German workers launch biggest strike in 11 years

People's Weekly World, 4 March 1995

The biggest strike in Germany's engineering industry in 11 years began Feb. 24 with the prospect that it could spread to several other industries over the next two weeks. Germany's 3 million-member engineering union, IG Metall, called the strike after over a month of fruitless negotiations on pay increases and working hours.

While so far limited to 14,000 workers in 22 plants in Bavaria (the first engineering strike in that state since 1954), the HBV, representing banking and insurance workers, and IG Bau-Steine-Erden, representing construction workers, said they are prepared to join the strike this week if their demands are not met.

IG Metall is demanding a 6 percent wage increase and a stable 4-day workweek with weekends off. Management offered a 2 percent increase and a 4-day workweek with one of those days being Saturday. In addition, management wants longer hours in the spring, when production demands are generally higher, and shorter hours later in the year as demand tails off. The construction workers are demanding a 6.5 percent increase in related negotiations.

IG Metall spokesperson Werner Neugebauer expressed frustration over management's resistance to negotiate and warned, If we do not get an offer from the employers, the strike could go on for weeks. Neugebauer also said that IG Metall will extend strike action beyond Bavaria on March 1 if no progress is made.

Management, with the backing of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government, is pursuing a hardline in the strike and held meetings over the weekend to discuss lockouts and other countermeasures in an effort to undercut the union. Some companies, such as Mercedes-Benz, have threatened to relocate their facilities to France or other European Union countries if they are not successful in keeping wages low in Germany.

In response to these threats, IG Metall and the other major German unions have called for Europe-wide support to prevent any escape mechanism for the corporations. Profits in Germany's construction, banking and engineering industries reached record levels in 1994.