DEMONSTRATIONS took place in Germany on Saturday against government plans to cut unemployment and other welfare benefits. The government wants to make it easier for bosses to sack workers. Over 10,000 marched in Berlin. The protests came as strikes in key sectors hotted up over a demand to cut working hours.
The welfare cuts are part of an assault by the Social Democrat (Labour) government. Germany officially slid into recession last week, with unemployment already at over 4.5 million. The assault on benefits and employment rights by German chancellor Gerhard Schröder is causing huge political turmoil. It has caused deep rifts with the trade union base of his Social Democrat Party. Last week some 6,000 workers in the powerful IG Metall union at key engineering firms, including Volkswagen, staged brief warning strikes (a traditional form of protest in Germany) over the demand for a cut in working hours.
The strikes are in areas which used to be East Germany. Workers in engineering there get the same wage rates as those in former West Germany, but the eastern workers do a longer 38-hour week. Union leaders were to meet this week to decide on possible moves towards an all-out strike.
THERE WERE more massive strikes and demonstrations in Austria last week against the right wing government's assault on pension rights. Last week saw the biggest national strike in Austria since 1945.