IG Metall defeat

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Jul 01 2003 - 22:14:35 EDT

Compared in today's WSJ to Thatcher's crushing of the miners. For an
American, Basso's book provided very helpful background and analysis
with which to understand the significance of this defeat.

Engineering union in crisis after working hours defeat
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin
Published: June 30 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: June 30 2003 5:00
The defeat of Germany's powerful IG Metall engineering union in the
month-old strike for shorter working hours in eastern Germany has
plunged it into its deepest crisis in decades.

The organisation, the largest engineering union in the world, last
lost a strike in 1954 and the defeat on Saturday has thrown into
doubt the future of Jürgen Peters as chairman-designate.

Mr Peters, the current vice-chairman, was a leading advocate of the
strike, which hit vehicle production across the country.

The action was highly unpopular with business, the government and the
public, as it was seen as dealing an additional blow to Germany's
weakest region during an economic downturn.

In rare public criticism from within the union, senior regional IG
Metall officials from northern and western Germany yesterday blamed
Mr Peters - who leads the union's militant wing - for badly
miscalculating the union's chances of winning the strike.

They said he was no longer the best candidate to replace Klaus
Zwickel, the current union chairman, when the latter retires in
October. Mr Peters was proposed as the next chairman by the union's
leadership in March after a closely fought battle with a
reform-minded candidate.

Mr Peters said he expected "critical discussions" in the IG Metall
leadership over the strike, but said there was no need to re-open
debate on the union's future leadership.

The criticism of Mr Peters followed the announcement on Saturday by
Mr Zwickel that the strike had been lost. Sixteen hours of talks with
engineering employers, starting on Friday afternoon, failed to yield
a breakthrough. Mr Zwickel said: "The bitter reality is that the
strike has failed."

During the talks, the employers rejected the union's demand for a
reduction of working time from 38 to 35 hours per week, while the
union turned down an employers' proposal to introduce flexible,
company- specific working time arrangements ranging from 35 to 40
hours per week.

Volkswagen and BMW announced that production at motor plants affected
by the strikes would resume early this week.

The 38 hour-week now remains in place in the eastern German
engineering industry.

However, in comments with broader significance for German labour
relations, Mr Zwickel admitted that the traditional industry-wide
engineering collective bargaining agreement in effect no longer
existed in eastern Germany, and that IG Metall would seek to reach
agreements on reduced working time with companies on a plant-specific

Union officials said talks were already under way with VW, eastern
Germany's biggest motor industry employer, with 7,000 staff.

The Gesamtmetall engineering employers' association criticised IG
Metall for pursuing plant-specific agreements, arguing that it was in
both the union's and the employers' interest that an industry-wide
agreement be preserved.

The IG Metall crisis comes during a difficult period for unions,
after their recent efforts to block the government's economic reform
proposals ended in failure.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who welcomed the end of the strike, is
likely to be privately relieved that the union's hardline strategy in
the strike failed.

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