People do not vote for the AfD because they are Eastern German, but the narrative of a colonised and ‘left-behind’ East near a demographic collapse – threatened by an ‘invasion’ of ‘criminal foreigners’ and the return of ravenous wolves alike – is being taken up by a variety of parliamentary and non-parliamentary far-right entrepreneurs who frame “the East” as the real, genuinely German Germany. Whilst they consider the West as ‘lost’ to cultural decadence and ‘Islamisation’, the East has become a screen of projection for the far right’s visions of ‘national rebirth’ and as the future vantage point for ‘reconquering’ Germany. The rise in nationalist sentiment has manifested in an increase of racist attacks and far-right demonstrations. The summer of 2018 saw the comeback of one of the worst aspects of life in the East: the return of public affrays, pogroms and racist demonstrations that had been so common in the early 1990s just after the peaceful revolution. One of the aims of far-right splinter groups is to take over the public sphere in Eastern Germany by taking over urban spaces through highly visible ‘peace marches’ (against migrants), ‘silent marches’ (on the occasion of violence by refugees) and demonstrations commemorating ‘the slaughter of Dresden’ in 1945. Pogroms are not always publicly organised, however, though they are never as spontaneous as their defenders claim. They are demonstrations of power, they are intended to undermine the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force and they serve to intimidate the left and liberal members of civil society. We show that the political standing of Saxony, and of the Eastern German states in general, remains complicated.
Since 1990 the wolf has been a protected species in Germany; killing a wolf is a crime punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years. In Eastern Germany, where the political ground is shifting to the right, locals argue that the wolves are not German but Western Polish, undeserving of protection since they have invaded Saxon territory and threatened the local way of life. Many people in Eastern Germany feel that the wolf, like the migrant, has been a problem for years, but that nobody in power is listening to them. At a time when nationalist parties are on the rise everywhere in Europe, The wolves are coming back offers an insight into the rise of Eastern German fringe political movements and agitation against both migrants and wolves by hunters, farmers, rioters and self-appointed saviours of the nation. The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) represents the third-largest party in the German federal parliament, with representation in the vast majority of German states. It draws much of its support from regions that have been referred to as the ‘post-traumatic places’ in Eastern Germany, structured by realities of disownment, disenfranchisement and a lack of democratic infrastructure. Pates and Leser provide an account of the societal roots of a new group of radical right parties, whose existence and success we always assumed to be impossible.
This chapter shows how Owen Jones’s (2011) book Chavs documents the denigration of working-class solidarity and, in so doing, accounts for the rise of populist sentiment among the British working class. In popular news and entertainment media – amidst a landscape of exponential corporate consolidation – portrayals of the working class are transformed from a celebration of integrity in the face of adversity typical of the 1950s ‘kitchen-sink drama’, to a lampooning of feckless social welfare dependency and antisocial behaviour by the 1990s and beyond. Complementing Jones’s account of the denigration of working-class lives, Richard Sennett (2006, 2008, 2012) incisively portrays the demoralizing impact of neoliberal conditions of work. Most recently, these conditions have come to attention under the banner of the ‘gig economy’. While this economy is defended by the executives of disruptive start-ups in the name of corporate flexibility and employee choice, the stark reality of precarious employment readily undermines this rationalizing of employment casualization and worker precarity. In this connection, Angela McRobbie’s (2016) probing analysis of the ‘creative industries’ offers a further, devastating critique of the New Labour project. Contemporary work conditions offer thereby a powerful and concrete context in which the seeding ground of contemporary populism can be located.
This chapter provides an overview of the book’s themes and focuses on the following question: why did a party that historically emphasised compromise and cooperation, rather than exclusion and confrontation, shift so dramatically and in a relatively short period of time to a strategy of exclusion? It provides an overview of Conservative statecraft towards the unions and the organised working class, explaining why the shift from accommodation took place when it did. In essence the party concluded in the 1970s that the demands of governance and governability had to take precedence over efforts to sustain the traditional strategy.
