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Photograph: Arne Dedert/dpa/Corbis

Thousands of demonstrators converged on Frankfurt on Wednesday to disrupt the opening ceremony of the European Central Bank. Mark Bergfeld reports

Many thousands made their way to Frankfurt to disrupt the opening ceremony of the European Central Bank in the early hours of Wednesday morning. In the days ahead of the demonstration, it appeared that the whole of Berlin was plastered in Blockupy posters. In the end, more than 900 people took organised transport to the Blockupy protests. Four buses went from Cologne. This is impressive given that this was a working day after all!

The Blockupy protests drew on creative forms of protest developed by the preceding anti-capitalist movements of the early 2000s and its contemporary sister movements against austerity in Southern Europe. It is important to note that the call to action argued for non-escalation.

Protesters started the demonstration from different points in the city. They had organised themselves into different coloured blocs. In doing so, the Blockupy protests explicitly drew upon the mareas movement in the Spanish state where the green tide, for example, symbolizes the struggle for public education, the white tide stands for healthcare, the purple tide for the rights of women. This diffusion of movement practices has been common in recent years but shows the extent to which Blockupy activists conceive themselves as part of the global-wide struggle against neoliberal capitalism.

Alongside several hundred of other students, pensioners, debt campaigners, and a delegation of French syndicalists, I was part of the yellow bloc which engaged in creative forms of civil disobedience at one of the bridges in the east of town. Road blockades have a long tradition from the early environmental justice movements to the protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle 1999. On that day however, the police ensured that all roads and highways were blocked and traffic jammed in Frankfurt.

With the new ECB building no longer in Frankfurt’s banking district of the “Westend”, the euro-bureaucrats are seeking to re-legitimize themselves politically. However, protesters tried to alter the parameters of power in the early hours of the commuter traffic. They wore rainbow balaclavas, huge party sun glasses, yellow wigs and yellow rain capes as the police had criminalised protesters from covering their faces in advance of the demonstration. By ridiculing the repressive measures of the police, the Blockupy organisers and activists also displayed far more political astuteness than the Black Bloc which torched several police cars, and had Frankfurt go up in flames.

It is worth stressing that the police is being disingenuous when it claims to be surprised by the scenes of unrest – for actions speak louder than words. They had prepared for a confrontation on an unprecedented scale. Riot police – Robocops - were stationed at every street corner, with more than 9,000 police officers from across all of Germany on duty and more than 28 water cannons placed throughout the city. Remember this is Frankfurt, Germany not Ferguson, M0 or Istanbul, Turkey.

On the other hand, some of the organisers have compared the violence on the streets in Frankfurt to the global uprisings we have witnessed in the last four years. Unfortunately, this comparison is misplaced as it devalues the popular dimension of the uprisings. Theoretically, they conflate what the French philosopher Alain Badiou calls an “immediate riot” with an “historical riot”, the latter opening up the advent for a new type of politics. Blockupy was an activist-gathering or a point of convergence not a popular uprising of the oppressed as it has occured in Athens 2008, the slums of London in the summer 2011, Tahrir Square or Santiago de Chile.

I enjoyed the after-work demonstration of more than 15,000 people throughout the city of Frankfurt tremendously, as it was bigger than anyone expected. Yet it did not represent the advent of a new movement or politics in Germany. The reason being that Blockupy was simply too abstract. It did not draw the links between the localized struggles in Germany, the European-wide movement with the global movement against neoliberal capitalism.

There’s plenty of local struggles to be fought in Germany. Wages have stagnated since the 1990s. As a consequence, it has catapulted Germany to economic success with unsurpassable productivity rates. But the human cost has been high. Between 1998 and 2008 the number of workers on full-time contracts decreased by 800,000 while the number of workers in precarious employment grew by 2.4 million. By 2012, “atypical” worker made up 21.2 per cent of the German labour force. Today more than 2.6 million people work second job. As in the UK, precarious employment is gendered and concentrated in the service sector (hospitality, catering etc), the health and care sector and throughout the different tiers of education. In German universities, for example, a staggering 84 per cent of teaching and research staff are employed on temporary contracts.

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On the European-level, the Blockupy coalition was able to draw together networks of precarious workers and direct action groups from earlier mobilisations as well as attac, trade unionists from FIOM in Italy and delegates from Podemos and Syriza. The fact that Blockupy was able to get Naomi Klein to speak highlighted the need to see the mobilisation as part of a global struggle against neoliberal capitalism, and the starting point to constitute an effective movement in Germany. More than anywhere else in Europe, we need a political and social actor capable of mobilising tens of thousands on the streets and articulating popular counter-hegemonic alternatives to the German hegemony of the EU project.

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