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German Workers Continue Strikes

February 2, 1999

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Germany’s chancellor appealed Tuesday to employers and the country’s biggest union to compromise on wage talks, while tens of thousands of workers held a third day of warning strikes.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged both sides to hammer out a ``sensible accord that respects the wider economic conditions.″

``You will understand that I would like to see strikes averted,″ he said in an interview Tuesday with ZDF television.

Workers of the powerful IG Metall union are staging strikes to back their demand for a 6.5 percent wage increase, rejecting employers’ offer of 2 percent plus 0.5 percent from firms that can afford it.

In the Opel auto works in central Hesse state alone, 8,000 workers laid down tools for several hours, while 2,000 workers ended shifts early in DaimlerChrysler’s main plant in Stuttgart, a union spokeswoman said.

About 30,000 workers protested throughout the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said the union, which represents 3.4 million workers in the metal and electrical industry.

IG Metall has said it will call a full strike vote among its members if there’s no contract by Feb. 11. The union’s boss, Klaus Zwickel, told the mass-market Bild newspaper that the union has accepted contracts with only modest wage increases in recent years, but instead of unemployment sinking, company profits and stock prices have soared.

``Our colleagues aren’t dumb,″ he was quoted as saying. ``They see through this game.″

A glimmer of compromise emerged late Tuesday. The head of the employers’ federation, Gesamtmetall, said the 2.5 percent offer wasn’t necessarily final and that employers would make a fresh offer Wednesday. Werner Stumpfe called on IG Metall to take ``a very, very big step″ toward compromise.

Yet a third round of talks for the states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland were called off Tuesday after just one hour.

IG Metall negotiator Klaus Mehrens said employers’ failure to make a fresh offer was ``ridiculing the workers.″ Further talks are set for Feb. 9.

Employers’ representatives warn a strike would threaten the chancellor’s initiative for government, employers and unions to cut Germany’s 10.9 percent unemployment figure. They say a 6.5 percent wage hike would kill jobs at a time of slowing economic growth.

Bavaria state employers’ negotiator Rainer Hildmann said the industry has created 70,000 jobs in the past year alone. He called on the union not to push through a contract ``that only brings growth for those who have jobs, but leaves the unemployed outside.″

The strikes are being closely watched because IG Metall’s contract traditionally sets standards for wages in other industries.

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