As Berlin’s mayor attempted to speak, the crowd kept chanting. “Volksentscheid umsetzen!” they yelled. Implement the referendum!
The May Day demonstrations by Berlin unions are usually boring: full of beer, bratwurst, and bad music. Of the hundreds of thousands of union members in Berlin, only a few thousand make their way to Brandenburg Gate to hear the speeches – and this is not just because the demonstration starts at 10am on a public holiday.
Another problem is that the union bosses invite Berlin’s mayor — usually a social democrat — to walk at the front of the demonstration. For public sector workers, this is their boss. And SPD mayors, in particular, have been responsible for outsourcing, union busting, low wages, and precarious conditions in the public sector.
But when Giffey began to speak, something unusual happened. Hospital workers, university workers, and public transport workers started to protest. They soon settled on one demand, which was chanted again and again: “Implement the referendum!” Last year, 59.1% of voters said “Ja” to the socialisation (nationalisation) of big housing companies. But Giffey, the parliamentary representative of the Baumafia (construction mafia), refuses to implement the decision. Instead, she has installed a commission full of “experts” who have already declared that expropriation is “unconstitutional” as a means to stop rent increases. (These same jurists, strangely, never seem to have a problem with expropriations to help build highways or mine lignite coal.)
After Giffey had tried to speak for several minutes, an egg few in her direction. An oversized bodyguard with an oversized umbrella leapt in the line of fire, ready to take an egg for the boss. Ultimately it didn’t hit either of them, but Giffey left the stage.
Within minutes, the puns were circulating. That was the “Giff-Ei.” Or an animated “Gif-Ei.” Or May Day isn’t a Feiertag — it’s an Eiertag!
A few hours later, union bosses sent out a press release referring to the “attacks” as “abominable” (“verabscheuungswürdig” — German can’t get much more condemnatory than that!).
But was Giffey’s speech really an expression of democracy? The protestors were calling out in favour of a referendum which won over 59.1% of Berlin voters — Giffey, in contrast, got just 21.4%.
If we want to talk about “respect” for other people’s opinions, we could first ask that Giffey respect the views of hospital workers? As one nurse reminded us shortly after Giffey fled, they have been fighting for safe staffing ratios and better working conditions – but Giffey’s lack of respect for their demands has seen them go on strike.
Police reacted to the attempted egging as if some kind of terrible crime had been committed, temporarily detaining several dozen protestors. If only the police would react to money laundering and the crimes associated with housing speculation with the same zeal they reserve for an egg.
All over Germany, wherever government politicians were scheduled to speak at May Day rallies, they got booed out. Good. Over the last two centuries, working-class struggle has taken many forms, from peaceful rallies to fighting on the barricades. An egg, in historical perspective, seems pretty harmless.
Nathaniel Flakin’s new anticapitalist guide book Revolutionary Berlin is available now from Pluto Press. 304 pages, €18.99 / £14.99.