Resistance growing against the construction of Primark branch at Doeppersberg in Wuppertal, Germany

Banner says: "Self-determined against the Wupper change"

Banner says: “Self-determined against the Wupper change”

Last year, we published several reports about the struggle against the sale of public space to private investors in Wuppertal, and the refusal of the city council to respect the will of the people by rejecting a referendum about the extra costs of the Doeppersberg construction project. The situation has developed since. Yesterday activists gave an Ultimatum to the city government and the ruling parties CDU and SPD, and against investor Signature Capital Ltd and their anchor tenant Primark. When the city government and both private companies said they will not comply with the demands, activists anounced that they will change tactics from protest to stiff resistance.

In early 2014, the Wuppertal city council received more than 13,000 signatures (which is more than what is required by law) in favour of a referendum, but the governing parties CDU and SPD used an administrative trick to avoid the referendum. The city government under mayor Peter Jung (CDU) was well aware of the likelyhood that they would lose the referendum. After a series of appellative protests – which included demonstrations, gatherings, and another petition with thousands of signatures against selling a big part of the public square in front of the main train station at Doeppersberg to build a  “cathedral of exploitation” for Primark – the city sold public space at a bargain price to private investor Signature Capital Ltd, who will build a concrete monster for their anchor tenant Primark. Primark is well known for exploiting workers around the world. The Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh – where workers where forced to continue working although it was known that the building was unsafe and could collapse – was producing for Primark. 1200 people where killed, and at least 2500 people where injured as the building collapsed at 9:00am on April 24, 2013. 

Before major corporations began transferring production to countries like Bangladesh, many people worked in the textile industry in Europe. Wuppertal was known for its textile industry during the last 2 centuries. Workers revolted several times against poor working conditions and salaries that were so low that people even couldn’t afford enough food to feed their families. In 1783, there was a major uprising of weavers in Wuppertal and the workers managed to achieve better working conditions and better payment. Later there were other uprisings in the Elberfeld district, such as the uprising for democracy in 1849. People are upset that the CDU/SPD city government not only sold public space to private investors for a bargain, but they also feel humiliated that in a city well known for its resistance against exploitation of workers in the textile industry, a company like Primark will open a branch, and on top of that, in one of the premium spots in the city. 

The Doeppersberg construction project is being pushed through by the ruling parties CDU and SPD in a city with high debts. The city government closed public theaters, public swimming pools and other social and cultural infrastructure to pay the debts – but for companies like Signature Capital Ltd, the city first invested a lot of money in the Doeppersberg project in order to sell the land at low costs to private investors. There is a growing concentration of capital and Businesses in the city center while other districts in the city are bleeding to death. The city government and private investors see the city as easy prey, and it’s possible that only the people who live and work in the city will be able to stop the sell out. Activists are organising resistance, but will have to deal with massive police violence if they set-up self organising projects in districts with streets full of empty shops. In August and again in September, activists occupied a building in the Marienstrasse which had been empty for years. The people wanted to open a social and refugee welcome center in the building, but were evicted both times in the same day. Cops used massive violence, during the first eviction cops even pulled a gun on the peaceful activists. So on one hand, the city government’s policies of concentration in the center are producing empty buildings in other districts, on the other hand they send in riot cops if people start to give these empty businesses a new objective.
Stop Shopping on April 25 in Wuppertal, Germany

Stop Shopping on April 25 in Wuppertal, Germany

In this violent and neo-liberal athmosphere people decided that the time has come to change tactics. Activists discussed various tactics in depth, and how to continue their struggle. In a long discussion on Indymedia, activists from Wuppertal discussed the possibility of announcing occupations, or announcing blockades at the entrance of the Doeppersberg construction site. They are convinced that it would force the city government to react to the announcement. Some autonomous groups are convinced that the city will react by sending in many riot cops in order to let the construction process at Doeppersberg continue. A halt of only a few hours would produce high costs for the city government and investors. People would need to do these kinds of actions and announcements over a long period in order to produce high costs for the investor and city government. Some of the people who are discussing this say that capitalists only understand the language of money and bills and suggest that activists speak with them in the language they understand.

On March 27th, activists released a statement in which they announced an ultimatum to the city government, investor Signature Capital, and their anchor tenant Primark. Activists are demanding a referendum about the future of the square in front of the main train station, and an immediate end to the construction of the new Primark branch. The ultimatum by the “Friends of the Weaver Uprising of 1783″ will end at 9:00am on April 24, 2015, exactly 2 years after the Rana Plaza killings. The group pointed out that they will leave the path of appellative protests, and that the city government and both involved companies will be confronted by a growing wave of stiff resistance. 
One of the activists referred by the long tradition of resistance by saying: “Call me Hermann Steinacker and google who that was.” (Steinacker was an anarchist who organised resistance against nazis in Hitler’s Germany in Wuppertal and was killed by nazis). Steinacker stated that the city government and the private investors will soon feel the heat if they simply ignore or if they do not comply to the demands. Steinacker said: “The City government doesn’t seem to know its own history. Already in 1783, during the weaver uprising Elberfeld city hall was occupied. In 2015 there are no limits to our fantasy of unpredictable, organized resistance” 
Rana Plaza April 24. 2013

Rana Plaza April 24. 2013

An activists who called himseld Hugo Hillmann (another interesting name to Google) stated that if their demands are not met, there will be actions at April 25 at the latest. There are groups who are calling for a gathering at 1:00pm at April 25 (At Alte Freiheit, Wuppertal). Other groups plan a day of action. This day of action would take place at different locations in the inner city and is organised by other groups. Hillmann says that the ultimatum is a logical step after years of policies that treat the city like an easy prey. There are also calls with the slogan “Stop Shopping” for April 25.

Activists have many info events in different districts of Wuppertal, and also in other cities to mobilise for the actions. All people of Wuppertal are invited to an open meeting at 7:00pm on April 23 in Kirchplatz to discuss how they will react if the ultimatum ends on the next morning. Its possible that people wont even wait for April 25, and will spontaneously decide to start with actions immediately after the ultimatum has ended. It will be a long and hard campaign, but activists feel the support of the people who live in Wuppertal and they are convinced that another city is possible. Stay tuned!
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About Author

Born near the city of Amsterdam I started filming, taking photos and writing for autonomous and other magazines in the 1980's in Amsterdam. Nowadays I write for Revolution News and several blogs in Germany. Sometimes I live in Germany, sometimes on Tenerife, Canary Islands.