Contract negotiations in the German metal and electrical industries: workers are ready to fight

Six weeks after the start of contract negotiations, employers in Germany’s metal and electrical industries presented their first offer after three rounds of negotiations. The approximately 3.8 million workers affected rightly view the employers’ offer as a provocation.

BMW workers protest [Photo: WSWS]

Last Saturday, the IG Metall union responded to the anger of workers across the country by organizing a few warning strikes and short-lived demonstrations. Workers consider the union’s initial demand of 8% over 12 months to be far too low given a current inflation rate of over 10%, but in fact the union is preparing even more drastic pay cuts.

According to the employers’ association Gesamtmetall, workers are to be entrenched with a one-off “inflation bonus” of €3,000 to cover a period of 30 months. At the same time, employers are looking to cut other special payments such as Christmas bonuses. Instead of offering a permanent, formal pay rise, management simply said such an offer was “prospective.”

In an interview with the Suddeutsche ZeitungGesamtmetall chairman Stefan Wolf has rejected a deal similar to the one recently granted in the chemical industry, where the chemical workers’ union, the IGBCE, accepted pay cuts like none had been seen in Germany since the 1930s. In addition to a one-off payment of €3,000, wages and salaries are only expected to increase by 6.5% over the next two years.

Wolf even demanded that “companies that are doing poorly be allowed to deviate from the contractual agreement,” that is, be allowed to implement even more drastic pay cuts. Depending on how companies describe the current situation, there are probably only a handful where things are going “right”. In a statement from the employers’ association, its member companies complained that they had been faced with “war in Ukraine, impending energy shortages, lockdown in China, shortage of raw materials, rapid increases in energy and raw material prices, the lack of skilled workers and candidates for apprenticeship”. .” In addition, the industry needed “to invest in structural changes”, i.e. financing to ensure job cuts: “A return to the level before the 2018 crisis is currently out of the question. of questions”.

In reality, big companies make big profits. They are continually reducing their labor costs through ongoing job cuts and pay cuts, while passing on most of their increased costs to their customers.

Roman Zitzelsberger, negotiator and district head of IG Metall for the state of Baden-Württemberg and possible new head of IGM, said the employers’ offer “would not resolve the contract negotiation”. A salary increase in line with official salary scales was the top priority in this round of contract negotiations. IG Metall has long announced that it will accept and organize pay cuts on the model of IG BCE. If the union is now talking about new negotiations and strikes, it is only to defuse the considerable anger of the employees and to implement the wage cuts.

The anger of the workers is enormous. In Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and the IGM district encompassing the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Bremen as well as in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony, more than 10 000 workers in the automotive industry and subcontractors, in mechanical engineering companies, aluminum smelters, etc., took part in warning strikes this week. Workers in North Rhine-Westphalia also joined the protests on Tuesday evening, with Ford workers in Cologne being the first to leave their factory at midnight.

During the many protests, it became clear that even the union’s initial demand for 8% over 12 months would mean a reduction in real wages with devastating consequences for workers and their families. World Socialist Website journalists spoke to workers who expressed their distrust of IG Metall and its “negotiators” and supported a united struggle by the entire working class – in particular united action by the 7 million workers in Germany including the contractual agreements expire in the coming months.

In order to prevent a large mobilization, IG Metall limited its “warning strikes” announced in advance to two hours, separated in time and space. After Mercedes-Benz workers in south Berlin (whose plant is to be closed) went on strike at midnight, smaller protests took place in the north and northwest of the city at midday . The union had set the strike day for a public holiday, that is, when no one was working anyway in the northern federal states.

At the BMW motorcycle factory near Spandau, around 150 workers took part in a rally and a “human chain”. Most workers participated only reluctantly and expressed their fears about a possible wage increase of only 6%. A temporary worker told WSWS reporters that he calculated the offer would only add €120 to his pre-tax salary. In the face of 30% increases in food and energy prices, he said, it was “ridiculous” and in effect a massive reduction in real wages. At BMW, temporary workers now make up 50% of the workforce.

