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New period of workers' militancy in Germany
A WAVE of industrial unrest has swept across Germany in recent weeks - affecting hospitals, local councils, airports, childcare facilities and public transport. In Berlin a transport strike has paralysed bus, tram and underground services in the capital since. Steel workers have recently won a 5.2% pay rise, their biggest in 16 years.
Wage negotiations between service sector trade union Verdi and the government collapsed last Friday with public sector employees threatening to stage new strikes.
Verdi is demanding pay rises of up to 8%, backdated to 1 January. Employers have offered a staggered 4% increase over two years and demanded a lengthening of the working week to 40 hours. In Berlin, transport workers are demanding a 12% rise.
The GDL rail union had threatened a nationwide strike starting from the early hours of 10 March, which would have affected about half of regional passenger services in western Germany and about 90% in the eastern part of the country. A 62-hour GDL rail strike last November, Germany's biggest ever, cost the economy 75 million euros (£57 million) a day. However, a deal has now been reached.
The Deutsche Bahn rail operator and the GDL had reached a wage deal in January which would give an 11% pay rise for all train drivers. But the rail operator had refused to sign the deal until all three rail trade unions harmonised their position on collective wage bargaining.
However, last Sunday's deal will protect GDL's autonomy, which is one of the union's core demands.
Fuelling these wage struggles is the sense of injustice workers feel, having suffered job losses, pay restraint and welfare cuts despite the bosses reaping big profits during the recent economic upswing. There is also widespread anger following the revelations that the country's wealthy, including the former head of the country's postal services Deutsche Post, had illegally transferred millions to secret bank accounts in the tax haven of Liechtenstein.
THE STRIKES show how demands, like those for a minimum wage, a lower age of retirement, an end to privatisations (which have majority support in every opinion poll), can be achieved: through the collective action of the workers.
The strikes have also coincided with a growing political instability in the ruling SPD-CDU coalition.
Germany has seen three federal state elections in the western part of the country this year and in each of them the reformist Left Party entered parliament for the first time. The electoral success of the Left Party is partially reflecting the aspirations of the working class for a greater share of the wealth in society.
If the Left Party adopted a socialist programme and energetically intervened in struggles and movements it could become a new mass party of the working class. Unfortunately the opportunist politics of the leadership makes this unlikely.
However, Germany has entered a new stage of class struggle and class polarisation before the looming economic crisis has developed. This means that bitter battles on a mass scale can develop with more and more workers drawing anti-capitalist conclusions.