After the German steelworkers carried out a strong wave of strikes, their national union, IG Metall, reached an agreement with the Südwestmetall employers’ federation, which may be considered a very partial advance.

By Americo Gomes.

 

The strikes involved almost a million and a half workers from 97 companies, who carried out partial stoppages of up to 24 hours, in automotive, aerial and shipyard industries. This had a cost of almost 200 million euros (US$249 million) for automobile factories, automobile suppliers and engineering companies in lost profits, affecting companies like Daimler, BMW (BMWG.DE) and Airbus (AIRG.DE) and tenths of smaller suppliers.

The agreement negotiated by IG Metall was achieved only for the steelworkers of the Baden-Württemberg region, covering 900 thousand workers of the steel and electricity industries, leaving behind the remaining 3 million steelworkers in the country. As they are located in an important industrial region, which holds important factories and industrial power plants, like the Daimler AG automobiles and Bosch, there is a possibility to extend the conflict to the whole Germany.

The agreement foresees a wage increase of 4.3% in April, which in yearly terms equals 3.5% (according to Commerzbank) -under the 6% vindicated- and other payments distributed throughout 27 months: €100 in the first trimester of 2018, and from 2019 on, an additional fix amount of €400. These values may be postponed, reduced or canceled if economic conditions worsen. In any case, it is an achievement, because in January the bosses offered 2% and a single €200 payment. This agreement was forced through the struggle.

Besides, workers with at least two years of service will have permission to reduce their labor week from 35 to 28 hours, with wage decrease, for a period between six and 24 months, if they justify that they need to take care of children, sick relatives or elders.

The companies felt the blow and announced the agreement as a “sustainable compromise with painful elements.”

However, in compensation, they achieved the right to hire new workers with 40-hour weekly shifts instead of the 35-hour achieved by workers in the 1984 strike. Besides, the union committed to ask workers to voluntarily increase their weekly shift to 40 hours, increasing their salary. In fact, this makes it possible for them to increase the work-shift and so the production when the demand increases.

“The employees have more opportunities to reduce their work hours, while companies obtain more options to increase the volume of work hours,” said Stefan Wolf, president of the bosses’ entity. Rainer Dulger, president of Gesamtmetall, said, “Today we established the bases for a system of flexible work shifts for the XXI century.”

On the union’s side, the president of IG Metall, Jörg Hofmann, saw the collective agreement as a “framework for the path of a more modern and self-determined world of labor.” For him, flexibility in work shifts was a privilege for employers for a long time – and now workers can do the same.

The 28-hour week, as it was agreed, may be taken as a weapon to attack the 35 hour week. However, it may also be an achievement and an advance, but only if the steelworkers continue to struggle, as in 1984, for a national decrease of the work shift without reduction of wages.

Considering the disposition to struggle of the German steelworkers and the economic growth in Germany, a much better agreement could be achieved – last year, the economy grew at a record rate, even more than in 2011, and unemployment is in the lowest rate since the reunification, in 1990. Sadly, the IG Metall leadership did not go for this.

In the European continent, besides the strike of German steelworkers, there are strikes of Polish steelworkers and teachers; Pirelli and Alitalia workers in Italy, and mobilizations in France. Sadly, the German union bureaucracy did not allow the strength of the German industrial proletariat to take from the bosses all that was possible through this great mobilization.

***

Translation: Alejandra Ramírez.