Since the beginning of last week, the occupying armies of Britain, the United States and France have been embroiled in a rapidly escalating dispute with their German staff. A wave of strikes starting at US bases in Bavaria has spread north, hitting several British bases in quick succession. The British military police and the German civilian police are conducting a joint investigation of an incident on Thursday, when a vehicle collided with one of three pickets, causing bruising or hospitalisation, depending on which side you believe.
The dispute stems from the changing role of Allied troops, 52 years after VE Day. The victors think it is time to leave, but the Germans do not want the Americans, British or French to go. The 35,000 local staff employed on the bases, 7,000 of them by the British, accept that seven years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the free world does not need to station so many soldiers on German soil. They are perfectly willing to make a deal, in exchange for plenty of cash.
The local staff, represented by two of Germany's most powerful trade unions, are threatening to cripple the bases unless the Allies improve their "derisory" offer on redundancy payments. Those falling victim to "rationalisation" are being offered a third of a month's pay for every year of service, up to 12 months' salary. But there are many ifs and buts, and reams of small print, disqualifying a large proportion of workers from the top rate.
The unions are digging in. On British bases strikes have affected only some furniture workshops and non-essential services, but elsewhere industrial action is biting deep: the Americans have already had to fly in relief plumbers from the US.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Allies have pulled half their forces out of Germany. Britain, which used to station 50,000 troops in Germany, now has 26,000. For thousands of German engineers, drivers and cooks, the peace dividend will come in the form of dole cheques.