With its power struggles and failed strikes barely behind it, Germany's metalworkers and engineering union threatens to spiral into crisis as a wrench is thrown into its upcoming election.
Peters and Huber's leadership partnership could be under threat
Just a week before leaders of the IG Metall trade union are due to meet to approve its new leadership team, the organization finds itself in yet another dilemma. The country’s largest industrial trade union has only recently steadied itself after a series of unsuccessful strikes over working hours and the subsequent bitter in-fighting that led to the resignation of union chief Klaus Zwickel. Now, Jürgen Peters, the incumbent leader of IG Metall, may face an unexpected challenge for the top seat which could once again throw the trade union into chaos.
Uwe Hück, the head of the works council for Porsche AG, has indicated he will enter a challenge for the leadership of IG Metall if he can find sufficient backing. “If I get enough support for the candidacy then I’ll step in,” Hück said before adding that he expects to make a formal decision by Wednesday.
Hück dreads Peters leadership
When pushed on his views of an IG Metall under the complete control of Peters and his supporters, Hück told the German newspaper Die Welt, “I dread the chaos.” Peters and his camp of followers want to install as many supporters as possible in places of power on the union’s executive board, something that has prompted the man from Porsche to consider action.
Hück’s announcement has taken the trade union by surprise. His intention to run as an opposition candidate to Peters had not been discussed with his regional union chief, Baden-Württemberg district manager Berthold Huber, according to spokesman Frank Stoh. Huber, the second half of the leadership duo pencilled into power after the collapse of Zwickel’s leadership and a man of considerable power in the industry, is reportedly less than happy at the way Hück has handled his tentative first steps into a leadership battle that was by all intents and purposes over.
Appointment to end feud
The meeting at the end of August was supposed to finally bring about the end of the internal struggles that threatened to rip the union apart and install a leadership team that would steady the IG Metall ship until 2007. The selection of Peters the hardliner and Huber the modernizer was seen as a compromise settlement after the damaging leadership crisis and the union’s worst postwar split, brought on by failed strikes to implement a 35-hour work week in eastern Germany in June.
Hück’s decision to even consider running at a point so close to the election threatens to create further problems for the union, which has suffered diminished political influence and waning membership in recent years.
Berthold Huber and Jürgen Peters.
Although the interim appointment of Huber and Peters (pictured) was welcomed at the time, an alternative leadership candidate may well appeal to many of the 2.6 million engineering and auto workers the union represents, particularly those in eastern Germany. Before the announcement in July, union members from automaker Opel handed over a petition with 4,000 signatures rejecting the leadership choice and calling for new faces at the top. Members have been leaving the organization in droves -- a result of soaring unemployment as well as concern the union has lost its way amid Germany’s major economic reform drive.
Out of economic step
The aborted strike action over the reduction of the working week to 35 hours from 38 prompted many to believe that IG Metall had attempted to block the modernization efforts of the center-left government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose Social Democrats have traditionally had strong ties to trade unions, and was becoming increasingly out of step with the economic needs of the country.