Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany Stares Down Maw of Union Protests against Budget Cuts Kohl Tries to Get Ready for Euro-Currency

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany Stares Down Maw of Union Protests against Budget Cuts Kohl Tries to Get Ready for Euro-Currency

Article excerpt

Mail is going unsorted, garbage is sitting uncollected, and rush-hour buses are failing to rush anywhere. These latest German "warning" strikes may not compare to the dramatic public-transport strikes that ground France to a halt last December, but for consensus-minded Germans they are bad enough.

Such brief disturbances of the social peace are only one sign of the difficulties facing Chancellor Helmut Kohl's economic program. The plan is intended to cut government spending by more than $16 billion to get Germany financially ready for the launch of the common European currency in 1999.

Another wave of warning strikes is expected this week. After three fruitless rounds of talks, the public-sector union OTV and negotiators from the Interior Ministry are scheduled to try for a collective bargaining agreement again in Stuttgart Wednesday.

The union is insisting on a 4.5 percent wage hike. And the Interior Ministry, the public workers' negotiating partner, has simply kept presenting its list of demands for concessions, such as longer hours for the workers and cutbacks in holiday bonuses and sick pay. "Not a negotiable offer," the union counters.

But the chancellor's austerity program, intended to budget-cut a way into economic growth and fuller employment, is implicitly premised upon two years of wage freezes for public-sector employees. Interior Minister Manfred Kanther has a responsibility to drive a hard bargain, analysts say, not only because the 3.2 million public workers are large part of the federal and local budgets, but also to set a good example for private-sector unions.

'Plot against Germany's unemployed'

OTV may well be satisfied in the end with a face-saving increase of 1.5 percent or so, which, given low inflation, would hold workers' purchasing power just about steady. But for now both sides are hanging tough.

Meanwhile, private-sector unions are mobilizing against the austerity program, threatening a "hot summer" of protests. Klaus Zwickel, head of the metalworkers' union IG Metall, squelched talk of a general strike: His union would not "strike against a democratic parliament and a freely elected parliament. …

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