Strike action in Germany by the public sector union Verdi is now into its fourth week. Roughly 30,000 public sector workers in nine federal states and the municipalities are on strike on any given day.
The action affects services such as sanitation, hospitals, nurseries, libraries and recreational facilities. The walkout began after large numbers of Verdi members voted for a strike.
The strike is aimed at preventing an extension of the working week from 38.5 to 40 hours for local council employees.
It is the first nationwide public sector strike in 14 years. It is the first major industrial action since the installation of a “grand coalition” government headed by Angela Merkel of the Tory CDU.
The government also includes the right wing Christian Social Union and the SPD, which is similar to New Labour.
Many striking workers see their fight as part of a general struggle against neo-liberalism.
Sven Meyer, a 42 year old refuse worker, said, “We are not just striking here for ourselves. It is not just about the extra 18 minutes a day which the employers seek to impose on public service workers throughout Germany.
“It concerns much more. If the European Union Bolkestein directive on service regulations is implemented, the privatisation of virtually all aspects of public services will rapidly accelerate. Then anyone can come along and offer rock bottom wages with no industrial protection or safety standards.”
The strike has met with broad public support. Sven spoke of a delegation from a nearby engine works who came to express their solidarity with the strikers.
“There is a widespread feeling that we can no longer tolerate what is going on,” he added.
So far the employers have not bowed under the pressure of the strike.
One of the reasons is that compromises Verdi made in the past, such as over privatisation, make it difficult to build full pressure.
In the great public sector strike of 1992 300,000 workers were on strike simultaneously, including refuse workers in the whole of Germany. Now over 60 percent of the refuse work is privatised and not included in the strike action.
The strike offers a chance for the emerging new left in Germany to deepen its links with the trade unions.
The influential Der Spiegel magazine carried an article titled, “Attack On The SPD”.
This stated that sections of the trade union movement that are deeply disappointed with the neo-liberal politics of the SPD have reoriented themselves towards the new left WASG and the Linkspartei.
The WASG and the eastern German PDS are the two components of what hopes to develop into a united left party.
Leaders of the WASG in the west, like the Verdi secretary Bernd Riexinger from Stuttgart, are at the same time leaders of the Verdi strike.
A successful strike by Verdi could be the springboard for action against the plans of the grand coalition to raise the retirement age to 67. It is a key struggle for the left in Germany now.