Report from a ‘No Green Pass’ protest in Hamburg
The question of whether to support, oppose or remain defeatist
about Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the state divides not just the
left, but our own collectives. The following report and thoughts do not
represent an AngryWorkers position, but hopefully they’re another small
contribution to the debate. We’ve already published this translation of a text by Sergio Bologna
on the notion of a neoliberal kind of individual ‘freedom’ that is
attached to much of the discourse and ideologies around the vaccine.
On a recent trip to Hamburg to visit old friends and comrades, I
encountered another facet of the debate – this time concerning the Covid
Passport, which restricts entry to unvaccinated people to public spaces
like bars and restaurants. Bologna makes a distinction in his text
between ‘freedom-loving anti-vaxers’ and those who are (rightly) nervous
about the implications of state infringement on our movements and
access to services based on our vaccine status. This is a pertinent
issue in Germany, where this practice is fully in force and encountering
a visibly vocal minority.
The small group of the comrades I visited in Hamburg had written a
leaflet against these current covid restrictions (called G2/G3), which
relate to different categories based on your vaccination status.
Depending on the category you belong to, either G2 or G3, you can either
access certain spaces or not. Within our own circles, some criticised
the leaflet for giving too much leeway to anti-vaxers or knee-jerk
‘anti-state’ reactions. Personally, I appreciated the fact that the
comrades had tried to engage with the current discontent about the state
sanctions ‘from a working class point of view’, trying to understand
what was actually moving people to take part in the protests.
I can understand peoples’ frustrations with the ongoing hassles that
covid forces on us (although maybe not so much in the UK context, which
has the most lax rules compared to other European countries – so far).
But it really shows up if you want to travel abroad. Getting to Hamburg
was stressful and expensive, paying 80 Euros extra for two flimsy tests,
queuing in front of former fast-food stalls that had been converted
into ‘test-centres’ by some start-up company, downloading yet another
app, having to tell lies on UK and German government forms about where
my friends live and where I would be staying. A hassle yes, but I’d have
difficulty calling it ‘oppression’ or even a step towards a future
digital dictatorship necessarily…
My trip happened to coincide with a big anti-G2/G3 demo in Hamburg.
The comrades who had written the leaflet critiquing the covid passport
restrictions (which has been translated below) were planning to attend,
so in the spirit of research, I went along to see who was there and what
was going on. The place is swarming with cops in riot gear. And the
demo is big, between 15,000 and 20,000 people, this is the fifth
protest, numbers have doubled each time. There aren’t many banners or
placards from ‘organisations’; most people have self-made placards or
just came as they were. Just looking at people, it isn’t easy to
categorise them. Most of them don’t look too middle-class, neither
hippie nor esoteric. Sure, some guys seem like hooligans, but the
majority are just pretty ‘normal’, which includes Turkish women with
headscarves. The official slogan of the protest is, ‘Leave our kids
alone’, against the mandatory vaccination of children. Lefty critics of
the demo immediately drew a parallel to QAnon. The most common word used
on the self-made placards is ‘freedom’ and they kept on playing an
awful song from the 90s with the same title. There was a lot about
‘rights’, ‘the constitution’ and ’no divisions’. There is a single
German flag. Lots of references to the dystopia of 1984, but I didn’t
see any arsehole wearing a Star of David. They announce from the
loudspeakers that the cops have imposed the wearing of masks and that
people should follow the orders, ‘even if wearing toe-rags doesn’t make a
difference’, despite all evidence to the contrary. The next speaker
complains about the fact that the G2/G3 sanctions have had a negative
impact on small shops and that ‘the movement’ should try to involve more
small shop-owners. Not too surprising!
I finally manage to find my comrades in the crowd. They have their
own placards, emphasising that we should struggle collectively for
better healthcare and better conditions as workers, rather than letting
them divide us into vaccinated and unvaccinated people. They are
level-headed people, a former docker turned warehouse worker, a nurse, a
railway worker. One of them tells me that at work, covid rules have
clearly divided the manual from the office workers. The white-collar
workers are happy to meet with the boss in confined spaces without a
mask on, on their one-day a week in the office when they come in rather
than work from home. The same guys bully the ‘uneducated’ manual workers
when they find them without a mask in the yard. He himself has been
vaccinated, but he says that the cops have started to kick homeless
people out of the trains and stations into the cold when they can’t show
a covid-pass. The training courses for refugees are cancelled and
people with mental health issues don’t get one-to-one support – if they
are not vaccinated. He also tells me that as a group they haven’t had a
public meeting for two years now, because they don’t want to check
peoples’ vaccination status – something that they would have to do in
order to get a venue.
The comrade who worked as a nurse and is now in medical teaching
decided not to get vaccinated. She tells me that she tests herself each
time she meets people, but that in order to go to work she wouldn’t be
able to use home-tests. She would have to queue every day for up to an
hour at a test centre. She says that up to now she was able to get these
tests at her school for free, but that going forward she will have to
go to a test centre and pay for the test. I suggest that we go and have
something to eat after the demo in a restaurant near the station, but
she reminds me that without the vaccination pass she wouldn’t be able to
Whatever you might think about the effectiveness of vaccinations, the
rules around them don’t seem too effective. A comrade who works as a
physiotherapist was talking about how, if they’ve had the vaccine, they
don’t have to self-isolate anymore (and stay off work!) after coming
into contact with a patient who is covid positive, as was the case
before. The fact that vaccinated people can get covid, as well, and
infect others, is ignored.
Another speech from the loudspeaker van. The speaker complains that
the lockdown has been imposed without consideration and has created more
harm. More depression, alcoholism, untreated cancer. “This compares
with 6,000 people over 60 who died with covid”. Statistics are bandied
around quick and fast. Another speaker emphasises that the state had cut
150 intensive care unit beds in Hamburg hospitals, at the same time as
imposing the G2/G3 rules. But these are the only references to
collective issues. Unlike in Trieste in Italy or in France there is no
group of workers demanding anything. Neither are there organised groups
of petit bourgeois who want to keep their shops open. In an article I
read on the flight to Hamburg, it said that the opposition to the G2/G3
restriction is most prevalent amongst FDP voters, the neoliberal party.
To me, it didn’t seem like the protestors looked like they wanted to
defend ‘the market logic’ as such. The feeling I get is that people are
just fed up with the restrictions and with the arrogance of the state,
but without really making the effort to think or articulate the need for
alternatives. A lot of people complain about how their protest is
presented in the media…
The demo comes to a halt. “Nazis raus!”, some Antifa shout at us.
“Fucking morons!”, I think. ‘Nazis raus!’, the demo shouts back at them.
The Antifa retaliates with “We will all vaccinate you!” There were
surely some Nazis in the demo, some Reichsbuerger and what have you, but
I think they were a pretty tiny minority. The Antifa will tell you that
they dominate the social media and the Telegram channels which are used
to mobilise for the demos. That might be true, but since when does
social media dominate reality? The whole experience leaves me even more
puzzled. I think that no working class revolutionary can stay away from
bigger ‘self-organised’ protests against pretty draconian state
measures. At the same time, the idea of ‘Freiheit’ that was carried in
the demo has something ruthless to it. The fumbling continues.
Comrades in other towns had different impressions regarding the
character and composition of these protests. In Dachau, a smaller town
in Bavaria, there were no migrants in the demo and people seemed pretty
middle-class. Efforts of the Stalinist MLPD to give the demo a ‘working
class content’, by talking about workers’ issues with the G3 rules were
ignored and the focus was on conspiracy theories around Soros and Gates.
There was no use in talking to these people, also because they treated
anyone wearing a mask with hostility. The demo seems in the hand of the
Introduction from comrades in Hamburg to their leaflet
There is a state of emergency in many hospitals in Germany. For
several years, the trade union Verdi, together with regional alliances
that campaign for more staff in the care and health sector, has been
trying to enforce better minimum staffing levels in hospitals. In
February 2020, Verdi threatened to go on strike in several hospitals,
including at the University Hospital of Schleswig-Holstein. Due to the
corona emergency at the beginning of March 2020, the strikes were called
off by Verdi.
