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Europe

German Press Review: IG Metall Strikes Will Hurt the East

Trade union IG Metall has been fighting to cut working hours in eastern Germany from 38 to 35 hours a week. Tuesday’s German papers expressed strong criticism of strike, warning that the strikes may do considerable harm.

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IG Metall strikes in eastern Germany have begun to affect production at western plants.

The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel compared the strikes of the in the eastern German federal states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Thüringen to the struggle of the unions in Britain against former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – before they were decisively defeated. The paper warned that IG Metall has put itself into a situation that could involve losing more than just a workers’ dispute.

The conservative daily Die Welt said the strikes were organized by a small group of bullies, who had essentially taken tens of thousands of workers from eastern Germany hostage and at the same time had paralyzed major corporations in western Germany for several days. Die Welt said it does not believe that the strikes are really about introducing the 35-hour work week in times of economic difficulty. Rather, they have more to do with the question of power in Germany. And according to the paper, designated IG-Metall President Jürgen Peters and his associates have clearly overestimated their power. The paper urged companies to hold their ground and not return to the negotiating table, saying the trade union has to realize that the days for such useless and arrogant measures are over.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung took a less dramatic view of the situation, pointing out that though the resulting production stop in a number of western German plants was enough to make the headlines, the actual significance of this should not be overestimated. After all, commented the paper, gaps in production can be made up and a few VW cars less at the dealership may not even be such a bad thing given the current drop in the company’s sales figures. According to the Süddeutsche, the striking IG-Metal workers in eastern Germany are in reality striking for the abolition of their own jobs. Production rates in the eastern part of the country are still up to 25% lower than in the west, and the longer working hours compensated somewhat for this by making work schedules more flexible. This compensation, argued the Süddeutsche, is the only thing that will attract investors, create more jobs, and allow the possibility for better wages.

Finally, the Stuttgarter Zeitung also warned that the IG Metal strikes are likely to worsen the economic problems in eastern Germany. According to the paper, large, western German corporations such as BMW and Siemens have already announced plans to re-evaluate their eastern investments in light of the ongoing workers’ dispute, and one American car manufacturer has postponed the construction of a new plant in Saxony. The paper said these developments are disastrous for eastern Germany, and predicted that growth will be weakened, unemployment will grow and increasing numbers of eastern Germans will be forced to move elsewhere.