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SPD: Life in the old dog yet

10 October 2021
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By Jaqueline Katherina Singh (Berlin)

The Social Democrats (SPD), led by Olaf Scholz, topped the polls with 25.7% in the German general election on 26 September and will take the first shot at forming a coalition government. Negotiations are likely to last till Christmas.

Over the preceding year both the conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the Greens took turns in leading the opinion polls. The Greens did won a record 14.8% but Angela Merkel’s successor, the colourless and gaffe-prone Armin Laschet, led the CDU to its worst result ever, with 24.1%.

The liberal FDP, which barely made it into the Bundestag in 2017, increased its vote to 11.5%, one of its best results. In the formation of any coalition government, it will play a key role in blocking any serious measures of wealth redistribution and will push for further austerity, deregulation and attacks on workers’ rights. The far-right populist Alliance for Germany (AfD), although it lost votes with 10.3%, was able to consolidate its position in the eastern regions of the country.

Two potential coalitions are possible: the ‘traffic light’ (SPD/FDP/Greens) and ‘Jamaica’ (CDU/Greens/FDP) .

So the SPD, which fell steadily in the polls during its ‘grand coalition’ with Merkel, proved ‘there is life in the old dog yet’. Its emphasis on job security, increasing the minimum wage to 12 euros an hour, securing pensions and higher taxes on the rich restored its popularity with trade unionists, reflecting its surviving organic roots in the working class. However, coalition with the FDP would probably give it the excuse to dump its more progressive social measures.

But the biggest loser from the SPD’s revival is the Left Party (Die Linke). With a feeble 4.9%, its vote halved. It failed to campaign vigorously for its progressive policies on climate change, with the leadership believing it could somehow get into a coalition with the SPD if it toned down its rhetoric.

An SPD-led government and chancellor would put renewed illusions in the party to the test, but the unions, antiracists, climate change and housing movements should not wait for the SPD leaders’ action. They need to continue fighting in the workplaces and on the streets. The yes vote in the Berlin referendum (see above) indicates the potential of such struggles as well as need to spread them.

Equally important is the question of political leadership in the unions when it comes to waging upcoming industrial actions. Instead of hoping that others will lead the fight, we have to take it into our own hands. An action conference of all organisations of the working class and left forces is needed in order to prepare for the coming attacks.

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