Luxembourg: Die Lenk (The Left) party congress builds social resistance agenda

An election stall for Dei Lenk, 2011. Photo from Dei Lenk's Facebook group.

By Dick Nichols

May 13, 2012 -- Green Left Weekly -- Compared with a southern Europe stricken by ever-rising unemployment and government attacks on social welfare and democratic rights, Luxembourg can feel as if it is on another, much more pleasant, planet.

The richest country in Europe ― with gross domestic product per capita at least 30% higher than that of the US, unemployment at 5.9% and the second-lowest public sector debt to GDP ratio ― this most important financial centre after London’s City would seem to be floating above the crisis.

However, the resolutions adopted at the April 22 ninth ordinary congress of Luxembourg’s Dei Lenk (The Left) revealed another picture ― of the country’s advanced social model coming under rising attack, and of this offensive meeting rising resistance from the union movement and the left.

Dei Lenk national co-spokesperson David Wagner described the European situation in the political report to the congress: “We find ourselves in a remorseless struggle for the redistribution of wealth ... In this country we don’t yet have 'rescue' packages being cobbled together, but economic strangulation packages have already made an appearance.”

Wagner was referring to the end of automatic wage indexation in Luxembourg (the last European country in which it survived), and criticised the Greens for supporting the relevant legislation. Wagner also attacked the Greens for their acceptance of water pricing. He said: “We too respect resources, but we also respect human beings. That’s why the Greens describe us as ‘populists’, because we expose their anti-social stances.”

In his report on parliamentary work, Serge Urbany, Dei Lenk’s one MP, stressed the importance of the European political dimension: “It’s Europe which decides [Luxembourg’s] restructuring of wage indexation, the pension reform, the reduction of public service salaries.”

Urbany underlined Dei Lenk’s opposition to the NATO presence in Afghanistan and opposition to nuclear power.

The main resolution adopted outlined the key economic and political measures for a “social offensive” against neoliberalism at the Luxembourg and European levels.

Noting that all other parliamentary opposition parties support the wage and pension “reforms” of the government, Luxembourg proposes a nine-point set of demands for the national political struggle.

These cover: restoration of wage indexation; withdrawal of the pension reform and opposition to private pension funds; an end to privatisation and creation of a public development fund along with banking system reform; 100% renewable energy within 20 years (including phasing out of electricity imported from French nuclear facilities); expansion of public housing and transport; and an education reform to guarantee equality of opportunity for children from poorer families.

At the European level, the resolution demands: a reform of the European Union on the basis of solidarity; democracy and social justice; direct financing of EU members states by the European Central Bank; auditing of European states’ debt with that part found to be due to speculation cancelled; creation of a social and environmental development fund; a Europe-wide guaranteed minimum wage; and the creation of an integrated European economic policy, with a budget able to compensate for state budget deficits and funded by a tax on financial transactions.

Only 30% of the Luxemburg workforce is composed of native Luxemburgers: 40% is made up of immigrants and the other 30% of “cross-border” workers who commute from Germany, Belgium and France. About 70% of those who produce the wealth of this wealthy country don’t have the right to vote.

The situation has improved since the government introduced double nationality, but this has gone with a tightening of nationality conditions, including a language test in Luxembourgeois and a seven-year residency requirement.

The congress attacked this “intolerable apartheid situation”, stressing that “the right to vote … cannot be tied to nationality nor to European citizenship”.

Dei Lenk calls for a right to vote for all registered residents over 16 years old.

Congress also tackled the vital issue of the future of the steel industry in Luxembourg and the surrounding Grande Region (Luxembourg, Wallonia in Belgium, Lorraine in France and Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany).

The resolution noted that the supposedly “twilight” steel industry was still producing tonnages equal to 40 years ago. It contrasted the disastrous results of allowing the multinational Mittal group free rein over the industry with the policy adopted in the Saarland under former German Social Democratic Party premier (and now Die Linke leader) Oskar Lafontaine. That policy kept the industry under public control and, according to the resolution, “still benefits the [Saarland] economy”.

The resolution demanded that the Luxembourg and other governments develop a steel plan covering all steel-producing sites in the Grande Region, as part of a Europe-wide steel plan. Private steel producers should be required to commit to a long-term presence in the region under pain of nationalisation. Job and training guarantees should be given to the workers in the industry, with development of regional university research into alternative uses of steel.

Other congress resolutions covered public service restructuring and salary defence (expressing full support for union campaigns against attempts to run the sector on private business lines) and defence of individual freedom against plans to increase state surveillance powers.

Debates at the congress included those over ecological planning and ending capitalism’s growth dynamic. A specific motion stated that “these concepts have been hardly developed and in daily discussion in Luxembourg serve to hide a lack of concrete scenarios”. The motion called on the incoming national coordinating committee to “deepen questions linked to ecology and present a report reflecting its discussions to the next congress”.

Another discussion focused on the content of the term “banking reform”, in Luxembourg and at a European level. Was it enough to call for the creation of a public bank? Or should Dei Lenk’s perspective be to replace all private banking, inevitably tied to speculation, with public and social forms of banking?

The congress adopted the second view. But the general feeling seemed to be that the issue needed further discussion, especially given the predominance of the finance sector in the local economy.

The congress ended with a big dinner where Dei Lenk members watched the results of the first round of the French presidential election, noting with satisfaction the beginning of the end of Nicolas Sarkozy and the rise of the Left Front.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal's European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He attended the Dei Lenk congress for the Australian Socialist Alliance. Read more articles by Dick Nichols.]

From GLW issue 922