There were so many demonstrators that Berlin’s central train station was temporarily shut down. Tens of thousands of people gathered at Washington Square. There were still people waiting to leave the starting point when the closing rally began at the Victory Column several kilometers away. In total, up to a quarter of a million people were in the streets. They arrived on 600 buses and five trains from throughout Germany.
#NoTTIP was the motto of the protest against the planned free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. The negotiations, which have been going on in secret for more than two years, aim to liberalize markets by “equalizing” (i.e. eliminating) social, environmental and labor norms. The treaty would guarantee “investor protection” by allowing corporations to sue states at private tribunals for the loss of profits due to regulations.
Due to a petition signed by three million people, the “shadow courts” dominated by corporations may be replaced by public trade courts. But this will not be the case for the agreement’s Canadian-Europoean Union counterpart, CETA, which poses a much more imminent threat since negotiations have already been completed. Already 82 percent of major US companies are based in Canada, which means these multinationals would also profit from CETA – the rest won’t wait for long. Ratification is expected to happen soon.
One hundred seventy different organizations – including trade unions, environmental and consumer groups, as well as political parties like the “Grüne” (Green) and “Linke” (Left) – called for the demonstration. The event was professionally organized by reformist apparatuses, and their goal was to “defend democracy,” in the words of the first speaker, the left social democratic politician Michael Müller, and ensure “fair trade.”
They act as if Germany is not a major imperialist country rich from weapons exports, military occupation and financial plundering of other countries. Taking this view to the extreme, there was a right-wing, nationalistic, conspiracist sector at the demonstration that claimed, “Merkel is selling us out to the USA.” But to be fair, the organizers assured that many American activists could speak from the stage to show an international perspective of resistance from both sides of the Atlantic.
In reality, German corporations profit as much as their American competitors from “free trade” rules that undermine environmental protection – as shown recently by the Volkswagen scandal. The representatives of German capital are energetic in their defense of TTIP.
“There will be no reduction of the standards that have been attained,” promised Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), Merkel’s minister of economy, in full-page ads in all major newspapers. The government has spared no expense, and employers’ associations (BDA and BDI) have followed suit. “Especially Germany lives from open markets,” said Matthias Wissman, head of the German Automobile Association. The masters of the German economy see no threat to their sovereignty here.
The demonstration attracted a huge number of people of all ages. This was also the biggest gathering of trade unionists in several years. The goals of democracy and justice cannot, however, be reached by an attempt to return to national sovereignty. Only the international solidarity of workers can form a basis for “fair trade,” i.e. for production based on the needs of all, not the profits of a few capitalists. That was the perspective advanced by revolutionaries at the demonstration.