Report from John Sinha
Frankfurt is the head quarters of the European Central Bank, part of the troika including the EU and the IMF imposing a so-called bail out of the Greek Economy. The catastrophic consequences of this bale out on Greek society and attendant fiscal austerity being imposed on that country by the likes of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi of the ECB and Olli Renn of the EU Commission. These, and similar bale out conditions for Spain and Ireland have been well documented in the media.
The blockupy protest comes at time when the electorate in both Greece and France have decisively rejected the politics of austerity at the ballot box, and where the Dutch government has just collapsed over the same issue. Rather than take stock of the democratic decision made by electors in these countries, Angela Merkel first responsed to Francois Holland’s victory was to state that the Fiscal Stability Pact, the attempt by Europes elites to hardwire neoliberal austerity into the EU, was not negotiable.
Blockupy Frankfurt follows an arc of protest spanning the globe this Spring resisting the strangle hold that big finance and big business have on our democracy.
Arriving at Frankfurt’s central station on a drizzly evening, this strangle hold was very much in evidence all over the city. On every corner I saw squads of bored looking and tooled up riot police stopping anybody and everybody that “looked” like a protestor. Such was the hysterical response from the authorities that the joke amongst activists was that the authorities did so much to build and publicise the week of protests. First they imposed their very own blockupy, effectively shutting down the city´s financial district; they imposed a police cordon around the financial district, again, preventing anyone looking like a protester from entering; they physically evicted the Occupy presence camped outside the European Central Bank since 15th October; they turned away coach loads of protesters at the border from entering Germany; the University was shut down for four days – perish the thought of activists mixing it with the local student population. I spoke to Danielle a sabatical officer from the student council who made available the student union building to accommodate the protestors from all over Europe. She told me that the riot police planned a Genoa style raid on the on the student union building and place banning orders on all those present from entering the city.
Also, it was the presence of the media and MPs from the Left Party who were acting as witnesses which deterred them from carrying this out according to Danielle.
Something which stirred up just as much controversy was the city wide ban on demonstrations applied for (at short notice) by the city government comprising a “black green” coalition in the administrative courts. Never mind that the protest organisers had appealed against this to the Federal constitutional court (a time consuming process), as such a ban violates the post-war constitution of the Federal Republic on the right of its citizens to peaceful assembly. This cynical tactic was used to gain an interim ban which was upheld by the the lower courts pending the appeal. Evidence – if any was ever needed – that we cannot rely on the courts to defend our democratic rights anywhere on this continent.
The authorities also banned a public meeting that David Graeber was to give in a theatre, this had to be rescheduled at the last minute to the only building not controlled the the authorities, the student union building at the Frankfurt University campus.
Whatever the authorities were attempting to achieve, the clamp down is a political defeat for the government. Even the conservative press was criticising the over the top response of the government. Despite the clamp down, and over three hundred arrests, it did not deter over 25,000 demonstrating against austerity and the discredited neoliberal ideology from which it emanates.
Blockupy is an umbrella organisation of groups comprising a politically diverse array of organisations including anti-fascist and anti-racist groups such as the Antifa and the No Borders network to the Left Party. Most interesting for me was what is known here as the Interventionist Left, this is a non-pary organisation of which there is no equivalent in this country. They are well known for organising large scale and well planned direct action protests involving thousands of people, such as the anti-nuclear transport blockades, which happen every year in November in Lower Saxony. With the exception of the anti-nulcear movement, this kind of unity is rare in Germany, but its the kind of unity that can bring over 25000 people onto the street of Frankfurt. Not forgetting also was the large scale mobilisation from Spain and Italy which put this protest on the international map and forged the kind of unity which made this all possible.
Speaking to activists who had been at the receiving end of all thi, the mood was not one of dejection or dispair. They can see in the eyes of the authorities the fear they have if this movement spreads to wider sections of society. But for that to happen the movement still has a lot more growing to do. A British trade unionist I spoke to noticed the paucity of trade union banner reflecting a weak trade union presence. This is probably because the German trade union bureaucracy is not feeling the heat from the base they way they do in the UK. According to Alexis an organiser from Attac, the DGB, the German equivalent of the TUC received over four hundred million euros in contributions from its affiliate union this year. This is largest figures ever and makes the DGB one of the richest unions in the world.
What we have also witnessed this week in Frankfurt is the same pattern being repeated all over the northern hemisphere. That in order to impose neoliberal austerity, the response of the authorities is to further limit our democratic right to protest. These actions, and those taken by unelected “technical” governments imposing austerity reveal a fundamental incompatibility between neoliberalism and even the kind of tepid democracy we have all lived under in the west.
At the end of the weekend my impression is that the tactics the authorities in Frankfurt, and elsewhere, use against us are not sustainable in the long term for every time the authorities carry out such an assault on our democratic rights they de-legitimise themselves a little bit more and give our movement more legitimacy. We don’t need to respond with the same kind of violence they meet out to us. But we need to expose it and in so doing build a movement that will bring an end to the system they defend.