German construction workers voted by an overwhelming majority in favor of strike action, their first in post-war history, adding to Chancellor Schröder’s woes in the run-up to the elections.
German construction workers put down their hammers and saws on Monday
The IG Bau union, which represents 340,000 of the 950,000 construction workers in the troubled sector, said workers voted by an overwhelming 98.63% majority to strike. The union said several thousand workers at building sites in Berlin and Hamburg would walk off the job and the strikes would gradually be expanded nationwide.
"The workers are highly motivated for the fight," said IG Bau leader Klaus Wiesehügel. "We're prepared for a long battle and will raise the intensity of the industrial action week by week."
The union is seeking a 4.5% pay rise for its members, whose last pay agreement came up for review at the end of March.
Employers offered a 3% rise starting in September and a one-off payment of 100 euro in August, effectively a 1.7% rise. The employers said it was irresponsible to strike at a time when demand was so acutely low, and they said jobs would be destroyed. "The union is going to risk the loss of further jobs unnecessarily," said Thomas Bauer, one of the wage negotiators on the employers’ side. Other employers' leaders said they planned to take a hard line against the strikers.
Germany’s construction industry is going through its worst ever crisis. It has shed 500,000 jobs since the construction boom in the mid-1990s. Bauer said turnover in the sector fell 10.6% in the first quarter of 2002.
Meanwhile, the threat of strikes in Germany's banking sector also loomed larger after services union Verdi said Friday it would ballot its members on industrial action at the start of next week. Wage talks for around 460,000 banking workers broke down on Thursday. A Verdi spokesman said strikes in the banking sector could begin as early as Wednesday.