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Volkswagen: Workers Stage Warning Strikes
...But union leaders dampen down fightback against bosses' attacks
HOT ON the heels of General Motors-Opel and Daimler-Chrysler, bosses at car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) in Germany are demanding that their workforce accept a 30% cost-cutting programme to restore the company's profits.
This provoked a walkout by VW workers.
NICO WEIMANN of Socialist Alternative (SAV - the Socialist Party's counterpart in Germany) reports from the picket line in Kassel.
ON 1 November, in the run up to the sixth round of wage negotiations at VW, warning strikes took place in Braunschweig and Kassel-Baunatal. According to the IG-Metall (IGM-trade union) spokesman Jorg Kother, 2,000 workers followed the call for strike action.
In Kassel, the night shift gathered at 5.30 am in front of the main gate and formed picket lines. The arriving morning shift gathered in front of the respective gates, formed a contingent and marched to the main gate where a central rally took place.
"What are we meant to do?"
IN DISCUSSIONS, workers repeatedly emphasised their worries and concerns about the future as well as their anger at the company's threatening attacks. One shop steward said: "The proposed 30% cuts in personnel costs will be carried out on the backs of the employees. I have to pay for the studies of my two daughters. The previous wage rounds have always meant concessions on the part of the workers. Now the bosses are coming back for more, this is unacceptable."
At the same time, however, some workers kept on saying: "If I had known that this rally was going to be such a comedy event, I would have stayed in bed."
This reaction is understandable given the character of the IG Metall's call for the warning strike. This is how one of their leaflets explains the warning strike: "The company has to feel that we are serious. We need a reasonable solution at the negotiation table."
No explanation was given as to what that so-called "solution" should look like. While the workers were still carrying IGM banners demanding a 4% wage increase, the demand was missing in the IGM publications. The speakers kept quiet about it, too. So the workers remained uncertain about what they will face after the negotiations and why they were carrying out the warning strike at all.
Trade union leaders
THE INITIAL demand for a 4% wage increase had very soon been described as "unrealistic" by the IGM representative Hartmut Meine, who is leading the negotiations on behalf of the trade union. A fightback was dropped before it had even started. Instead, drastic concessions have been made. First, 4% went down to 2%, and then to 1%.
Additionally, the trade union leaders struck an agreement to allow a 10% cut in wages for new employees. At the warning strike on 28 October, the IGM representatives lowered the expectations even further. As the chair of the works council, Klaus Volkert, said: "We are not expecting a wage agreement that will pour material benefits from the horn of plenty down on us."
It is obvious that VW employers are also adopting a hard-line approach. Unlike in the past, they don't even want to agree to a rotten compromise with the unions. Up until now, they could get away with this audacity because the IGM tops are refusing to use the workers' power to put pressure on the bosses.
There is an important lesson to be learnt from the strike of the Opel workers in Bochum: Strike action is the only way to counter-pose the offensive of the bosses.
In The Socialist 6 November 2004:
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