In summer 2021, there were large demonstrations by healthcare workers
in Berlin and finally workers at the Charite and Vivantes hospitals
went on strike in early autumn. [This has been a long-running campaign
that always got close to strike but was then called off by the unions at
the last minute.] Management’s usual strategy of passing on the cost
pressure from the permanent hospital staff to the outsourced service
workers doesn’t seem to be succeeding so smoothly anymore: in many
cases, trade unions have tried to bring the outsourced workers back into
the respective collective agreement of the general workforce. There is a
lot of sympathy in society; everyone knows that the healthcare system
is being driven to the wall by privatisation and cost pressure.
But now it’s back to a corona state of emergency. Nobody talks about
strikes anymore. Instead, unvaccinated personnel are to be forced out of
the industry. There are calls for German armed forces to ‘help out’ in
hospitals and nursing homes.
This is how the state of emergency works: instead of ensuring (and
funding) conditions and infrastructure that are oriented toward social
needs, an existing problem is escalated, e.g. through austerity
measures. The result of this is that a ‘crisis’ quickly aggravates into
‘catastrophes’, which trigger ‘state of emergencies’ in response. The
state of emergency, although authoritarian, doesn’t really solve the
problems, mind you! No, it only diverts the general discontent towards a
scapegoat. This scapegoat is used to demonstrate how things will be in
the future: it is not healthcare that has to be oriented to the needs of
all people, but vice versa, people have the duty to adjust to whatever
scarce resources are allocated by the political administration or
management. Those who do not, or cannot, comply for whatever reason will
be punished. Today it is the duty to be vaccinated, tomorrow to stop
smoking, eating fatty food, lack of exercise is your own ‘fault’ that
leads to punishment or exclusion from certain services. Of course, for
the political administration it won’t be enough that people do adopt
allegedly healthier ‘lifestyles’ simply out of self-interest; it has to
be controllable, through vaccination certificates, fitness trackers and
the like. Refusal of treatment, cost sharing, individualised health
insurance rates, this is how it will continue.
As is usually the case, we have to look abroad to see more hopeful
political initiatives. For example, in recent months on the squares of
Trieste a fairly broad movement, mobilised largely by dock workers, was
active against mandatory vaccination at the workplace, for an expansion
of outpatient healthcare, and so on. Mind you: not against vaccination
per se, but against the political measures that come along with it.
No to the extortion! No to G 1,2,3…+-…!
Continued payment of wages in case of illness and quarantine, breaks
from work, free masks from the employer – many workers in Italy had to
fight for such things at the beginning of the corona epidemic. They’ve
experienced the fact that a certain standard of health and safety is
not always given as a gift. This also makes them much more suspicious of
government measures: the compulsory vaccination card (‘Green Pass’) at
the workplace serves companies only as a pretext to be able to, once
again, drop the stricter health and safety measures on the shop-floor.
Why continue to take elaborate precautionary measures if I only have to
employ ‘healthy’ people in the company?
Here in Germany there is hardly any public discussion about the
increasing pressure to be vaccinated. The non-vaccinated remain largely
invisible and the vaccinated are happy that, for them, the disease seems
to be over and life as we knew it is back. Unfortunately, this will
only be a brief illusion. The prime motivation of the Green Pass and
other state measures, such as exclusions and monitoring, is not really
medical. The state is increasingly transferring its sovereign tasks to
private companies. If the state itself were to make specifications by
law, they could in principle be challenged in civil courts. This is not
possible with private companies. Take data protection, for example:
there is no central government database on vaccination status – but
there is an obligation to provide information to practically everyone.
Data protection is therefore a thing of the past. Take freedom of
speech, for example: media corporations are empowered to delete content
or make it untraceable as they see fit. It is almost impossible to take
legal action against them. Freedom of expression can now only be
exercised within my own four walls. For example, a company actually has a
duty of care towards its employees. Today, this is turned around and
the employer is obligated to employ only ‘healthy’/‘harmless’ people by
definition – this absolves the bosses from having to provide health and
safety and welfare.
There are no simple answers to the question of how to find a way out
of the crisis. We first want to start an open and collective discussion
again about the society in which we all live.
– Is now a good time for you to push for better working conditions?
– Does the rampant Green Pass regime bring more security in everyday
life? Is it an expression of greater consideration for health hazards at
work? Do I myself want to be constantly monitored?
– Has the health (primary, clinical) care system worked well for you in the last two years?
What have the past almost two years brought us in our lives, what do we expect for the future?
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Angry Workers of the World