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Business

German Workers Launch Strike

Germany’s metal and electrical workers went on strike for the first time in seven years. Porsche and Audi were just a few of the firms hit hard by striking workers.

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Strike day at Porsche means 145 customers won't get their new wheels as quickly

DaimlerChrysler, Audi, BMW and Porsche were just a few of 20 firms whose work ground to a halt Monday morning when more than 50,000 electronics and metal workers went on strike.

The workers told their union, IG Metall, that they were willing to strike in an overwhelming vote last week. Monday marked the first mass strike in the electronics and metal industry in seven years.

Union leaders called the start a "success" and announced that 20,000 more members in other states were expected to lay aside their work on Tuesday. There was no sign either union or industry were willing to compromise.

The strikes began in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany's most heavily-industrialized region where 90 percent of all workers endorsed the union’s plans for a hard-hitting strike. In the smaller region of Berlin-Brandenburg, more than 85 percent of workers said they were prepared to march for better pay.

IG Metall Urabstimmung

IG Metall workers vote in Berlin on April 30.

According to Germany’s labor law, unions need to have a 75 percent approval rating from employees in order to carry through with an industry-wide strike.

Hard-hitting action

Klaus Zwickel, chairman of IG Metall, announced last week that once the strike starts, it would continue until employers agreed to a wage increase above the chemical sector pay deal of up to 3.6 percent. He also urged metal employers to accept a compromise at an early stage of the strikes.

Klaus Zwickel IG Metall Vorsitzender

Klaus Zwickel, chairman of IG Metall

"One thing is certain. As the strike continues it won’t get easier and it won’t get cheaper to find a deal", Zwickel said last week.

As a result of Monday's strikes, Porsche was unable to produce 145 cars, Audi, 1000, and DaimlerChrysler 2,500.

The union said it will target only certain shifts and stagger the strikes so as to have as little an effect as possible on deliveries and customers.

Historical action

The last time the metal workers organized a strike in Germany was in 1995 in Bavaria. It’s still something people remember well. The metal workers’ union is Germany’s largest and, together with the chemical union, it represents a vocal sector of the German labor market. In an election year, the outcome will be watched very closely.

Maikundgebung in Leipzig, Gewerkschaft, Arbeitslosigkeit

May Day demonstration in Leipzig

So far the Social Democrat Party of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a traditionally labor-friendly party, has chosen its words carefully. At a Leipzig May Day demonstration (photo) organized by the German trade unions, Schröder avoided direct mention of the upcoming strikes.

In a rather cryptic statement, the Chancellor encouraged the unions to follow a political course between "fairness" on one side and "modernization" on the other: "The glass is not full and we haven’t run the whole distance yet, but we’ve completed half of it and everything takes its time.... Therefore, I expect support from the unions for a course of fairness and modernization."

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