Germany heads for summer of strikes

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The Independent Online

Germany is heading for a "summer of discontent", with 760,000 union members expected to vote today in favour of the first major public-sector strike in eight years.

Germany is heading for a "summer of discontent", with 760,000 union members expected to vote today in favour of the first major public-sector strike in eight years.

Members of the OeTV union and the rival DAG organisation appear determined to embroil the country in a dispute that would damage the government and further undermine the European single currency. Michael Wendl, head of OeTV in Bavaria, said yesterday: "We don't want a protracted strike, but we want to persuade employers quickly that they must yield."

The Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has made it clear that there is no more money available beyond the 1.8 per cent pay rise agreed after arbitration, and a further 2.2 per cent next year. The offer was already higher than the inflation rate, although union members had been holding out for a 5 per cent increase.

Any settlement would have to be extended to 3.1 million workers in the public sector, and it would be seen as a yardstick for other branches.

The financial markets are watching developments closely. Any weakness on the part of the Social Democrat-led government would be seized on as evidence of fiscal laxity, which in turn would batter the euro.

Rejecting union demands, Mr Schröder warned public-sector employees that the rises they were seeking would endanger the country's precarious economic recovery, at a moment when unemployment was at last beginning to decline. "No strike fits into that situation," he said. "That's my assessment and my request."

The result of the strike ballots, due tonight, will show whether his plea has been heard. The rules of OeTV state that 75 per cent of members taking part in the vote must back strike action. For DAG the threshold is 70 per cent.

Shop stewards are confident the ballots will back strikes. Their members are particularly angry at the government's refusal to set a timetable for equalising pay between east and west; public-sector workers in the east earn 86 per cent of western colleagues' pay and work four hours more a week.

The two unions' war chests are full. They last struck in unison in 1992, causing severe disruption. They gained nothing, but after eight years of inactivity they are ready to give it another go. They can easily pay their members, who span a range of occupations from teaching to refuse collection, to stay at home for two weeks.

Rather than calling a mass walkout if the ballot succeeds, the unions are likely to call lightning strikes in areas offering the best prospects for disruption.

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