East German workers strike to enforce pay deal: Employers blame the recession for breaking their promise of parity with the west by 1994, writes Steve Crawshaw in Bonn

BONN - Thousands of workers in the steel and engineering industries went on strike in eastern Germany yesterday - the first time they had been able to take legal industrial action for 60 years, writes Steve Crawshaw. The strike is in protest at the refusal of employers to honour a 26 per cent pay rise agreed in 1991. The employers say that, because of the recession, it is impossible to go ahead with the wage rises as planned.

Yesterday's strikes began near Berlin, at midnight, and on the early shift in several factories in Saxony. Speaking in Dresden, Saxony's capital, the leader of the powerful IG-Metall union, Franz Steinkuhler, said the strike stood solid, 'as one man'. Today, the strike is due to spread to the Baltic coast, to the region of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, including the port of Rostock. Next week, if no agreement has been reached, the strikes will spread to a third east German region, Thuringia.

German strikes do not, however, have quite the same confrontational tone still associated with industrial action in Britain. Before yesterday's strike began, union leaders talked ominously of action that 'could last for months'. But the strikes have been carefully targeted, and the union leaders are continuing intensive talks with the employers. Representatives from IG-Metall and the employers in Saxony agreed late last night to meet today to try to end the dispute.

Yesterday, around 30,000 workers were said to have joined the strike. The union described the mood as 'excellent'. Ulf Fink, deputy leader of Germany's equivalent of the TUC - himself a representative of the ruling Christian Democrats - emphasised the strikes had only started because of the employers' refusal to talk.

The wage rises should have taken effect last month, according to an agreement made in 1991, by which the wages in the east would gradually have been brought level with those in the west. The employers announced in February they were no longer able to honour the deal. At the moment, it seems the most likely outcome will be some form of compromise: employers and unions are looking for concessions, rather than victory. But Mr Steinkuhler warned yesterday that if no solution to the dispute was reached this week, there would be strike votes in western Germany, too, and the strikes would spread throughout eastern Germany.

Even if an agreement is reached, a new vote will be needed on ending the strikes; they are thus unlikely to finish before next week at the earliest.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions