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. rb 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 basis. 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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