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Europe

German Press Review: Love Lost for Labor

Germany's major papers parse the decision by IG Metall, Germany’s biggest industrial union, to choose new leaders in August. The union is seeking to end a row that is threatening the future of the labor movement.

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Quarrelling IG Metall Chairman Klaus Zwickel (right) and Jürgen Peters have set an August date for their final political duel.

That decision brings a resolution closer by calendar, but not in personnel, wrote the editors of the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, who publish their paper from the heart of Mercedes Benz country. The paper argued that nobody is ready to play the alibi reformer under Jürgen Peters, the man at the center of the crisis, a development the paper concluded shows how deeply divided the union has become.

The times of confrontation in industry are gone, wrote the Badische Neueste Nachrichten of Karlsruhe, but not all union officials have gotten the message. The strike in eastern Germany highlighted the trend to ever more companies cutting their own deals with their workers and breaking free of the union leash.

Alongside the old shift laborers, the Leipziger Volkszeitung in eastern Germany identified a new kind of skilled industrial employee, working flexibly and project-oriented in teams, with interests going beyond their wages and working hours. More notice needs to be taken of the shopfloor people now, the paper's editors concluded, and the union won’t be spared a bruising debate over strategy.

The leadership is responding to a shopfloor rebellion, wrote the Westfälischer Anzeiger of Hamm, seeing the first hopeful signal that they can’t simply sit out a self-made crisis until late autumn. And it’ll need until the end of August to find candidates for the top positions, the paper wrote.

The Mannheimer Morgen's editors believe the two camps will have to find a compromise candidate who can start the reconciliation process. But finding those new leaders will be the biggest problem, the Schwarzwälder Bote of Oberndorf wrote.

And what’ll the IG Metall do if Peters wins the election, asked the Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein-Zeitung of Essen, predicting a congress of harsh personal reckoning after all the accusations that have been exchanged between board members.

Meanwhile, previewing Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s talks with U.S. officials in Washington, the editors of the Nordbayerischer Kurier said they believed it possible that the Americans might try to get the Germans to expand their military presence in Afghanistan because they don’t want to put any troops into Iraq. The Bayreuth paper wrote that Fischer would likely respond positively to the idea. Bitter pills are split into little bits so that voters can swallow them better, the paper suggested.

Nothing would be worse than to crow now about having been right about the Iraq war, the Stuttgarter Zeitung wrote, recalling Fischer's "I am not convinced!" remark to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in January. But who could hold it against him, the paper added, if he feels quietly gratified when he meets his old opponent in Washington again after a long time.

After the supposed end of the war in Iraq, commented the Aachener Nachrichten, Washington is being made to feel what the consequences are of gathering so-called willing nations any way it wants and to thumb its nose at the rest of the world and the vote of the United Nations. Doubts are growing in the U.S. about the bloody toll young Americans are having to pay almost daily in Iraq.