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Germany: DGB on May Day – Protests against national closing of ranks

Susanne Kühn

203,500 people took part in the trade unions‘ demonstrations and rallies on 1 May 2022, according to the DGB. After two years of Corona break, it is striking that the mobilisation is far below the figures of 2019, when the DGB spoke of 381,500.

These figures alone should be cause for concern – and also political self-criticism – at union headquarters. But the opposite is the case. The leaders of the individual DGB trade unions and their speakers praise themselves above all.

The DGB’s message

During the pandemic, they had ensured health protection and fair burden sharing. Not a word about the fact that they did not fight against the lack of protection and the emergency in the health sector, but rather called off and postponed strikes, actions and entire collective bargaining rounds. Not a word about the fact that the working class has had to accept massive real income losses in recent years, while prices, in the housing market, for example, have continued to rise. Not a word about the fact that they did everything to prevent temporary closures in big industry, subordinating the interests of wage earners and health protection to the short-term profit interests of capital for over two years.

The national solidarity during the pandemic is now apparently to be followed by a truce during the war over Ukraine. Thus, DGB leader Hoffmann agrees with the bourgeois narrative. The reactionary attack of Russian imperialism on Ukraine is not understood as part of a larger, global struggle for the redivision of the world, but as one on „our“ values: „This inhuman war is an attack on the European peace order and on our democracy.“

After assuring the own ruling class of fundamental support, of course some „peace policy“ phrases were included: „We say no to militarisation and massive rearmament. We need this money for future investments in transformation. And we need it for the efficiency of our welfare state. Military peacekeeping must never be bought at the expense of social peace.“

Therefore, the increase in the arms budget should not be permanent, but should end after the arms race with Russia. However, as long as this has not been decided in „our“ favour, the arms build-up is fine, as long as it is not bought „at the expense of social peace“. The reference should in no way be misunderstood as criticism of the government. Rather, it is meant to remind us that the union leadership also expects concessions, i.e. a social-chauvinist bonus, in return for the peace policy.

Whistles and eggs for SPD celebrities

In order to demonstrate the closeness to the government, and thus to the capitalist state, on May Day, the „political“ speakers, mainly from the SPD, lined up next to the DGB celebrities. Chancellor Scholz made his appearance in Düsseldorf, Mayor Reiter was invited in Munich and Franziska Giffey in Berlin.

The fact that leading SPD politicians, especially those with government functions, are allowed to appear as central speakers at the May Day rallies is part of the usual ritual of a trade union that is social democratic in its character and its actions.

However, what was new – and positive – was that the participants in important rallies like the ones in Düsseldorf, Berlin and Munich, did not just let the social democratic government people go on about their business, but expressed their criticism and rejection of the government’s war policy and the anti-class policies in the federal, state and local governments with chants, catcalls and boos.

Olaf Scholz was rightly attacked for his multi-billion arms build-up, sanctions and arms deliveries, which in effect make Germany, as a NATO state, a party to the war in Ukraine.

In Munich, Mayor Reiter was booed because the SPD politician had opposed the teachers‘ strike in his city. Left trade unionists unveiled placards against the war.


A climax of the actions was experienced in Berlin. DGB leader Hoffmann was interrupted by chants during his speech whenever he openly or implicitly supported the war and the armament plans of NATO, the EU or the German government.

At the final rally in Berlin, several hundred supporters of the class-struggle bloc gave a fitting welcome to Franziska Giffey, the governing mayor of Berlin. She has a long and inglorious history as a supporter of racist deportations, privatisations and numerous other anti-worker measures.

In recent years, and as head of government of a supposedly left Red-Green-Red Senate, preventing the expropriation of real estate corporations has been high on her agenda. Instead of following the vote of a clear majority of over a million Berliners who voted for the expropriation of Deutsche Wohnen and Co, Giffey currently wants to politically dispose of this in a so-called Experts Commission.

Nevertheless, as a keynote speaker she was supposed to calm the people with empty phrases. But this did not happen. Not only the comrades of the Network for Militant Trade Unions and the Class Struggle Bloc, which was also co-organised by the Group Arbeiter:innenmacht and REVOLUTION, protested loudly with chants of „Referendum – implement“ and „Expropriation – now!“. Many other trade unionists also supported the chants and the catcalls. When an egg finally flew towards Giffey, she broke off her speech.

Afterwards, Giffey was indignant about this „undemocratic“ procedure and the „physical attack“. The question should rather be asked what the throwing of an egg represents in comparison to the eviction of all the tenants who lost their flats after evictions.

In a press release of 2 May, Ver.di Berlin was outraged by the „despicable“ attack. After all, „dialogue with democratic parties and the city’s political leadership is very valuable“.

The fact that a person who is obstructing implementation a referendum on the expropriation of the real estate companies, deporting refugees, privatising the S-Bahn and otherwise rolling out the red carpet for capital should be invited to give a central speech at the May Day demonstration illustrates the crisis of the trade unions in Germany.

Class-struggle grassroots movement

The crisis has several names: Social partnership and national unity with the government are just two of them. This policy of class collaboration does not serve the wage earners, but capital and its government. The shrinking demonstrations are only a numerical, alarming expression of a policy that has led to the further decline of the trade unions for years, chaining them to the ruling class and the government.

However, the protests against Scholz, Reiter, Giffey make it clear that there is resistance, opposition to the social partnership course and to the government’s war policy. The fact that they could not be seriously prevented anywhere by the apparatus but met with a positive echo from many trade unionists, including colleagues from the social democracy, shows that the reformist apparatuses also get cracks in times of crisis, of the „turn of times“, cracks that we have to deepen.

We don’t need a policy of false tolerance towards people like Giffey. We don’t need a cosy course with the political representatives of capital, even if they pretend to be „pro-worker“. Instead, we need a break with the politics of subordination to the „national“ interest, to the imperialist policy of the German state and to the competitiveness of capital. We do not need a policy of „social peace“, but one of class struggle.

But this also means that we have to build an oppositional, anti-bureaucratic force in the workplaces and trade unions that provides a political alternative to the apparatus and the reformist leadership – a class-struggle, grassroots movement. The building of the VKG in the individual cities, the winning of further currents in the trade unions and of militant activists are the next important step in this direction.

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