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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La « modération salariale » ne fait plus recette en Allemagne

by By Bruno Odent

German Unions say No to “Salary Moderation”

Translated by Marica Finca

Translated Sunday 5 March 2006, by Marica

On strike: Thousands of workers in the German public sector are in the third week of their battle against salary reductions and increases in working hours

German public sector workers are on strike, the most important for its duration and degree of mobilization in 14 years. The employees have entered their third week of action following the breakdown in negotiations between Länder (provinces) and the Ver.Di. union last Monday night. The movement, starting from Baden-Württemberg had spread last week to 9 of the 19 German Länder. Government workers refuse a pay-cut (elimination of the Christmas bonus that in Germany is equivalent to a thirteenth month’s pay) and an increase in the work-week from 38.5 hours to 40, with no monetary compensation.

At the origin of the conflict

The politics of austerity that Länder government leaders have decided to put into practice are at the origin of this conflict. Pressured by the decrease in revenues resulting from fiscal reform and a weak economy, they are trying to resolve the budget shortfall by cutting public expenses. The union say they are holding to their position “refusing any proposal that by employees would accept”. The government employees have decided to organize rotating strikes, and these will continue indefinitely; tens of thousands of employees in the hospitals, administrative services, transportation or cleaning going on strike group by group, with strikes every day. At the beginning of this week, there are close to 40,000 people participating in the protests each day, according to Ver.Di.

By its sheer magnitude and the sympathy it has generated with the general population, this movement shows how fed up a large segment of the Germans have become, a sentiment that is felt increasingly throughout the country after years of a salary restraint. Over the past 15 years, the purchasing power has decreased by 50%, according to various socio-economic research centers. In a single shot, the consensus of “work pacts” that successive governments have juggled with to justify a “salary moderation” to create new jobs, is collapsing. Not only have new jobs failed to materialize, but also unemployment has been on the rise, reaching record levels (around 5 million unemployed) due to the decline in consumption that has persisted month to month; a slowdown that affects growth (it was only 0.2% in the last trimester of 2005) and the chances of new job creation.

A schizophrenic situation

With the increase in working hours that the Länder governments are attempting to enforce, this could lead to a schizophrenic situation on the jobs front, by far the top priority the German population, since this measure would be rapidly lead to the elimination of 250,000 more jobs on a national scale, according to Ver.Di.

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