist countries seemingly have no problem with, will not be introduced to Germany. A general, legally binding minimum wage for all jobs within Germany is too much of a contradiction to German economic policy.

Within Berlins political strate, many seem to have realized throughout the last years that the campaigning for a minimum wage not only joined the Left Party and the Labor Unions together in one front - in a Republic where all parties have categorically ruled out a coalition with said party under any circumstances - but also earned them popularity with the general public.

This is not surprising, considering that Germans have suffered from an overall negative trend in terms of income. Over the last decade, Labor Unions have generally failed to negotiate wage raises that even just meet the inflation rates, leaving even those with secure jobs with de facto less money to spend. And this does not account for those who found their full-time, insurance covered jobs replaced with so called "mini-jobs", contracts that allow for a maximum income of 450 Euro per month and are not covered by social insurance - which saves employers a fair share of their profits.

The restructuring of unemployment benefits in the Federal Republic has enacted further pressure on the working classes, as unemployed Germans now find themselves in an almost surreal machinery geared towards forcing them to accept any kind of job, no matter the conditions. Germany's "Agency for Work" is quick to hand out punishments and cut payments to anyone not meeting application quotas, refusing to accept work offered to them or offend their beuraucrats in any other kind of way. Combined with a omnipresent "any kind of work is better than no work"-ideology, this has massively eroded the function of unemployment benefits as lower limit for wages. It's not an option in Germany to rather be unemployed than to work for a wage that is insufficient in covering your expenses.

A minimum wage is appealing under such circumstances. Indeed, it is an almost revolutionary idea, considering that Germany's entire export-oriented economy rests soundly on the fact that it has managed to keep its labor unions in check, maximize pressure on the unemployed a create a de facto negative trend for its wages, while the rest of the Eurozone did not. Germany is the manufacturing center of Europe, its industry geared towards exports and neglecting the domestic markets in order to achieve as positive a trade bilance as possible. This had devastating effects on the remainder of Europe once the economic crisis hit, but it has stabilized the German economy, at least for now.

But this is also the reason one should doubt the willingness of anyone outside the Left Party to really introduce a legal minimum wage, no matter their public statements. The ruling Christian Democrats are the party of the austerity-regime, the Social-Democrats and the Green were in a coalition when the groundworks for Germanys current economic modus operandi were laid, when unemployment benefits were cut and the force-to-work policies known as "Hartz 4" were enacted.

If there were any sincere intention to introduce minimum wages, we would have already seen them become reality. In fact, whenever such a measure was introduced to parliament in the recent years, minor difference about its height or its implemention were cited to turn it down. The debates are ludicrous and often just revolve about measly fifty cent differences. But these debates are also a strategy to postpone the implemention of a legal lower limit to wage cuts as long as possible, without raising the ire of the German public, as admittedly harmless as this ire usually manifests.

We may soon see the rest of Europe try to challenge Germany's low wages with cuts of their own. When that happens, Germany will probably turn the downward spiral on the labor market they started even further. Without a minimum wage, it is well prepared to do so.