Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/284/20314
German Workers Fight New Attacks
LAST YEAR saw a tremendous ferment amongst German public sector workers. About 250,000 participated in warning strikes in December in support of their pay claim and 40,000 civil servants demonstrated in Berlin against threatened salary cuts.
Wolfram Klein, Stuttgart, Germany
These were the first wage negotiations in the public sector since the old public service union merged with other service unions to form "ver.di" (United Services).
The leadership was under massive pressure because of their past promises and the fact that there had been no wage increase since September 2000.
But with their demand of only "3% plus x" the leadership ignored the union membership's calls for a higher settlement and encouraged the Social Democrat-led public employers to demand a "zero round" - no wage increase without cuts in bonuses, 'flexibility' and job losses etc.
The enormous gap between the workers' mood and the bosses' offer forced the trade union leaders to have a short initial negotiation period accompanied by a massive wave of strikes. Workers in hospitals, offices, public transport and many others went on warning strike for a few hours, sometimes for a whole shift.
But on 19 December the union called for outside mediation. On the night of 6 January the mediators proposed a two-stage wage increase and the union leaders agreed. This clearly broke the leaders' promise to negotiate a wage increase comparable to the private sector in 2002.
But the public-sector bosses opposed even this and Social Democrat leaders continued to threaten the union with lockouts if any strike action took place. A new round of negotiations started, which ended in an agreement that was even below the mediators' 'compromise'
The new contract covers a period of 27 months. The employers get concessions in return for what is a low wage increase including workers giving up one day's paid holiday. Furthermore the union leaders agreed to discuss the future of the national wage agreement itself, possibly opening the way to regional or sectional deals.
The trade union leaders held the meeting to vote on the deal in a luxury hotel to protect them from the mood of the rank and file, 18% of the union's national negotiating committee did not support the deal. Many rank and file union members are disappointed, but opposition is growing.
The Stuttgart district of ver.di for example criticised the result publicly, promised to continue the struggle against job losses, privatisation etc and demanded a discussion among the membership.
They took up the initiative to organise a big anti-war demonstration too.
The task of left-wingers in the union now is to lead the fight against the coming attacks by the public employers and the government - which has just opened a discussion on repealing a measure they themselves introduced four years ago which would mean watering down workers' protection against sackings - and to work for a transformation of the union into a fighting organisation.
In The Socialist 24 January 2003: