German Unions Increase Strike Pressure as Bargaining Starts
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Union leaders and government officials sat down to new talks Wednesday evening after a record-high 430,000 workers stayed off the job on the 10th day of public employees strikes.
Government negotiators at the Stuttgart talks were armed with an improved wage offer that would benefit lower-income workers the most. The bargainers were prepared to stay all night.
The strikes are crippling Germany at home and hurting business abroad. Mail and transportation are disrupted. Rats nibble at garbage on city streets.
″Frankfurt never was the cleanest city, and now I’m just sick and tired of the whole business,″ Peter Blisch said, looking at the heaps of trash near his downtown restaurant.
The public workers’ unions seek 9.5 percent wage increases. The last government offer when talks broke off two weeks ago was 4.7 percent. Germany’s current inflation rate is 4.8 percent. Salaries range, but an experienced worker could expect to get paid about $1,500 a month.
HDE, the main German retailers association, says many shopkeepers’ losses are ″20 percent to 50 percent depending on strike intensity.″
In Bonn, the chief of the Institute for Social Economics, Meinhard Miegel, was quoted by Cologne-Bonn Rundschau newspaper as saying the strike ″could cost 1 percent of the gross national product″ - which he put at $18.2 billion -if it goes into a third week.
Germany’s formerly booming economy was strapped in nearly every area even before the strikes began April 27.
Walter Kaiser, spokesman for the German Industry and Trade Congress in Bonn, put the cost of the walkouts thus far at more than $600 million.
Warning strikes by metalworkers this week have been worrisome.
The IG Metall union said Wednesday that 105,000 of its members stopped work for up to two hours to push demands for 9.5 percent pay increases. Employers have offered 3.3 percent and talks have stalled.
Frankfurt’s airport was returning to normal Wednesday after a one-day strike of 400 firefighters closed it down Tuesday.
Munich and Stuttgart airports also reopened, but most other large airports such as Tegel in west Berlin remained closed, transport union spokeswoman Kirstin Kamischka said.