The warning strikes began this week as a way of putting what the union officially describes as 'mild pressure' on the employers. The IG-Metall union - representing metal and engineering workers - is angry at the suggestion that existing holiday bonuses should be scrapped, and that there should be no wage increase. The employers insist that the squeeze is necessary to prevent further loss of jobs and to allow German industry to hold its own in the face of international competition.
The holiday money amounts to about one extra month's salary. The proposed cut is therefore a thirteenth, or 8 per cent, of an annual salary.
Yesterday's strikes marked the end of the official 'peace period' between the two sides since the previous wage agreement expired at the end of last year. The strikes - most of which last for a couple of hours at a time - are intended to force the employers back to the table. Precedent suggests that the strikes may raise the temperature enough for talks on a compromise to be resumed, but not so far as to cause a national explosion.
Almost 700 enterprises across Germany were involved in yesterday's strikes, especially in Germany's industrial heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia, where more than 90,000 stopped work. IG-Metall's strategy is to organise strikes in different areas to emphasise the across-the-board readiness for industrial action.