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Germany: No to a Grand Coalition

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After it lost the Bundestag elections last September, the Social Democratic Party, SPD, declared that it could not "go on like this" and that it had to renew itself on its social base. The party promised to be a strong Opposition representing the interests of its remaining loyal working class supporters. To whom this party really feels obliged, above all else, has been clear since at least 1914, when it proved its loyalty to the state. Its working class base is quickly forgotten when it comes to serving the state of capital. It was no surprise therefore that, after Merkel's attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal FDP and the Green Party failed, the SPD leadership was again prepared to consider being the junior partner in a Grand Coalition.

This is not surprising because the SPD's real link to the working class is via the bureaucracies of the unions and works councils. Their leaders were still convinced supporters of such a "Grand Coalition", even after the election. For them, the direct link to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is the essence of "social partnership", that is, the systematic selling out of the interests of the working class, so long as the trade unions and works councils are allowed to "participate" in this process.

Result of exploratory talks
This is ultimately also the spirit of the "social democratic handwriting" in the "Results of the exploratory negotiations between CDU/CSU and SPD" published on 12 January. In a night-long "struggle for compromises" (just as with collective bargaining) all the basic SPD demands were dropped in order to then celebrate a few social crumbs as an "excellent result", as the SPD leader, Martin Schulz put it. Even the moderate increase in the maximum tax rate to 45 percent for those with an annual income of around 100,000 euros, was abandoned completely and without replacement.

That was the only real measure of redistribution in the whole SPD programme. Given the enormous increase in the gap between large incomes and the wages of the overwhelming majority, that would have been the minimum. Never mind taxation of the enormously increased wealth, the SPD does not dare to mention capital taxation at all any more in view of the expected bourgeois-media outrage. The whole chapter on taxes contains precisely nothing apart from the gradual reduction of the "solidarity contribution", the extra tax levied to support reunification with "East Germany", and that is a general tax reduction that mainly benefits those on higher incomes.

The entire future financial strategy of the coalition partners is based on the current favourable financial situation, which results from historically low interest rates and a favourable economic conjuncture. The fact that no long-term financial planning is being presented here means that both the foreseeable end of the European Central Bank's zero-interest policy and the probable economic slump in the course of the next legislative period will immediately lead to budget deficits. Then they will announce the need for austerity packages, of course at the expense of the aforementioned social crumbs. Thus, with this seemingly "minor concession" on tax policy, the next attack on the working class is already being prepared.

Instead of tackling the most necessary measures against the impoverishment and precariousness of large sections of the population by taxation of profits, the attack on employment rights continues, with social democratic "mitigation". The only sentence in the outcome paper on the decisive field of temporary agency work is that there will be an "evaluation" of the Workers' Temporary Employment Act, in 2019. No mention of the necessary prohibition of temporary employment! The SPD and the trade union leaders will certainly continue to defend temporary agency work as a "locational advantage" for the large corporations in whatever pseudo-regulation. The only concrete measure is the implementation of the right to temporary part-time work with the right of return, already announced under the last government.

In order to accelerate the implementation of this paper, a huge number of concrete exemptions (for companies with less than 200 employees, limits for larger companies, no right to extend or reduce) were inscribed. In view of the current arguments about the 28-hour part-time right in the metal industry, it is to be feared that the employers will continue to demand further dilution in the consultation on this law. In view of the "shortage of skilled workers", the "economic experts" will undoubtedly call for greater flexibility on maximum working hours in order to compensate for the shortage of skilled workers.

Social crumbs include the guarantee of a pension level that does not fall below 48 percent, an increase in child benefit and a declaration of intent to build 1.5 million "affordable" housing units. In view of the neo-liberal financing logic, a change in the pension formula will not prevent a further reduction, if there is a general decline in incomes. A pension reform that really resolved the existing injustices, for example through a tax-based system would be quite different. Even the basic pension of some €900, is anything but a countermeasure to the growing poverty of old age, just as €25 more in child benefit is a drop in the ocean of growing problems for young families or single parents.

The €2 billion to be made available for social housing appears to be at least a kind of re-entry into that sector. However, the planned implementation is very uncertain in view of the powers of federal, state and municipal authorities. In concrete terms, it is clear that it is above all privately financed housing construction and home ownership that are to be promoted, that is, the sector that benefits the socially disadvantaged least. It goes without saying that there is still nothing concrete about the actual restriction of exploding rents in the document except, of course, that the rent curb will soon be "evaluated".

The SPD negotiators celebrate the return to equal funding of health insurance as their great success, although it was an SPD-led government that broke this principle. Even so, the paper remains vague with regard to implementation. The "Citizen's Insurance" promoted by the SPD was completely dropped. As to overcoming the unequal treatment of privately insured and health insurance patients, there is not even a mention of this, a point that is particularly shameful for the SPD leadership.

The acclaimed promises for investments in education also have a catch: they require a change in the constitution to allow the federal government to intervene in the educational sovereignty of the Länder at these points (keyword "no cooperation"). The Grand Coalition will then be dependent on opposition parties. Of course, the CDU/CSU is thinking primarily of the FDP. Theywill certainly buy its consent with concessions on the types of schools to be supported.

In addition, the financial sums for "new investments" are put into perspective if one notes that the budget for the German Armed Forces is also to be increased by 2 billion euros in order to achieve the self-set goal of 0.7 percent of GDP for military expenditure. This is, of course, to be carried out within the framework of an expansion of the "European defence capability", which explicitly refers to participation in the EU's new militaristic project, PESCO.

EU imperialism and racism
On the whole, the significance of the document in terms of state policy becomes particularly clear in the part on the European Union. The relationship with the EU, and particularly with France, is at the heart of the differences within the German bourgeoisie, which led to the current crisis in even forming a government. In particular, the attitude to the proposals put forward by the French President, Emmanual Macron, posed a particular challenge to EU policy so far. It was the FDP's totally negative attitude towards greater integration, especially in financial matters, that ultimately led to the failure of the previous coalition negotiations.

In fact, large parts of the Union, especially the CSU, remain uncompromisingly neo-liberal. This is reflected in a certain spongeiness in the wording of the exploratory document on this question, which leads us to anticipate further disputes and crises in the coming years. At the decisive point the document says:

"We are also in favour of specific budgetary resources for economic stabilisation and social convergence and for supporting structural reforms in the euro area, which could be the starting point for a future investment budget for the euro area..... In this sense, and especially in close partnership with France, we want to sustainably strengthen and reform the euro zone so that the euro can better withstand global crises ".

Macron's proposals for an ever-increasing investment budget and the creation of a Euro Finance Ministry are being "picked up" here, albeit in a very vague form. At other points, a deepening of Franco-German relations up to a new Élysée Treaty is mentioned. Similarly vague are the announcements concerning Europe-wide minimum rates of corporate taxation and a European social pact for the establishment of equal conditions for wages and employment, which should be the same for everyone working in any one place. Whether any actual policy will emerge on this can be judged from the fact that these were already "planned" by the last Grand Coalition.

The true spirit of the document is, of course, reflected in the issues of migration and climate protection. The CSU's racist guidelines on "limiting" migration, 220,000 upper limit per year and restriction of family reunification for refugees with subsidiary protection status to 1,000 per month, were adopted in their entirety. In addition, the "central reception facilities", really refugee concentration camps, but of course they cannot be called that, were included in the document, as the Union racists had wished. The SPD has once again embarrassed itself as a self-proclaimed "defender of the fundamental right to asylum".

The fact that the climate target set by the last Grand Coalition itself was the first item to be abandoned by the negotiators shows how "long-term" and "fundamentally" its members deal with such crucial questions as the threat to the future of the planet as a whole, if it means extra costs for Germany as an "industrial centre".

This document of shame must be stopped, whether by protests before the final decision of the SPD or, if a government is formed, to prevent the measures being implemented. In the context of ongoing wage disputes, social resistance, anti-racist mobilisations, climate protests, etc., the resistance against this policy must be brought to the streets and united. The Young Socialists and SPD-left-wingers who are now protesting against this document must combine their resistance with these protests on the streets.

The Young Socialist chairman, Kühnert, has correctly named some of the points of criticism and also achieved partial successes, for example, by getting the document rejected at the SPD state party congress in Saxony-Anhalt. The Young Socialists and SPD leftists must now follow up their words with deeds and start a factional struggle in the SPD to overthrow the existing leadership that is responsible for this new betrayal. Similarly, the Left Party must call for protests and demonstrations that go beyond empty demands for a new "left-wing assembly", as Oskar Lafontaine put it. This is the only way that the desire for a truly different and socialist policy can become a power option, not through further parliamentary games of cronyism. Let's bring down the would-be Grand Coalition members and fight together for the end of their politics!