GERMANY “Nahles is gone: the Grand Coalition must go!” An interview with Heinz-Werner Schuster, president of the Dusseldorf Workers Commission of the SPD (Social-Democrat Party)

On the 26th of May, in the European and regional elections, the SPD labour voters refused to give their votes to the Social-Democrat Party, thus expressing their rejection of the SPD’s participation in the “Grand Coalition” government with Merkel. The head of the SPD, Andreas Nahles, has just resigned. 

This resignation has resolved nothing, because what revolted the SPD labour voters was the participation in the Grand Coalition government along with the main party of the bourgeoisie, Merkel’s.

As of the very evening of the elections, I addressed my comrades in a letter – with copy to the Dusseldorf press. Workers and young people have the right to their own party, one that caters only to their interests, and not the interests of big capital, as is the case of the “Grand Coalition”. That is why the letter said, “We must leave the Grand Coalition!” We address the national leadership of the SPD Workers Commission and we ask them to commit to the combat for labour politics, along with and united with trade unionists. We absolutely must have politics and a government for the workers and the young people! Most of the reactions to my letter have been very positive. 

Why do you need to get rid of the Grand Coalition? 

Because its politics lead to the destruction of our gains. In the May 1st trade union demonstration in Berlin, the demands resounded: “Cancellation of Hartz 4* and retirement at the age of 67!” “Reinforce the law of protection against firings!” “Equal work, equal wages for women and men, in East Germany as well as in West Germany!” “No to privatisations”; “Quality and Affordable Housing for All!” – etc. All of these demands go against the grain of the SPD-Merkel government. If the SPD is not to know the same fate as PASOK in Greece or the Socialist Party in France, it must leave the Grand Coalition! And it must stand SocialDemocrat candidates in the elections that will defend breaking with austerity, and base themselves on a programme for the demands of workers and young people, beginning with the cancellation of Hartz 4 and retirement at the age of 67. Andreas Nahles’s resignation should open the way to an SPD by-election and the election of a new leadership that breaks with the “Grand Coalition”. 

You are the coordinator for the European Liaison Committee against Privatisations, Deregulation and Precarity that was created at the Strasbourg internationalist gathering on Saturday the 11th of May. How does everything that has just been mentioned relate to that? 

The mayors of Manchester and Liverpool in Great Britain, members of the Labour Party, have just come out in favour of “renationalisation” of the privatised railways. They are absolutely right! I live in the “Rhine and Ruhr Metropolitan Region”. 10 million inhabitants depend on privatised regional transports, in application of diktats from the European Union. The utilisation of the lines is granted by tender: the Deutsche Bahn (the national railway company) competes with seven other private companies – it’s a fight to the death for profit. And it’s always the employees who pay; if “their” company loses the bid, they find themselves jobless and have to try to get hired by the company that won, whose work contracts are obviously less advantageous. And of course we experience all the same things described by the mayors of Liverpool and Manchester: train carriages where passengers are “packed in like sardines”, regular delays and trains that are often cancelled. In Berlin, we need to break with Merkel’s “grand coalition”, and in Europe we need to break with the “grand coalition” of the European Commission’s directives for privatisation and deregulation.  

* The Hartz laws of privatisation and the precarity of labour were adopted by the Schroeder (SPD) government and then maintained by Merkel and the Grand Coalition. Hartz 4 penalises the unemployed.