Leftist gov't-unions in far-flung token strikes

Germany's public-sector workers today begin nationwide token strikes, which they plan to expand "massively" in the coming days to support their wage demands. Walk-outs will focus on the health-care sector today, with 5,500 nurses and other workers expected to stop work in 53 clinics in Bavaria, said Jan Jyrczyk, a spokesman for Ver.di. There will be more strikes tomorrow. The union wants 8 percent more pay.

"There's a real determination to see this demand through," Jyrczyk said in a telephone interview. "We're looking at steady strike action that will become massive unless employers agree to a real improvement in wages."

Ver.di Chairman Frank Bsirske yesterday vowed to disrupt public services across the country after a third round of talks on pay stalled. Germany's largest unions are seeking the biggest pay rises this decade after several years of moderate wage increases.

Stoppages by health workers lasting 3 hours will include the states of Bavaria, Saarland, where 1,500 plan strikes, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia, where 4,000 workers at 50 clinics will cease work, according to Ver.di's Web site. Stoppages may also occur at Berlin's Charite hospital, the biggest university clinic in Europe, Jyrczyk said.

Bsirske vowed on Feb. 12 to broaden strike action steadily from Feb. 14 until the fourth round of pay talks in Potsdam, near Berlin, on Feb. 25. Strikes would be staged by groups including police, trash collectors, savings-bank tellers and kindergarten teachers, Bsirske said. Ver.di represents 1.3 million public-sector workers.

Unlimited Strike

German law requires that employers and unions exhaust regular pay negotiations before a majority of union members can vote for an all-out, unlimited strike.

Talks between Ver.di and the government broke down after the union "showed a complete lack of readiness" to discuss an offer of 5 percent more pay, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Feb. 12. Ver.di has asked for a minimum increase of 200 euros ($292) a month for its lowest-paid public- sector members.

Ver.di's pay demand has been matched this year by the IG Metall union, which represents workers at companies including Porsche AG and ThyssenKrupp AG, Germany's biggest steelmaker.

Europe's biggest economy grew 2.9 percent in 2006, the fastest in six years, and 2.5 percent last year even as private consumption slumped. German inflation was 2.2 percent last year, using a national measure, the fastest since 1994.


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