By 1964 the party leadership and membership seemed to be converging on a common diagnosis of ‘the union problem’. The failure of Conservative experiments in government with tripartism stimulated further the existing interest in legal reform. This was reinforced by the bitter conflicts over incomes policy and union reform that characterised the 1964–70 Labour Governments. Drawing on a trend in Conservative thinking that emerged in 1958, by 1968 the Conservative Party seemed committed to the extensive legal reform of unions and industrial relations as part of its determination to address ‘the British disease’. When the Conservatives entered government in 1970, this, and a seeming commitment to a more free-market approach, appeared to herald a radical departure from post-war governance. However, under the pressure of events the essentially pragmatic Heath Government speedily changed course in a number of key policy areas and also found itself in direct conflict with the trade unions, first over the Industrial Relations Act and then over incomes policy. This culminated in the ‘who governs’ election of February 1974 that precipitated the fall of the Heath Government.
After 1974 and under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, the party reinstituted an extensive and radical rethink of its attitudes and policies towards the organised working class, actively contemplating the measures likely to be needed in order to avoid a repeat of the Heath Government’s experiences. In opposition, therefore, the party undertook a number of extensive studies into the dimensions of the problem and developed a strategy to handle serious confrontations with the unions. The party invested considerable resources in attempting to revive its union organisation. For a time this played an important role in the party. The collapse of the 1974–1979 Labour Government and ‘the Winter of Discontent’ brought a Conservative government to office, which was determined to deal with ‘the union problem’. It did not come into office with a fully developed programme; both union and industrial relations legislation was passed piecemeal, and was an incremental response, and likewise, the countermeasures needed to meet serious industrial confrontation were developed over time and in response to events. Particularly significant for both was the steel strike. By 1990 when Mrs Thatcher left office the unions’ legal, political and industrial environment had been transformed, with the unions effectively excluded, and the political salience of the organise working class ended.
This sets out the book’s argument. The Conservative Party and the unions were mutually constitutive and for much of the last century Conservative policy was in major respects directed towards accommodating the trade unions and organised working class. Successive Conservative leaderships pursued a policy of inclusion despite hostility from the party grassroots. The Introduction also introduces concepts central to the analysis.
Confronted by the upheavals of total war and the radicalism of the post-1945 Labour Government, the Conservative Party strove to develop a response. Balancing those who called for the party’s adaptation to Labour’s new order and those who called for its rolling back proved difficult. The Conservative’s narrow election victory in 1951 meant that its room for political manoeuvre was severely restricted and the Conservative governments of the period found themselves aspiring to running Labour’s State better than Labour. This also applied to relations with the unions and the organised working class, as the Conservative Government struggled to balance full employment, low inflation and higher public spending in an often crisis‑ridden economy. The party attempted to revive its union organisation in an effort to increase its influence amongst their members. During this period, although the party welcomed electoral success, many came to see the trade unions as a problem requiring remedial action, but Conservative governments continued to place a high value on maintaining established relations in the interest of stability and governance.
The Conservatives had little option but to acquiesce in the Liberal Government’s policies but this changed with the outbreak of war. War demanded both the management of production and mass political consent, and this new politics forced Conservatives to consider, first, the current and future role of the unions in governance and, second, the party’s institutional relationship with the organised working class. In this period the party attempted to develop a Conservative trade union organisation to appeal directly to the organised working class. This organisation failed to prosper. Conservatives had to accept a growing union involvement in public policy, and although this role would decline with peace, Conservatives accepted that unions had a legitimate consultative and representative role in making public policy. Industrial militancy, with its political implications, and the by now traditional Conservative critique of the unions were strongly opposed, and there was a growing demand from within the party for dramatic measures designed to reduce union power.
During the 1950s successive Conservative governments found themselves confronted by a complex policy problem: how to combine full employment with low inflation. Within this, union wage demands and the growth of industrial, especially unofficial, action loomed large. Central to government strategy was exploiting the traditional consultative relationship with the unions and the TUC to endorse and promote wage moderation and curb unofficial strikes. This was, however, opposed by rank-and-file union members and their leaders, and the result was an increase in internal conflict in the unions that undermined the State’s relationship with the unions. As efforts to enmesh the unions in a tighter relationship failed, increasing numbers of Conservatives were attracted to the radical reform of trade union and industrial relations law.