35 Hours29 Jun 2003
This hasn't been a particularly good year for German unions. First they tried and failed to block Chancellor Schröder's Agenda 2010 within the SPD. And now the IG Metall has called off its strike for the 35 hour work week in the eastern states, which would have harmonized the work week in east and west. This was the first unsuccessful strike for the IG Metall in 49 years.
And last year they were so confident. The new leader of the DGB (National Federation of Labor Unions) Michael Sommer promised a new leftist political course, and his support played a large role in Schröder's re-election. The initial economic program of the new SPD-Green government bore the imprint of the unions. But now reality has set in, and in it is clear the unions had overreached the limits of their political influence. Last week the DGB met with Schröder for the first time since they walked out on him (over Agenda 2010). And now the IG Metall strike has been broken.
Eamonn Fitzgerald discusses some of the reasons this strike failed (and why it was total nonsense to begin with). But it could be more significant as beginning of the end of the Flächentarif, the blanket industry-wide agreements that are the hallmark of German labor. This would mean companies and employees would be able to negotiate more flexible individual agreements rather than adopting a rigid national contract. And unions would be able to truly represent their members in the workplace rather than pursuing national political agendas.