After a secret ballot, held at union offices, which resulted in a 99% "yes" vote for strike action (turnout "around a third"), workers in Germany have begun the first nationwide strike in the building industry since 1949. As this article is published (Tuesday) the strike is in its second day.
Strike action began in Berlin on Monday after a rally at the
Brandenburg Gate. No work is being carried out on Europe's biggest
building site at Potsdamer Platz, which used to be derelict, lying
between the West-Berlin border and the Stalinists' Berlin Wall. On
Monday around 500 sites involving 8000 workers were struck in
Hamburg, Bremen, Magdeburg, Berlin, and in the Ruhr area. The
builders' union, the IG Bau, has announced more strikes on Wednesday
in southern Germany and in the Ruhr.
The IG Bau is calling for a pay increase for all workers in the
industry (including apprentices) of 4.5%. The bosses have offered
what they called "3%", however including five months with a "zero-
increase" - so the offer is only worth 1.75%.
The employers' organisation does not want to increase the minimum
wage in eastern Germany - where 1 in 5 building firms went bankrupt
last year - at all. The IG Bau wants to get pay levels in the east
up to those in the west, but with a much lower level of unionisation
(around 25% compared with 55% in the west), and where most firms do
not pay the legally agreed union minimum wage anyway, it is not clear
how this is to be done.
The unemployment rate in the industry is high and many building
workers do not want to endanger their jobs by striking, particuarly
when contractors often prefer to employ cheaper foreign workers from
Britain or other EU countries, or illegal immigrants from eastern
Europe, who often earn as little as 20 pence per hour.
Ironic considering the "Albanian" result of the strike ballot, that
the IG Bau consistently blames such cruelly expolited workers for the
situation in the German building industry, regularly calling for more
police raids on sites to ensure that only "legals" (i.e. Germans) get
work. Solidarity from the "illegal" workers not to break the strikes
can not therefore be easily expected.
IG Bau leader Klaus Wiesehügel has said that "Our strike has begun as
planned, and will continue, until the employer has made us a
reasonable offer. The dispute will be spread on every day that the
employer wastes." The strike continues.
More information: http://www.igbau.de
Matt Heaney, Berlin
Strike ballot results by region:
Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz/Saar: 98.26 %
Bavaria: 99.12 %
Berlin-Brandenburg: 97.92 %
Hesse: 97.86 %
Lower Saxony-Bremen: 99.24 %
North: 99.41 %
Northrhein-Westhphalia: 98.68 %
Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia: 98.15 %
Total nationwide result: 98.63 % for strike action. (Source: IG Bau)
Turnout: given officially as "around a third of members".
Under German labour laws, a 75% yes vote was required for strike action to go ahead.