German unions have been warning the working public against the neofascist AfD for a while now. The AfD is a political party that attempts to frame itself as a party of the people, a populist party, but in actuality threatens the interests of workers. It is against a minimum wage, even though, paradoxically, many of its adherents are struggling to get by on the current minimum wage. Similarly, the AfD’s neoliberal party programme seeks to reduce funding for social security programs. 

Some of its members are only surviving because they live in a country that has a functioning social welfare system. In addition, the AfD wants to regulate collective bargaining, thus destroying the rights of  workers, and sucking up to cowboy capital

Trade unions have been drawing attention to the neoliberal and anti-union policy of the AfD, and rightly so. Germany’s top union – the DGB – has been very clear: the AfD will harm the interests of employees. 

Several trade unions offer members “argumentation aids” and “fact checks” against the AfD. In one brochure, the DGB calls the AfD “the enemy of workers”.

Most trade unionists know that the AfD does not represent the interests of working people.

The AfD’s actions, electioneering, and its parliamentary voting behaviour are predominantly directed against the interests of the employed as well as the unemployed. 

Only a few months ago, Germany’s main construction workers’ union – IG BAU – published a leaflet that argues against the neoliberal policies of the AfD, highlighting the anti-worker stance of the party on topics such as retirement, pensions, collective bargaining and taxation. 

Time and again, the AfD has demanded the dismantling of basic workers’ rights while pushing for a further “flexibilization” (read: pro-business regulation) of Germany’s labour market. 

Back in 2020, the AfD’s gang in parliament requested the dismantling of collective bargaining rights and social security funding. By the way, these are exactly the same demands being made by the Republican Party in the USA and the Putin-aligned right-wing parties of Europe.

This neofascist party also rejects any form of democratic participation in the workplace of a company such as, for example, Germany’s works councils and co-determination. These policy positions are to the detriment of many of its own would be voters. In fact, the AfD even strongly disagreed with an increase in Germany’s minimum wage to €12 per hour.

During the Covid-19 pandemic (2020-2022) sharp conflicts between trade unions and the AfD emerged. No matter whether about gas and electricity prices, an energy allowance, protection against rising rents, or state support for part-time working arrangements, the AfD rejected any form of relief for employees during the crisis. 

The populists also encouraged the lunatic fringe of anti-vaxxers to rail against any government-induced health regulations.

Because the trade unions are smart enough to know how the AfD is trying to subvert the influence of the working public, the DGB has even set up a special website called AfD – Enemy of the Workforce which outlines how the AfD refused to support the increase in Germany’s minimum wage in the Bundestag (parliament) in 2022. 

The same party that rails against the “elite” also rejected a proposal for a new tax on multi-millionaires, and the neoliberal neofascists also seek to totally abolish Germany’s inheritance tax on substantial assets, which of course would also favour the rich and super rich. In this aspect as well AfD = GOP.

In 2023, an AfD NO! union project furnished with anti-AfD arguments and fact checks was launched during elections in the state of Hessen. The initiative came from the DGB’s Frankfurt office. Unions also reject the AfD’s anti-immigration proposals. 

They are most definitely not in the “national interest” because they include policies that would significantly harm Germany’s economy. 

One election poster, for example, illustrates the dire consequences if the AfD’s policy would actually be implemented. A man who is described as “employee of the year” says: 

“I didn’t want foreigners to take my job.

Now my company is shutting down

because there is a shortage of workers.”

Meanwhile, Yasmin Fahimi head of the DGB said during an NGG union rally in November 2023, “the AfD has never stood for workers’ rights or the minimum wage”, continuing with “the AfD is a party of neoliberalism and racism – the AfD is poison for our society.” 

She argued that those who vote for the AfD divide us and are anti-democrats. Fahimi closed with, don’t vote AfD, dear colleagues, ally yourself with the project of solidarity.”

However, the problem is that such appeals don’t appear to bear fruit. Despite the last federal election and the recent state elections (Hesse and Bavaria), the AfD has always performed better among union members than among the general voting population. 

