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German Strikes Resume - 2002-05-10

Germany's largest industrial union has resumed its campaign of one-day strikes after a public holiday Thursday, and again threatened to spread the campaign to other parts of the country.

The metalworkers' union, IG Metall, brought 3,500 workers out on strike at 11 selected businesses in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, after temporarily letting industrial peace reign the previous day.

Many companies were closed Thursday for the religious festival of Ascension, which in Germany also doubles as Fathers' Day. It is a festival many German men use as an excuse for a day out with a crate of beer and some male bonding, and there would be little enthusiasm for standing in picket lines.

But metal workers union General Secretary Klaus Zwickel has said the strikes will continue - and will spread to the eastern German states of Berlin and Brandenburg as early as Monday.

The union wants pay increases of 6.5 percent - almost double the employers' top offer so far of 3.3 percent. And the union's Baden-Wuerttemberg chief, Bertold Huber, made it clear Friday, that he is not ready for arbitration. He was quoted in the regional daily Stuttgarter Zeitung as saying the union is planning for at least another three weeks of strikes.

It is the union's first strike in seven years. It says workers have agreed to hold wages down in the past to the benefit of industry, but are now due a substantial increase in return.

IG Metall's over two million members earn an average of $1,800 a month, with a 35-hour week, six weeks of paid vacation and annual bonuses.

Companies say big pay increases could lead to lay-offs as companies struggle to cut costs. But IG Metall says putting money in workers' pockets will stimulate the economy. That, in turn, the union argues, will lead to growth and more jobs.

That is an argument used, too, by another giant union, Verdi, which is threatening retail traders with strikes in the northwestern state of North Rhine Westphalia and is also demanding hefty pay hikes.

But in the eastern states of Berlin and Brandenburg, unemployment is higher than in the West, and the economy is not as healthy. Many small and medium-sized firms say a pay raise of 6.5 percent will simply force them to close.