The Free Workers’ Union (FAU) Bonn joined other groups in organizing a rally in the city center.
“The time will come when our silence will be stronger than the voices that strangle them today.” – August Spies, executed in November 1887
The history of May Day as a working class day of struggle began with a never-solved bombing during a demonstration in Chicago on May 4, 1886. This attack was used as justification to impose the death penalty on seven anarchists who were proven to have had nothing to do with the attack. The reasoning behind the sentence stated that the bombing had been committed because of the men’s ideas and that they were therefore just as guilty as the actual perpetrator. The judge who pronounced this judicial murder was probably of the opinion that certain ideas are more dangerous than any bomb. It is actually only a few simple ideas that are so dangerous: The idea that people can live together freely and self-determined, the idea that domination robs us of humanity whether we rule or are ruled, and the idea that every human being has the right to live with dignity.
These ideas give rise to demands that affect concrete life. So we can compare the demands of that time with the situation today. One of the central demands in 1886 in Chicago was the eight-hour day, the attempt to fight for a bit of free time. Today, the development is not in the direction of less work for everyone, but on the contrary; we are always supposed to throw a spanner in the works, to do a bit more. Digitalisation and the emergence of the platform economy have created new working models with unlimited working hours. In the emergency service of outpatient care services such as home emergency calls or as a rider for delivery platforms such as Lieferando and deliveroo, people now work on call and on permanent standby. The minimum wage that is actually prescribed for on-call time can be circumvented because, thanks to the smartphone, you no longer have to stay at a fixed location to receive your work instructions. The line between work and life blurs until the bullshit job one does permeates one’s entire life. The restriction of working hours, which has been fought and died for, is being eroded further and further in the age of the dictatorship of algorithms.
But it is not only in the area of working time that we are going full steam back to the nineteenth century; universal health insurance is also under attack. It was introduced in the German Reich more than 100 years ago because people were afraid of the rising power of the labour movement. The universal health insurance that has existed since then has never been more than a class compromise that can never replace the demand for real freedom in a society without capitalism. However, if it is not replaced by a better system but simply abolished, this is still a massive step backwards.
On 21.04.2021 a new decree was pushed through the Bundestag in a night and fog action, in which the period in which seasonal workers from Eastern Europe can be employed in German agriculture without social and health insurance was extended from 70 to 102 days. In the middle of an epidemic that has killed almost 100,000 people in this country, farm workers are sent to the fields without health insurance in order to save the agrarian capitalists, who now hide behind the term “farmer”, the ancillary wage costs. There are private insurances that farm workers can take out on their own account, but these do not cover the costs of corona treatment. So if farm workers in Germany get infected with corona, they will be left to suffocate miserably because no one will pay for the treatment.
There was no debate about this extension of the insurance-free period, neither in public nor in parliament. The Ministry of Agriculture led by Julia Klöckner had run a targeted propaganda and disinformation campaign about the law in the run-up, which many media fell for. The vote was scheduled for late in the evening and the new regulation for agriculture was hidden in an amendment to the Sea Fisheries Act in order to prevent a debate in parliament as much as possible. By and large, this worked. There was criticism from the Left Party and the Greens, but the outcry that such a law should provoke failed to materialise. However, the CDU/CSU parties would never have managed all this on their own. Of course, they could count on the acceptance of their coalition partner. Universal health insurance was once introduced because capital was afraid of the SPD. Today, the SPD is helping capital to exclude workers from health insurance.
This blood law against the workers will cost human lives!
And it does not only affect farm workers from Romania. The racist pack in the Ministry of Agriculture and the German Farmers’ Association pretend that this is a regulation that only affects Eastern Europeans working in German agriculture. But labour laws that only apply to people without a German passport do not exist, at least not yet. This regulation affects all workers, German or not. Workers who have German citizenship will be less likely to be left without health insurance. But it will also be easier for them to avoid paying social security contributions. This applies to newspaper deliverers, parcel couriers, the event sector and any other industry where short-term employment is common. In a racist society, class struggle from above and attacks by capital can be disguised by saying that they only affect “the others”. What is meant, however, is always all wage earners. The struggle of agricultural workers for decent working conditions is no different from the struggle of precarious German workers. It is the same struggle.
The only way out of the neoliberal terror we live in is practical solidarity and the building of an international trade union movement. The FAU is taking the first steps in this direction by participating in the Global May Day alliance. The Global May Day alliance networks activities of anarcho-syndicalist trade unions, grassroots unions and collectives in the global South and North on May Day. But it does not remain only with the symbolic cooperation on May Day. Last year, Global May Day was able to enforce the wage demands of 6000 garment workers of the Dragon Sweater factory in Bangladesh through worldwide actions. This year, the alliance is calling for solidarity with the movement against the coup in Myanmar and the trade unions in Myanmar. Myanmar is a centre of the Southeast Asian textile sector and if the coup forces prevail, the situation of the textile workers there will be even more terrible than it already is. German capital also profits from the violence and exploitation in Myanmar. Not only fashion brands profit, Deutsche Post DHL also works with the military government. So pressure can be exerted there.
We are not taking to the streets on 1 May for old dusty organisations, not for the one big ideology and not for men with long beards who have been dead for more than a hundred years. We take to the streets for our ideas, for our freedom and for our dignity. Because that is what we have to fight for again and again. We take to the streets to ask again and again whether people cannot live better. And we remember those who fought the same fight before us. In the words of August Spies, who was executed for his ideas almost a hundred and forty years ago: “You cannot live like a piece of cattle forever!
translated by deepl.com / originally published in German on bonn.fau.org