Germany; public sector 'warning' strikes begin today

Thousands of workers have participated in short nationwide strikes called by services union ver.di; described as 'token' or 'warning' strikes, they are in response to a deadlock in pay negotiations.

Submitted by Red Marriott on February 14, 2008

With inflation at close to 3%, ver.di is demanding an 8-percent hike or a minimum increase of 200 euros ($290) per month over the next 12 months. Employers have offered a five percent raise, with the increase to be implemented in three stages, and are insisting that a new contract run for two years. They also want to increase the working week from 38.5 to 40 hours.

Town halls, hospitals, child daycare centres, refuse collection services, police and state savings banks are among the institutions to be affected by the strikes, which are set to continue in different sectors in the lead up to the next round of negotiations on Feb 25th.

Elsewhere; in western Germany thousands of steelworkers are striking for a similar 8% increase.

Unions claim to be ready to massively increase the strikes if concessions are not made, but this is likely only typical union posturing and hot air before a compromise (though the pressure of workers' discontent may force strike escalation on union bosses). Ver.di leader Bsirske, who seven years ago organised the fusion of the 3 million-strong service trade union by uniting five smaller service unions, has always been interested in close partnership and cooperation with public service employers.

Bsirske knows well the arguments and tactics used by employers when attempting to cut jobs and services. Three years before the founding of ver.di, Bsirske had taken over as personnel department head in the city of Hanover - using his union connections in Lower Saxony and his influence in the Green Party, of which he is a member. In this function, he axed nearly 1,000 of the 16,000 jobs in the city administration. A couple of years ago Bsirske stated that his trade union had “never ruled out changes in the public services” and “had supported many compromises in the past.”