Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Metalworkers' Strike May Brake German Recovery

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Metalworkers' Strike May Brake German Recovery

Article excerpt

FACED with a looming strike by Germany's biggest trade union, government leaders are urging restraint, saying a prolonged labor dispute could have serious consequences for the German economy.

The 2.6-million-member IG Metall union began a strike ballot in the southern region of Bavaria on Feb. 20. The balloting was to continue until Feb. 22. If 75 percent of the 165,000 workers polled approve a work stoppage, the union could strike at selected factories as early as Feb. 24. Bavaria is home to such major employers as Daimler-Benz, Bosch, Audi, and the BMW automaker.

The electrical and metalworkers' union covers Germany's largest export-related industrial sector. That has prompted Finance Minister Theo Waigel to warn that a strike would be "poison" for the German economy. Last year Germany emerged from its most serious post-World War II recession to post 2.8 percent growth.

Germany is widely seen as the economic engine of Europe. Its economic recovery is projected to strengthen in 1995 with 3 percent growth. But the last major IG Metall strike in 1984 knocked an estimated half a percent off yearly growth. Cheaper labor elsewhere

Chancellor Helmut Kohl says it is critical for German competitiveness that IG Metall and the employers' association, known as Gesamtmetall, reach agreement. Bonn is facing increasing pressure from the formerly communist nations of Central Europe, where labor costs are a fraction of those in Germany. The only way Germany can stay ahead of the competition, Mr. Kohl says, is for labor and management to maintain harmonious relations.

But so far, both sides have refused to budge in negotiations. The union, citing the recovery, is demanding a 6 percent pay raise. The employers refuse to make a counter offer, saying the union must first be willing to discuss cost-cutting measures, including the reversal of a previous commitment to introduce a 35-hour workweek starting Oct. 1.

The union has reacted testily to additional cost-cutting attempts. …

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