Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Germany readies for fiery May Day protests

Germany is bracing for its biggest May Day protests in years amid fears of a rise in social unrest caused by the worst recession since World War II in Europe’s biggest economy.

About 50 000 jobs are being lost every month in Germany, and the government is forecasting that output will slump by more than five percent this year, second only to Japan among major economies.

The last time that Germany’s economy suffered such a slump was in the Great Depression of the 1930s, a period that brought the Nazis to power and led to World War II.

Seventy years later, the situation is nowhere near so dramatic, with Germany spared the hyper-inflation that wiped out people’s savings overnight and the mass employment that turned desperate people to Hitler.

So far, a government scheme subsidising firms to cut working hours and the laying off of temporary workers has helped keep a lid on unemployment with the jobless rate only inching up in recent months.

But experts fear that the steady upwards creep of unemployment, which in March stood at 3,6-million, is in danger of turning into a flood as the recession here deepens.

Public disquiet is expected to grow — spicing up campaigning for general elections on September 27 — but what is uncertain is whether this will turn into massive street protests and even more militant action.

The head of Germany’s DGB federation of German trade unions, Michael Sommer, has warned that mass layoffs would be taken as a ”declaration of war” by workers and unions.

”At that point, social unrest can no longer be ruled out,” Sommer said.

Gesine Schwan, the Social Democrat candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president, ruled out burning barricades but said the government ”had to prevent the disappointment being felt by many turning into an explosive mood.”

”In the current crisis we should not dramatise things or fan fears, but neither should we mask the reality,” the centre-left Schwan said.

Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of Germany’s far-left Die Linke party, which is aiming to tap into public anger in September’s election, went further.

”When French workers are angry they lock up their managers. I would like to see that happen here too, so that they notice there is anger out there, that people are scared about their livelihoods,” Lafontaine said.

But for the most part, such comments have been the exception, and experts believe that the risk of unrest is low.

Heiner Ganssmann from Berlin’s Free University, for instance, thinks the rise in unemployment is more likely to be accompanied by ”resignation and apathy” than militant action. He says the situation is different to France.

”The experience with unemployment is different, at least in Germany. People become more apathetic than rebellious,” Ganssmann told Agence France-Presse.

”It is partly a cultural tradition. In France people are much quicker to take to the streets. Germans still trust the authorities.”

May Day will give a first taster of whether such predictions are right or if the government needs to do more to soothe public anger, with the financial crisis expected to result in an increase in numbers on the streets.

The international day of the worker has for the past two decades been accompanied in German cities by street violence and clashes between far-right skinheads, anti-fascist groups and police.

Dieter Ruch, a sociologist and expert on left-wing groups, expects more protesters this Friday because of the recession but that this will not necessarily lead to more violence.

”The crisis could simply push more people to demonstrate, but it will not mean more violence,” he told AFP.

Police in Berlin are taking no chances, and plan to deploy 5 000 officers to keep the protesters in line, who according to organisers will number 10 000 to 15 000.

Fears have been stoked further by an alarming spike in the number of arson attacks by presumed anarchists in Berlin in the run up to May 1.

According to Berlin police figures, more than 70 cars — mainly upmarket models such as BMWs and Mercedes — have already been torched since the beginning of the year, compared to just more than 100 for the whole of last year.

”Violence is a way of achieving our aims,” one militant giving his name just as Peter said menacingly. ”We do not accept that the state has the monopoly on violence, and it is our aim for there to be social unrest.” — Sapa-AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Simon Sturdee
Simon Sturdee
South Asia news editor for AFP news agency based in Delhi.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki urged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×