An older contract worker, who had only recently joined BMW, lost his job of many years at Osram after Siemens sold the business. He said of IG Metall officials and their corporate advisers: “I have seen how things have deteriorated at Osram. Only IG Metall business advisers had secure jobs, earned well, and were exempt from work. They never organized a real fight against layoffs to defend all jobs. At BMW, I’m still waiting for a full-time job, but I don’t know if that will happen due to my age.

Jasmin, BMW Berlin motorcycle factory [Photo: WSWS] [Photo: WSWS]

WSWS reporters broadcast a call against the job massacre at Mercedes-Benz in Ludwigsfelde. The leaflet calls on workers to break with the unions and form independent rank-and-file committees made up of trusted colleagues. One worker, Jasmin, backed the call, welcomed joint strikes and showed solidarity with Mercedes workers: “It only works together. We all need to stick together. »

Cem (left) and his colleagues [Photo: WSWS] [Photo: WSWS]

BMW employee Cem reacted with shock to news of the closure of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Ludwigsfelde and asked why this had not been raised by IG Metall. A colleague from Cem pointed out that the unions are “on the other side” and referred to the corruption scandal at Volkswagen. It was revealed years ago that IGM officials had been invited by VW management to go on luxury trips and attend sex parties: “That’s the case everywhere. I don’t even want to know what they’re doing here.

A contractor of Turkish origin was enthusiastic about the fact that the World Socialist Website fight for the international unity of all workers. Asked about Ludwigsfelde, he said: “Big companies are organized internationally, so workers have to show international solidarity.” Referring to the current NATO war in Ukraine, other workers recalled the murderous war policy against Serbia of the former SPD-Greens government led by Gerhard Schröder and opposed the planned special fund of 100 billion euros for the German army – “as schools crumble, healthcare workers are underpaid and hospital beds are cut.

IG Metall staged its “warning strike” at rail vehicle manufacturer Stadle, in a company driveway so that no one noticed. The protest was marked by loud music to prevent discussion and ended after just 90 minutes. On the Kununu site, which collects anonymous testimonies on companies, workers complain of “Saturday work”, “a constantly excessive workload” and overtime and conditions “like in the 19th century”, others evoke a “constant coming and going of temporary workers” who are “not integrated and also treated unfairly”. Virtually none of these grievances were addressed at the IG Metall rally.

IG Metall does not intend to respond to the demands of its members, quite the contrary. At the rally in front of the BMW factory, IG Metall officials reacted with extreme hostility to WSWS reporters, seeking to ban them from the rally and prevent them from speaking to the workers. When that failed, two IG Metall officials called nearby police to get them out of the public meeting.

The incident underscores that IG Metall is not in conflict with the companies or the government, but rather with the workers. Since 2018, the union has accepted only one additional payment for workers in the metal and electrical industries. Although workers suffered wage losses in the coronavirus pandemic due to short-time work, there were no turns in the 2020 and 2021 wage grids. In the East German metal and electrical industry, IG Metall cemented the wage divide between East Germany and West Germany for years to come, more than three decades after Germany’s reunification.

Now, in accordance with the “concerted action” established by the trade unions and the federal government led by Olaf Scholz, the costs of the NATO proxy war against Russia and the massive rearmament of the Bundeswehr must be passed on to the class factory Girl. Immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine, IG Metall sided with the government and supported the rearmament of the Bundeswehr. A joint statement by IG Metall Baden-Württemberg under Zitzelsberger and Südwestmetall led by Wolf announced: “These measures will require sacrifices from all of us.”

The will of the workers to resist their impending impoverishment must be the starting point of an offensive against the war and its social consequences. In order to compensate for current inflation and past reductions in real wages, we must fight for double-digit wage increases, not just 8%.

To undertake this task, it is necessary to break with IG Metall and the other unions and build independent action committees to organize the fight against war, job and wage cuts and create an international network.

The International Committee of the Fourth International created the International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers (IWA-RFC) to provide direction and coordinate these committees at the international level.

This is the only way to avoid the threat of a wider war and the effects of war in the form of job cuts and huge wage cuts. We call on all workers to contact us by WhatsApp message at the following number: +491633378340 or register for the grassroots committees below.