Some 350,000 demonstrators rallied Saturday against planned cuts in Germany’s welfare state in the largest labor challenge yet to Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government.
Blowing whistles and pounding drums, protesters from all over the country streamed to the rally, which was organized by labor unions and church groups to pressure the government to scrap its austerity plan.
“It’s disgusting,” said Christa Meindl, 42, munching on a grilled sausage. “They’re only going after the little people.”
Kohl, in power since 1982, has vowed to press ahead despite the protest. He proposed the cost-cutting measures in April, saying they were needed to reduce record-high unemployment and revive the stagnant economy by bringing down some of the world’s highest labor costs.
Kohl’s plan would slash $16.5 billion from federal spending by cutting sick pay, raising the retirement age for women, reducing disability and jobless benefits, and making it easier for German companies to fire workers. It also calls for tax reform that critics say favors the wealthy.
A few hundred leftists disrupted the rally, pelting police with rocks and bottles and smashing the windows of a bank before melting into the crowd. Police said several officers were injured.
The demonstration was the largest public protest in German post-war history, not counting communist rallies in former East Germany, said Peter Schellenschmidt, spokesman for the main labor federation.