German steel union insists strikes must go ahead

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The Independent Online
FRANKFURT - Ruling out the possibility of a last-minute settlement, Germany's most powerful union, IG Metall, yesterday said the first wave of strikes in the eastern engineering and steel industries would begin on Monday, writes John Eisenhammer.

The decision came a day after the union received massive support in strike ballots for industrial action in eastern Germany against the employers' cancellation of a pay agreement.

'Employers speculated on the high unemployment in the east, on the assumption that people are so demoralised they dare not strike. But the workers are angry; they want their rights,' said Franz Steinkuhler, the IG Metall leader. The strikes will at first be limited to a small number of firms and concentrated in two eastern states in order to give employers a chance to resolve the dispute before it escalates, the union said.

'If there is no agreement within a fortnight, then we shall bring out on strike all the engineering and steel firms across eastern Germany,' Mr Steinkuhler warned.

IG Metall estimated the cost at DM280 (pounds 115) per striker per week. Mr Steinkuhler said the conflict was about more than pay - the principles of collective bargaining and the prospects for social unity in Germany were at stake.

The confrontation was provoked by the employers' tearing up of the 1991 agreement on rapidly bringing eastern wages up to western levels. Under the agreement, metal and engineering workers should have received a 26 per cent pay rise on 1 April, but employers said that would be suicide for most firms.