Sixty thousand German autoworkers stayed home May 6 as IG Metall, the country’s largest and most powerful union, with 2.7 million members, launched the first wave of a series of “flexible” strikes that will move from company to company through the country’s industrial heartland in coming days. Twenty thousand strikers closed 20 other plants on May 7, while IG Metall staged demonstrations of thousands of members in major manufacturing centers across the country.

Among the first day’s targets in the Stuttgart area of southwestern Germany were DaimlerChrysler and Porsche, with U.S.-owned John Deere targeted for later in the week. Union leaders select day-to-day targets during an afternoon telephone conference discussion.

“We’ve adopted this hit-and-run strategy for two reasons,” Klaus Eilrich, a union spokesperson told the World during a telephone interview from his office in Frankfurt. “First we want to keep the employers off balance and prevent them from instituting a lockout. Second, we want to involve as many workers as possible while, at the same time, reducing hardship and a drain on the union’s finances.”

Eilrich said the union is demanding a one-year 6.5 percent wage increase and considers the employer offer of 3.3 percent over 15 months, sweetened by a one-time payment of 190 euros, “a provocation. Official figures show the average real wage for a German worker has declined from nearly 2,400 marks in 1993 to a little over 2,200 marks now.”

Gary Hubbard, public affairs director of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), said the USWA is in “almost daily” touch with IG Metall. “We have contracts with a number of German firms in the United States and Canada,” he said, “and know what our brothers and sisters in IG Metall are up against. We stand ready to provide any help necessary.”

Three U.S. unions – the Steelworkers, the Autoworkers and the Machinists – as well as IG Metall, are affiliates of the International Metal Workers’ Federation. Hubbard said the Federation was an example of the kind of global solidarity movement that the USWA is helping to build to counter corporate globalization under the World Trade Orgnization.

The present strike is the first industry-wide strike since 1995 and is only the fourth in the last 30 years. Eilrich said union members have gotten nothing from the neoliberal policies of the German government that have “meant nothing more” than a redistribution of wealth in favor of industry. “Now they are saying they want a fairer share and have gone on strike to back up their demand.”

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