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Germany's first open-ended public sector strike in 14 years

by Agnes a Paris Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 09:43:35 AM EST

back from the front page, with small edits. --Jérôme

Seen from France, when public sector employees strike first, and are ready to negotiate only once they have demonstrated their nuisance power, Germany has long been a model of social consensus.


In France, the right to go on strike was never openly questioned. Yet the idea of a minimum service obligation in the public transportation sector so that thousands of people do not struggle hours to get to their workplace, has always been considered by trade unions as an insult to the fundamental right of workers to strike.

There are times when strikes are so regular that the general public is at a loss to know why the strike was being staged altogether, not to mention feeling supportive of the rights defended by the strikers.

In France, strikes seem to have lost their power to attract attention and win public sympathy. They have become a trade union weapon within the range of dissuasive tools they rely on when it comes to negotiating with their "adversaries" on public administration side. The general public's reaction is seldom supportive, they express either anger or resignation.

The more often a dissuasive tool is relied upon, the less convincing it gets.

In Germany, things are different. The article I quote was published yesterday. The German strikes are on the front-page today. In my opinion, the effect of this action goes beyond the German borders. Because it is such a rare event that Germany experiences a trade union action. Because the unprecedented scale of this event  reminds us that a pan-European issue remains unaddressed.

There is no need to provide another evidence that there is a pan-European problem of ageing population, and today's workforce contributions merely provide for the payment of retirement allowances. France, Germany and the UK have in common trying to have people work longer hours, among other tentative remedies.
This stance would need to be nuanced : fine with those who wish to work beyond the 65y threshold, fine with those who wish to work longer hours. But solutions imposed on a global scale are piecemeal remedies.

The way we deal with problems is to be flexible if we are to tackle the challenges the future keeps in store for us. And these are not easy ones.

The Financial Times

Germany's economy could soon be choking under piles of uncollected rubbish and mountains of snow as the country's first open-ended public sector strike in 14 years gets underway.

The staggered walk-outs began on Monday in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, where 10,000 public-sector employees stayed home, and will spread throughout the country next week as Verdi, the service sector union, pushes for lower working time.

(...)

This is not a conflict over whether public sector employees should work an additional 18 minutes a day," Ralf Berchtold, Verdi spokesman for Baden-Württemberg, told the FT. "It is about the 60,000 jobs that will go down here should municipalities get away with the 40-hour week."

Separately, the IG Metall engineering union will start negotiations this week over its demand for a 5 per cent wage increase for the country's 3.4m industry workers. It has warned it would call for strikes if it did not obtain satisfaction.

For the rest of the article, see here: German public-sector workers strike over hours

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It happened so that last year wherever I went there were strikes there.
I spent two months in Greece and I witnessed at least five strikes for different reasons. No one was surprised, impressed by or angry about that. Apparently, for Greeks strikes are a normal reaction to governmental policies. According to my observations, the society is pretty tolerant (sometimes indifferent) to this form of protest although it is used too often (in my opinion).
Then, I went to Bulgaria and at that time the teachers were making an attempt to go on a general strike against the 2006 budget for education. The teachers were presented in the media as money-hungry and selfish people, who were trying to take away from the healthcare, from the pensions of the senior citizens and from all the other social spheres. The overall reaction of the society was very negative. By the way, strikes in Bulgaria are traditionally quite unsuccessful and poorly organized. In my opinion, this is to a certain degree due to the perception in the Bulgarian society that if one is trying to achieve something for oneself, he or she is definitely taking away from the others.
After that, I was "lucky" enough to be in New York during the transit strike. It was definitely not a pleasant experience to walk miles in the freezing cold. And while I didn't have to go to work, the majority of people did. Yet, they were very supportive of the transportation workers even though the city officials were presenting the citizens as victims. I got the impression that New Yorkers, unlike Bulgarians, thought that if the transportation workers achieved something, it would be the basis for improvements for the rest, too. Well, of course, I don't know what the reaction would have been had strikes been a more frequent event in New York (the previous NYC transit strike was in 1981).
Although my comment doesn't have much to do with the German strike in particular, my point here is that in some countries there is a culture for strikes, while in others there is not.
by ccarc on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:52:01 AM EST
I don't think it's a "national trait", much more like a logical cycle of events.

Workers manage to get some respect through strikes -> things go ok for a while -> someone abuses the right (it always happens) -> rulers fight back -> workers lose right(s), stop organising -> life sucks for a while -> workers get their lesson and start again.

I believe the US situation is now so bad labour-wise, that the working class are slowly learning again that striking is not so bad, and trade unionists are not all power-hungry mafia-type jokes. Same for the UK. It's completely the opposite in ex-soviet countries where certain rethoric has been abused in the past. France and Germany have a more complex situation, with trade unions still technically powerful but in need of internal changes to accomodate new industries. Italy, as usual, is the bottom of the barrel, with a reduced union movement abusing their rights to defend archaic practices and failed companies (see the recent Alitalia case)... to be fair, there are exceptions here and there, desperately trying to fix their problems.

by toyg (g.lacava@gmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 11:00:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'Going on strike' is something that marked the transitional period of the ex-Yu countries. I am not sure if that's national phenomenon or just one of the alternatives to voice your demands, but it has been ever-present since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.  And, usually the strikes are not very successful for the strikers themselves, but rather for the political parties who rally around them to get popularity. Macedonian case is whenever there is a strike there is some political party that is eager to profit out of it, especially when the strikes are organized in pre-election period.
 I become more willing to believe that 'going on strike' is more national trait than just logical cycle of events. Countries like Germany, Sweden and in general all the Scandinavian countries don't have a history of strikes. Why.. probably because the government and the citizens know how to reach social consensus, unlike the newly born democracies aka. ex-socialist countries which still haven't learn the 'social consensus' lesson.  
France is different story, exception of all  above mentioned.  As Agnesa says, the strikes are so regular that people forget why they were staged in the first place. The French trade unions are well organized and powerful and the strikes are their main weapons of getting what they want. I guess the French will never end their French Revolution. The strikes seem to be the French revolution's offsprings..;)
by pavlovska (transbluency(at)mailcity.com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 08:28:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany does have a history of strikes, though German strikes usually end much faster with an agreement reached and are less violent or extensive than in France. (I remember when once we had school out pecause our teachers went on strike - for half a day, for the time of a protest rally.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 05:24:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Probably we have different criteria of what "history of strike" means. In Macedonia usually the school year starts one month after the scheduled beginning,  because the teachers regularly begin the school year with "one month of strike". This was particularly the case during the last 4-5 years.
by pavlovska (transbluency(at)mailcity.com) on Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 02:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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