Thousands of workers in Germany's engineering sector staged a series of token strikes on Saturday, Nov. 1, to press demands for more pay.
Employers called the union's demands "absurd" in the current global economic situation
More than 6,000 workers took part in stoppages across the country, following the end of a legal restraint on strikes during the current round of wage bargaining.
The manufacturing plant of Volkswagen's premium car division Audi was idled for two hours in the southern city of Ingolstadt when 4,000 night shift workers walked off their jobs.
An Audi plant in nearby Neckarsulm was also affected as were truck-maker MAN, lamp manufacturer Osram, battery producer Varta and other companies.
The powerful IG Metall Union is demanding an 8-percent hike in pay. On Thursday, a representative block of employers in Stuttgart offered 2.1 percent, an increase the union called unacceptable. Employers have called the union's demand "absurd" in a time of worldwide financial crisis.
The negotiations affect 3.6 million blue collar and clerical staff, not all of them union members.
Extra problem for struggling carmakers
Several German automakers said they'd cut production
The strikes come at a time when carmakers such as Daimler, Opel and BMW have announced temporary closures of factories to save costs following a drop in orders triggered by the global credit crisis.
IG Metall regional leader Hartmut Meine accused employers of using delaying tactics and provoking the strikes by making an inadequate wage offer.
"The demand for 8 percent more pay is justified," Meine told a union rally outside the Varta factory in Hanover. "With more money in their pockets employees could increase consumer demand."
Rudolf Luz, another union official, said the offer made by the employers was well below the inflation rate, currently at 2.4 percent.
The union plans to step up warning strikes on Monday. In Bavaria, Germany's biggest state, more than 200 factories employing over 100,000 workers could be affected, IG Metall official Werner Neugebauer said.
IG Metall on Friday declared an end to talks with employers in several regions, saying they had been fruitless. Negotiations are still continuing with employers in the Stuttgart region where pilot deals are usually made.
If no agreement is reached by November 10 the union's executive will decide whether to ballot its members on an all-out strike.