Saturday, January 13, 2018

Germany gears up to more strikes

160,000 employees in the automotive, steel and electrical industries have engaged in token strikes called by the IG Metall union, which is currently negotiating a new wage contract for 3.9 million workers in Germany’s largest industrial sector. The actions include workers at Porsche, Daimler, Bosch and other auto, auto parts and electrical companies like Siemens and AEG.

The union says the job actions will be expanded in coming days, and IG Metall leader Jörg Hofman has threatened to call one-day strikes or hold a vote on an open-ended strike if the employers’ association does not make concessions by the end of January. 

 There is widespread anger over social inequality and the wave of job-cutting by Siemens and other profitable corporations. There is a growing determination among workers to fight for significant improvements in wages and working conditions.

There is an enormous chasm, however, between the maneuvering of the union apparatus and the aspirations of millions of industrial workers who are dissatisfied and angry. IG Metall is determined to prevent anything from disrupting its longstanding corporatist partnership with the companies.

Dividend payouts to shareholders increased in the metal and electrical industry by 11 percent per share in 2014, 9 percent in 2015 and 12 percent in 2016, while nominal wages rose by between 2 and 3 percent annually, resulting essentially in a real wage freeze. Of the €43.5 billion (US$52 billion) in pre-tax profit made by the industry in 2015, companies paid out €10.8 billion (US$12.9 billion), or 24.8 percent, to shareholders. In 2016, the figure rose to 28 percent.

Despite the much vaunted 35-hour workweek, almost 20 percent of all metalworkers already work longer hours. According to the union’s own opinion poll of the 680,000 workers in the sector, 57.3 percent of workers work overtime, almost half work Saturdays, one quarter work Sundays, and one third work split shifts. In addition, hundreds of thousands of temporary contract workers labour in the factories and portions of production have been outsourced to Eastern Europe, where wages range from one third to one tenth of what is paid in Germany.

IG Metall is demanding a six percent wage increase for one year. While the union has presented this as a substantial wage demand, it would not even come close to covering real needs. Moreover, IG Metall routinely reaches a deal well below the original demand and “stretches out” the pay raise by extending the contract beyond one year. In 2016, IG Metall demanded a five percent pay raise and settled for a two-step 4.8 percent hike spread out over 20 months.

IG Metall’s second demand, under the slogan “my life–my time,” is that every worker be allowed to reduce their work week from 35 hours to 28 hours for up to two years, with a corresponding reduction in pay. Only split shift workers, parents with children under the age of 14, or workers who care for relatives will receive modest wage compensation for the reduced hours they work.

Industry observers expect employers to reach a deal with IG Metall if the union agrees to abandon the 35-hour work week and accept more flexibility for longer working hours. “The employers will agree to the claim for part-time work as well as the right to return to full-time–so long as the overall labour volume is not reduced,” commented Tagesspiegel.
“Concretely, this means a further distancing from the 35-hour work week once so famously fought for. It has been the case thus far that up to 18 percent of metal workers can work longer than the contractual 35-hour work week. This quota could disappear and an agreement reached on a corridor from 28 hours to 40 hours.”
Taken from here

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