In other words, large sections of Germany’s working class are unsettled and have the feeling that the social-democrat SPD is acting aloof and cosmopolitan and no longer represents their interests. In short, over 70 years of the Big Lie propaganda barrage by ultra-conservative and xenophobic tabloids – e.g. Bild – are finally having the desired impact.

Germany’s right-wing tabloids and the AfD’s propaganda of “us down here and they up there” is directed against the government, its asylum policy, and sets the “in-group” against the “out-group”. 

Blasted over and over again for a long period of time, this kind of propaganda can most definitely influence people. The Nazis proved it.

If public support for the AfD sits at 16% to 19% (mid-May), among that number there will also be a portion of unionized workers who support the right-wing populists even though this is against their working future. Self-destructive populism often has an iron grip on its adherents who are willing to die for  “the leader”, but it can end in the violent death of its leaders.  

Given Germany’s trade union policy of being a “unitary union movement” – being above party politics and being non-partisan – it is not easy for trade unions to reject AfD members and AfD voters as long as the AfD is not formally banned as a political party. 

On the other hand, fundamental trade union values such as solidarity, inclusion, workers’ rights, international solidarity, and cosmopolitanism are next to impossible to reconcile with the AfD’s neoliberal, neofascist, and ultra-nationalistic party program.

In that, the union slogan “don’t turn on my buddy!” is set to challenge hate slogans like “foreigners out!” Most trade unions are running a very clear line against right-wing populists. For example, unions never invite AfD apparatchiks to union events. 

Among some union members, such distancing is often not well received. There are even reports of resignations after, for example, the newly elected IG Metall official – Christiane Benner – strongly argued against right-wing populists at a trade union rally in 2023. She described the fight against the AfD as one of her main tasks.

Meanwhile, the railway union EVG and Germany’s police union have already reached “incompatibility agreements” to exclude AfD members because they regard AfD membership as incompatible with union membership. 

At the same time, other unions are more hesitant. Worse, at a Verdi’s union meeting in the former East-German state of Thuringia, a similar petition against the AfD failed.

Beyond all that, there is a fear among union officials that such an exclusion might fail in the courts and even help the AfD to further project its favourite image: presenting itself as a group of martyrs. 

Since it is generously funded by the state – electoral funding comes automatically after being elected to parliament or other official offices – the AfD likes to fight in courts. It initiates numerous court cases – in this case emulating the tactics of cults.

At Germany’s most powerful union – IG Metall – there is a fear of losing some of the membership, particularly in the former East-Germany, because of such an incompatibility decision

In some states of the former East-Germany, the AfD sometimes polls well above the 30% mark. Instead of an “incompatibility rule”, some unions prefer to use their “bylaws” to fight the neofascist AfD. 

Verdi’s bylaws state that union members who express themselves in words, writing or deed as far-right, racist, inhuman or anti-union, advertise for far-right organizations or hold mandates in far-right parties “can” be excluded from the trade union

Meanwhile, some unions are concerned that in times of industrial transformation and uncertainty in which entire industrial sectors are facing elimination or radical restructuring, the number of AfD supporters inside companies might actually increase. 

IG Metall official Benner is keeping an eye on an AfD stooge organization euphemistically called Zentrum Automobil that has already gained a foothold in Germany’s automotive industry. 

AfD Zentrum rages against the end of the internal combustion engine and something it calls “the systematic destruction of the middle class.” Cunningly, it links what the Zentrum calls “the global financial system” to, as it sees it, an “uninhibited immigration of uncultured people” – an updated version of the Untermensch

Fundamentally, right-wing populism and trade unions are direct opposites. Given Germany’s history and the total annihilation of trade unions by the Nazis, German trade unions know that they need to fight Germany’s far-right and its neofascist AfD. Just as during the 1930s, the German working class is not totally immune to far-right propaganda

As a consequence, there is a constant battle between the two different ideologies: humanity and workers’ rights as embodied in unions vs. the racism and ultra-nationalist fascism of the AfD.

Born on the foothills of Castle Frankenstein, Thomas Klikauer (PhD) is the author of a book on “The AfD”. Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.

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