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Germany

Schröder Seeks Unions' Support

Ten days ahead of Germany's general elections, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made a show of unity with a major trade union boss, brushing aside the repeated clashes that have marked his seven years in power.

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United they stand: Schröder with unions leader Michael Sommer

Speaking after talks with the leader of the German Federation of Trade Unions, Michael Sommer, Schröder told reporters there was a "broad consensus" between his Social Democrats (SPD) and labor representatives.

Sommer said the SPD, which is trailing Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats by about 10 points in the polls, had recently shown a "clear turnabout" when it came to workers' issues.

Stahlarbeiter

How will Germany's workforce vote?

But, as expected, Sommer stopped short of endorsing the SPD for the election. Schröder said he and Sommer were united in their opposition to Merkel's proposal to cut tax exemptions on bonuses for working nights and weekends and benefits for commuters.

Workers know what's good for them

"Workers know where they are hard-pressed and who is doing what," Sommer said of the competing election platforms. German unions have been infuriated by Schröder's failure to bring down the jobless rate, now hovering above 11 percent, and by cuts to the social welfare state and unemployment benefits.

Franz Müntefering Wahlprogramm der SPD

SPD leader, Franz Muentefering

But SPD leaders have stepped up leftist rhetoric during the election campaign, and back in May, party chairman Franz Muentefering referred to international investors as a "swarm of locusts" besetting the country.

Merkel and the unions

Merkel met with Sommer and other union leaders on Tuesday but crossed swords over social policy. She said that while the unions and the Christian Democrats were "broadly in agreement" over the need to create places on training schemes, they could not find common ground on the issue of flexibility in salary agreements.

Verdi- Streik

German unions are not without power

The head of the new Ver.di multi-industry service workers' union, Frank Bsirske, said the two sides were still "very far apart". Sommer, appearing to acknowledge the likely election outcome, said the unions were prepared to discuss issues with the conservatives but had clearly indicated to Merkel where their "pain threshold" lay.

Merkel has vowed to water down the unions' power to set industry-wide wages as part of her plans to speed up labor market reforms.

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