Patience Might Not Pay Off | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 12.05.2002
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Patience Might Not Pay Off

In response to expanding nationwide strikes and more bad economic news, the Chancellor has asked his country to wait. But with national elections four months away, patience is one thing he can't afford to have.


Time to rethink his strategy?

To critics of his economic policies - and they have grown mightily in recent months - Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has employed the same response in recent weeks: he has told them to wait.

He points to the predictions of Germany's leading business insititute's and economists forecasting an upswing in the worlds third largest economy before national elections on Sept. 22. He readily relays the good news out of America, where the world's largest economy is being to come out of the doldrums.

To emphasize the point, his party, the left of center Social Democrats, have even used the good news in their new ad billboards, showing four arrows pointing upwards. The slogan: "Everything is looking up."

But the Chancellor seems to be running out of time. Each passing week brings more bad news for the German economy. When it's not the monthly unemployment numbers, it's the report that Germany's mighty exports have suffered at the hands of the depressed world economy.

Expanding strikes


Striking IG metall workers

This week, one of the country's largest unions plans to expand strikes that already have hit German giants like Siemens and Mercedes Benz hard. IG Metall, representing electrical and metal workers, announced last week that strikes begun in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany's most heavily-industrialized region, would be expanded to Berlin and Brandenburg this week.

Round 100,000 workers from 88 different companies went on strike last week, according to IG Metall. Car-makers Audi, Porsche and DaimlerChrysler were particularly hard hit by the strikes, scattered over different shifts on different days so as to have as little effect as possible on deliveries and customers.

An additional 120,000 workers are expected to go on strike in the heavily industrialized southern German state again this week. They will be joined by an estimated 10,000 workers in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Growing impatience

Striking unions are a special blow to Schröder, whose social democrats rely heavily on union support in elections. The country's major unions say they still stand behind Schröder in the upcoming elections. But their votes won't be enough to overcome angry German voters holding their chancellor responsible if the country's economic woes continue.

Criticism of IG Metall grew over the weekend, as politicians across the spectrum warned that further strikes could hinder an economic turaround.

"One can strike down the beginning of an upswing," Uwe Jens, the SPD's economics expert, told the Welt am Sonntag.

Schröder has been very hesitant to criticize IG Metall's position - at least publicly. During private meetings with union heads last weekend, Schröder said what he couldn't in public, according to Germany's respected newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

"Just so this is clear," he reportedly told the bosses. "I will win the election. And if I don't, it is your fault."

The strain is beginning to show on the Chancellor, who made the economy and high unemployment rate his priority upon coming into office in 1998. That was 44 months ago.

Now the election is four months away, and Schröder continues to ask for patience. He has to wonder how much longer his voters can wait.

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