Inflation: The price is hot

Hunch? Demo May 1, 2021 in Berlin-Neukölln. Picture: Telepolis / Claudia Wangerin

Inflation may trigger a wave of social protests in Germany. In doing so, think not of the horrors of inflation almost 100 years ago, but of the September 1969 strikes.

Thousands will take to the streets in various German cities in September 2022 under the slogan “The price is hot”. They protest against inflation – against the fact that in a few months everyday shopping becomes more and more expensive. The wave of protests started in a small town in Saxony-Anhalt and then spread throughout Germany. Labor offices and employment agencies are under siege, demonstrators are demanding a noticeable increase in unemployment benefits.

There are also visits to the DGB trade unions. They are being asked to unscheduled termination of collective agreements and to demand bigger pay rises. Eventually, inflation swallowed up previous moderate wage increases in many sectors and even pushed real wages down.

To increase the pressure, the entire workforce in many companies began so-called wild strike, meaning they are not waiting for the DGB unions to fight the worsening of their living conditions. This is still a future scenario, but not entirely unrealistic. As rising inflation increased dissatisfaction with the prevailing policy in a large part of the population in Germany.

Comparison with summer 2004

Many observers see the parallels with the summer of 2004, months before the introduction of the Hartz IV regime. At that time, left-wing initiatives were preparing an agenda of protests, which was to start in the fall of 2004, and its culmination was the Closing Action of the Agency in early January 2005. However, the plans were thwarted by those affected who began their Monday demonstrations in August 2004. From Magdeburg, the activities spread throughout the republic, but focused on the GDR.

Most left-wing groups took part in the actions, and in many places also made sure that the right, which had also been involved from the outset, was displaced. This was often not easy, and sometimes it was unsuccessful as the police, invoking the right to demonstrate, provided right-wing parties with the opportunity to join.

In the demonstration calls against Hartz IV, for example, there had to be a clause against neo-Nazis and racism in order for the right to be excluded. Monday’s demonstrations against Hartz IV peaked after a few weeks, but had a lasting impact on the political climate in the republic. A movement arose that over the years demanded: “Down with Hartz IV.”

At the parliamentary level, the rise of the Left Party after intermediate steps through the WASG was a delayed consequence of these protests. 18 years on, history may repeat itself: people take to the streets against high prices – and their protest causes a wave of shock among politicians.

Because they would not be primarily demonstrating classic left-wing groups, mainly from the academic middle class, but, as in the summer of 2004, low-income people who usually do not participate in protests, even if they are at least included in the appeals of leftist solidarity groups.

It is these groups that have every reason to protest, as they are the real victims of inflation. In addition to the Hartz IV protests, there are now many other examples of low-income protests that usually go unseen. It is only necessary to recall the Yellow Vest movement, which in the fall of 2018 brought France closer to the state of government impossibility.

As the syndicalist Willi Hajek, who lives in France, wrote well in his book “Yellow is the new red”, despite the mass repression by the state, a new social movement developed from the protests, which also included grassroots trade unions. Only the coronation pandemic and the subsequent blockade seriously disturbed the dynamics of the movement.

“Everyone in the streets against the government”

Part of the French left was initially not very enthusiastic about the yellow vest protests, which was also due to their anti-union agenda. Some even fear the emergence of a new right-wing movement. In fact, very different right-wing groups were involved in the yellow vest movement, especially in the beginning, as happened in Monday’s 2004 demonstrations against Hartz IV in Germany.

In both cases, however, the social left entered the protests – and did not scold them from the roadside as right-wingers. In fact, the right-wing groups in Germany are already preparing for inflation protests. Various right-wing networks paint social crisis scenarios that they then want to take advantage of.

But leftists are also trying to shape the future anti-inflationary movement with their own demands. Concrete suggestions have also been made by the consumer organization Foodwatch, which is campaigning through a petition for the complete end of VAT on fruit and vegetables. The proposal to abolish VAT on all basic food products is also under discussion.

There is also a campaign “Ticket 9 euros ahead”, in which politicians from the Left Party, leaders of the Green Youth and well-known activists of the climate movement participate.

The leaflet of the left-wing group of companies with the slogan “Fighting Inflation – Everyone on the Streets Against the Government” is aimed directly at workers in the automotive industry. But factory workers have another means of fighting, a strike. After all, the legendary strikes in September 1969 were also a consequence of the then inflation.

Workers were reluctant to accept real wage losses and used their most powerful weapon against the wave of strikes to exert pressure on concrete. The fact that the ruling class is aware of the effectiveness of these weapons is evidenced by the fact that the president of employers Rainer Dulger has already raised the state of emergency and the violation of the right to strike. The class-conscious advocate of German business warns of difficult times.

It does not mean the daily life of low-income people who have to wonder where to get the money for future gas bills. Now we will see if the social left is also class conscious, unlike Dulger, of course, not on the part of the economy but on the part of low-income people.

There are first signs of social protests from non-parliamentary leftists in Berlin who invite people to meetings under the slogan “The price is hot”, in which they clearly do not address the government, but want to create solidarity focal points where they want to support people who especially they suffer from high prices.

Fear of inflation in Germany

In the case of such emancipatory practices, it is also important to deviate from a certain picture of inflation to which the term is often referred to. It is about the massive devaluation of the currency in Germany in 1923, which led to the impoverishment of much of the middle class in Germany and is also considered by some historians to be responsible for the development of the NSDAP, or at least the völkisch-nationalist wing.

It is likely that this comparison will be repeated next year, 100 years after this German hyperinflation. However, there is hardly any comparison to date. At the time, inflation in Germany was also the result of a massive policy of reprinting money from the German government, which responded to the occupation of the Ruhr by French troops in a dispute over reparations payments.

But this false comparison from 1923 is expected to create powerlessness and terror in part of society and could trigger a shift towards right-wing crisis-resolution models, especially among today’s middle class. On the other hand, the solidarity response to inflation should be modeled on the September 1969 strikes, which clearly showed that workers can take action against inflation and defend their quality of life.

Combined with actions by unemployed people against high staple food prices and rising rents and solidarity points, a new social movement could arise here.
(Piotr Nowak)

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