IG Metall's Challenge

As if the German economy didn't have enough problems, industrial union IG Metall has begun rolling "flexi-strikes" against companies such as DaimlerChrysler and Porsche to enforce its demand for a 6.5% pay raise. But the strikes aren't just about money: By staging its first big strikes since 1995, IG Metall is clearly trying to demonstrate that it's still a force to be reckoned with in German society.

The union, which represents 2.8 million workers, probably also hopes to slow a years-long decline in membership. That's why the strikes, which so far haven't had a crippling effect on Daimler production, could last a long time.

Union leaders such as IG Metall President Klaus Zwickel and Vice-President Jürgen Peters have staked their prestige on a big wage settlement and won't back down easily. They're refusing to return to the negotiating table until industry negotiators improve their current offer of a 3.3% raise.

But for the labor bosses there's also a risk they have overestimated their power. Executives such as Siemens CEO Heinrich von Pierer say they are convinced that the rank and file aren't enthusiastic about the strike. And even the German Left is critical of the union. "The unions want equality but produce more unemployment," the left-leaning weekly Die Zeit charged in a front-page headline. IG Metall is unlikely to suffer as dramatic a defeat as British unions did in 1984 after a disastrous coal-industry strike. But if it's not careful, Germany's most militant union could hasten its own demise.

By Jack Ewing in Frankfurt

Edited by Christopher Power

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