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German Metalworkers Strike - 2002-05-06


Germany's giant metalworkers' union, IG Metall, launched its first strike in seven years Sunday by halting production at one of DaimlerChrysler's key Mercedes-Benz plants. The union is demanding a 6.5 percent pay raise.

The night-shift at DaimlerChrysler's Sindelfingen plant is the first to be hit, according to leaders at IG Metall, Germany's largest industrial union.

Strikes will spread Monday across the southwestern industrial state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Stoppages are planned for rival luxury car manufacturers Audi and Porsche as well as at U.S. tractor-maker John Deere which has a plant in the city of Mannheim.

There'll be more strikes as the week goes on. And unless management representatives return to the negotiating table fast, the union has warned the strikes will spread to other parts of the country too.

Union head Klaus Zwickel has ignored a call for moderation by the country's Social Democratic leader, Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who's facing election later this year. Mr. Schroeder said the strike will hamper the country's already slow economic recovery and give his conservative opponents an excuse to reverse all the pro-labor legislation he's brought in since he came to office in 1998.

But Mr. Zwickel has a different view of how the economy works. He's been going round the country arguing that more money in workers' pockets will produce a consumer-led economic recovery to pull Germany out of recession.

The Metalworkers voted for the strike in ballots over the past few days to express their frustration after talks with German industrial management broke down. The management refused to offer more than 3.3 percent pay raise.

Union officials are reported to negotiated down to four percent. But when the talks stopped, they went back up to 6.5 percent.

The workers are angry enough to be supporting the union's first strike call in seven years. And, as Mr. Zwickel told German newspaper Bild an Sonntag Sunday, the more painful the strike, the quicker he expects the employers to give ground.

A wage-settlement in prosperous Baden-Wuerttemberg is expected to set a pattern for other parts of the country.

Nonetheless, IG Metall does not want to cause job losses to its own or other unions' members. It says it could have shut down DaimlerChrysler's plants completely and could do the same to others. But by slowing them down instead with one-day strikes, it believes it can save jobs and avoid a chain reaction of layoffs elsewhere.

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