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Germany

New German Leftist Group Emerges

Unhappy with the German government's welfare reforms, trade union and Social Democratic Party members have formed a new association that could pose a serious challenge in upcoming elections.

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The group banks on the support of thousands unhappy with the reforms

Members of the new group, which is called "Election Alternative: Jobs and Social Justice," said they would decide in the fall whether to turn the organization into a political party to participate in state and national elections in 2005.

The association, which currently includes about 70 local chapters, was officially founded on Saturday and plans to work against the Social Democratic and Green party coalition government's reforms.

Plans to reverse government reforms

The group's goals include scrapping recently approved, sweeping new social welfare laws that merge unemployment and social welfare benefits and require long-term unemployed people to accept almost any job offered to them.

Linkspartei Vorbereitungstreffen

Members of the newly founded group talk to journalists at a press conference on Sunday

They also oppose proposals to extend the German work week to 40 hours -- a step technology giant Siemens took a few weeks ago in an agreement with trade union officials to secure 2,000 jobs at two of the company's German cell phone production plants.

A third demand is the call to end a €10 ($12) patient co-pay for doctor visits introduced at the beginning of the year. Instead, the group wants to introduce a compulsory national health insurance system and revert new taxes on pensions.

A serious challenge?

The group could fare well in elections, according to a survey conducted by Infratest dimap institute for German public broadcaster ARD: Forty-three percent of voters said they could see themselves supporting a new party to the left of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Franz Müntefering, the SPD's party leader, meanwhile warned people to support the group. He said that Germany's left could only survive as a political force through the cooperation of SPD and trade unions.

"Anyone who supports people, who promise something they cannot keep puts a lot on the line," he told the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

German Chancellor Schröder on the other hand called on union members to question their leaders and instigate reforms from within.

"Unions have to ask themselves whether people like Mr Bsirske, who don't have anything to offer, should continue to shape their strategies," Schröder told Der Spiegel newsmagazine. He referred to Frank Bsirske, head of Germany's largest service sector union Ver.di, who had recently attacked the government's reform course.

Several SPD members had left the union as a result of Bsirske's criticism. "I'm not going to pay membership dues to a union that tells me thrice a day that I'm a stupid politician," said Susanne Kastner, the deputy president of the German parliament.

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