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Europe

German Press Review: Unions Take a Blow

Editorialists at the country's leading newspapers devote their attention to Saturday's historic union defeat in eastern Germany and Gerhard Schröder's plan to cut taxes to spur economic growth.

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Workers in Germany's east won't be getting a 35-hour work week.

Commenting on the German governments plans to introduce a multi-billion euro tax relief package, Munich’s Münchener Merkur wrote that the unmistakable instinct of a power politician Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is forcing the opposition conservatives into a hopeless situation. Within a matter of weeks, he has taken over their complete election program and in a coup-like move has brought his party, the Social Democrats, onto the same course as Britain’s New Labour. Trimming the services of the social state, cutting taxes, virtually abolishing subsidies – the new battle chants of Schröder’s comrades are making the blood freeze in the veins of not only left-wing SPD members, but also of the conservative CDU leadership.

The editors of the Kieler Nachrichten wrote that the Berlin coalition has suddenly adopted the better arguments. Tax reductions whose benefit for the population would again immediately be neutralized by radical cuts would not have a positive impact on the economy. But, the paper continued, that’s really what it’s about at the moment, because an even bigger rise in new borrowing cannot be prevented. It concluded, however, that in the medium term there is no alternative to a systematic reduction of subsidies and social security benefits, and both the government and its opposition should agree on that.

After last weekend’s landmark defeat in a strike action in eastern Germany’s engineering sector by one of Germany’s most powerful trade unions, IG-Metall, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that the massive climbdown marks the end of collective wage agreements for an entire region, the usual practice hitherto in Germany. For the east has shown that resistance pays off -- resistance to senseless and economically disastrous demands for equal pay. It is no coincidence, the daily continued, that the union’s influence has been weakened in the middle of a fierce reform debate in Germany – also concluding that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had some part in it, as he has so far managed to keep the trade unions at a distance in the reform debate.

The editorialists at the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger opined that outgoing IG-Metall chief Klaus Zwickel cannot simply carry on with business as usual. They said he courageously announced the end of the four-week strike even before the various committees had had a chance to take a decision. By doing so he thwarted the absurd plans of his deputy, Jürgen Peters, to extend the strike. The Cologne daily openly pondered a question obviously on the minds of many at the union: IG-Metall must now ask itself if it is wise to go ahead with its plans to elect Peters as its new president in October.

Dresden’s Sächsische Zeitung wrote that hardliners on both sides should now have finally realized how employees and their bosses really make progress: by introducing appropriate rules on a firm by firm basis in a bid to make also Germany’s industry as flexible and fast as it is in neighboring countries. If this method succeeds and catches on nationally, the paper concluded, then this country can also prove that it is capable of reform. And then the historic defeat of the trade union bosses would be a success for firms, employees, the social security system and above all for the country's unemployed.