Resistance to neo-liberal restructuring in Germany: the case of Stuttgart 21!

Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be unopposed in Germany at the moment. Her incorrect story about the Eurozone crisis along the lines of “Germany did it best” rather than “Germany wins at the expense of others” puts her above criticism within the German domestic context. In this guest post, Werner Sauerborn reflects on the situation of left-wing policies and trade unions in Germany with a specific focus on the conflict around Stuttgart 21, the planned new railway station for this city in the South-West of the country. 

Photo by linksfraktion

There are few starting points for opposition. German trade unions try to secure their slice of the cake, but fail to unravel the context of the Eurozone crisis. Germany experiences a dramatic export boom, based in the combination of Germany’s high productivity with cuts in workers’ salaries and working conditions over the last 10 years. Thus, it is German workers, who pay for capital’s export success. To date, trade unions have been unable to communicate this fact to their members and the wider public. On the other hand, there are emerging protests against risky, unnecessary infrastructure projects, imposed on the public, including airport extensions and the related increase in noise levels, speculation in real estate and gentrification, or the destruction of public transport infrastructure. Legitimated with Merkel’s philosophy of “market-compliant democracy”, it is difficult to find a headline for these protests.

The most paradigmatic conflict with the highest degree of mobilisation is the fight against Stuttgart 21. The planned new railway station is currently estimated to cost nearly €7 billion, but further increases are almost guaranteed. While the planned new station will actually result in a reduction of capacity, it is real estate speculation, which drives the project with plans for building a new area of offices, shopping malls and luxury apartments in the centre of the city. And yet, citizens have not given up with their resistance. Every Monday, a demonstration draws between 2000 and 3000 participants. So far, there have been 173 Monday demonstrations.
Photo by to.wi

Importantly, there is a link between the protests against Stuttgart 21, European austerity policy as well as Merkel’s rule. This may especially be interesting for the discussion in those European countries, which suffer from Merkel’s European austerity policy: Germany fraudulently obtained a subsidy of €114.5 million from the European Union by referring to a spectacular increase in capacity of the new Stuttgart railway station. Fraudulently, because the capacity of the projected station lies in fact a third below the capacity of the existing station (see Aktionsbündnis demands that Chancellor Merkel clears up the EU- Subsidy-Scandal). It is important to communicate this fraud more widely, especially within the anti-austerity protests across Europe. Resistance to Stuttgart 21 is, in a way, directly linked to resistance against austerity in Greece, Portugal and elsewhere. Making these links clearer will help to connect individual moments of resistance with each other across Europe.

Werner Sauerborn has worked on Unions and Globalisation and is a member of the group “Unionists against Stuttgart 21”, which plays a important rule in resisting this project.