While strikes were still going on for a 6.5% pay rise in the states of Baden-Wuettemberg and in Berlin-Brandenburg, the IG Metall (IGM) union negotiators made a deal, on 15 May, with the engineering bosses' organisation, Gesamtmetall.
It was no secret from the beginning of the strike that an offer of 4% would be enough for the IGM to settle.
The deal made between both parties, which was then accepted by the IGM pay commission on 17 May, is supposedly worth "4% plus 3.1%"; 4% in 2002, 3.1% in 2003.
In fact it is not as simple as the union leadership put it. The pay rise of "4% in 2002" applies only as of June. The previous pay deal, agreed a year ago, ran out however in February: for March and April there was no pay increase whatsoever (this is cynically referred to as a "zero-increase"!), and for May a one-off payment of 110 Euro (in the east) / 120 Euro (west) (ca. 80 pounds) was agreed.
The deal gets even more complicated: part of it was a scheme called "ERA" which aims to end artificial differences between white- and blue-collar workers. The new grading scheme means that 0.9% of the rise in 2002 and 0.5% from 2003 will be held back to finance it. Jorg Wuttke, member of the IGM and his plant's workers' council in Berlin, told Solidarity "After taking off inflation of 2% on average and the 1% to be paid in to the Riester-pension-scheme' [a compulsory private pension scheme introduced by the Schröder social democratic government] the brothers and sisters receive only 0.46% more pay in real terms."
"Over the course of this pay agreement which lasts for almost two years, you could say that the blue-collar workers will have to be satisfied with a zero-increase in real terms, and that the white collar workers will have to forgo 1.5% of their pay in real terms."
The membership of the IGM in the two areas where strikes were called have voted to accept the deal. Whereas around 90% of workers voted yes to strike action, in Baden-Wuerttemberg only 56% voted to accept the deal. Many workers in larger factories such as Daimler-Chrysler car plants were particuarly unhappy with the pay agreement and are expected to use their strength to push through something better.
In Berlin-Brandenburg around 65% voted to accept the deal. Under German labour laws, 25% would have been enough (where as 75% is required for a strike).
In Brandenburg and in East Berlin workers in the engineering industry will continue to work a 38 hour week (compared to 35 in the west) until at least January 2004, when the agreement comes to an end. Until then, unless the employers cancel' the deal at some point, legal industrial action (i.e. any action with the support of the IG Metall) in the German engineering industry is ruled out.
Jörg Wuttke, who is also a member of the "Socialist Trade Unionists' Group" (GSG), told us "For this more than lean conclusion the engineering and electrical industry struck for the first time in seven years. It was little more than a farce, put on by all those involved apart from the striking colleagues themselves."
"But the result would have been even worse if the strikes hadn't gone ahead."
Socialist Trade Unionists' Group: Gsgcontact@aol.com