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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
German strikes spread to Berlin
IG Metall worker on strike
The strike is entering its second week
Germany's largest trade union has extended its week-long strike to Berlin and the eastern state of Brandenburg.

More than 100,000 workers from 85 firms were on Monday taking part in the pay dispute that started off in the industrial heartland of south west Germany.

But a glimmer of hope was kindled on Monday evening, as negotiators from the giant IG Metall union and the engineering employers emerged from a meeting to say talks would resume on Wednesday.

Devil in the detail

The talks will involve only the south-western region of Baden-Wurttemberg, where the strike was started.

"The goal ... is to come to an acceptable deal and end strikes," said regional employers' negotiator Otmar Zwiebelhofer in a statement.

"It is understood that neither side will enter the talks with preconditions."

Earlier, Martin Kannegiesser, head of the engineering employers' federation, displayed cautious optimism.

"The devil would be at work if we couldn't find a model that is just about acceptable to both sides," he said.

Even so, the employers are still insisting that they cannot increase their pay offer of 3.3%.

And the union continues to back its contention that it will not accept a deal below 4%.

In the meantime, the federal elections due in September make the dispute a sticky one for Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

He risks seeing his modest record of economic reform - including a promise to reduce unemployment to 3.5 million has been quietly shelved as the jobless total has continued to rise - overshadowed by an old-style industrial dispute.

HAVE YOUR SAY

It is Germany's biggest strike action in seven years, and the first major strike in Berlin since World War II.

Redundancy warning

The IG Metall union, which represents 2.8 million engineering and electrical workers, is demanding a minimum pay rise of 4%.

But employers warn of heavy job losses, especially in the economically depressed east of the country.

Leading German economists have urged employers not to give in, saying that the country's industrial culture needs modernising.

Carmakers DaimlerChrysler and Audi are among a wide range of companies being hit by a second week of action.

Political implications

The strike is a bitter blow for Mr Schroeder ahead of national elections in September.

The latest opinion polls show Mr Schroeder trailing behind his centre right rival, Edmund Stoiber.

The German economy has suffered a sharp decline this year.

At the weekend, Mr Schroeder promised to create a new super ministry of economics and labour if he was re-elected.

Are you affected by the strikes? Are you taking part or in favour or do you oppose them? Use the form below to tell us your views and experiences

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German workers have a cushy number. They don't work more than the working time directive allows (unlike in the UK where companies routinely 'force' people to volunteer to work longer hours). Also, their unemployment benefit is linked to their salary when made redundant. In my opinion, they're paid well for what they do. Pay rises? Just look at their standard of living!
Chris Collins, Germany

I lived in Germany until 1975, and in Berlin from 1970 until 1975. For most of the time I worked for companies whose workforce was represented by IG Metall. If I was still over there I would go on strike. There haven't been any decent pay rises for a long time. People who earn more also spent more. This could help with the recession. The fact that the companies in the East have problems isn't much of an argument. They have problems anyway - and had them for the past 10 years. More targeted government help and incentives are required.
Dagmar Koeneking, England

I lived in Munich for 5 and a half years and then supervised a German subsidiary near Stuttgart for a UK holding company. The problem with Germany is their extremely restrictive labour laws and their high social costs. The result of this is an increased unemployment rate and a decreasing available income after taxes. The headline grabbing tax rate reductions are not going to deliver anything as the tables have been adjusted to compensate! So the answer is back to the German government to take some tough decisions to prevent this cycle eventually leading to a deflationary spiral as seen in Japan.
Alex McClarty, UK

The unions should think themselves lucky to have jobs at all. Many of the car factories are already shifting production to the old East Germany where labour costs are lower. Have they learnt nothing from the UK car workers experience? How many of them are left? Stuttgart is the home of Porsche and Mercedes. I have noticed the traffic is a lot lighter than usual!
Dave Farrell, Stuttgart, Germany

What people don't understand about labour unions is that when they force their employers to pay them above market equilibrium wage, they are forced to make labour or other costly reductions in order to pay for them. Demand for higher wages is a really bad idea, especially when Germany is trying to get out of a recession and actually reduce unemployment.
Alan Comer, USA

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Wolfgang Munchau, the FT Deutschland
"Chancellor Schroeder is calling on the unions to ... accept a degree of wage moderation"
Deutschland Radio's Michael Groth
"The union has to take a stand"
Tony Barber, the Financial Times in Frankfurt
"The two sides are not that far apart"
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