Unions defiant after talks with Schroeder collapse
6 July 2004, BERLIN - Leaders of Germany's major trade unions Tuesday promised to step up pressure on embattled Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's to ease up on controversial economic and social reforms after overnight crisis talks broke down with officials of his ruling Social Democrats. The union leaders, conferring at the Berlin headquarters of the mighty DGB trade union, said it was up to the SPD to shift its stance. "The chancellor's coalition needs to enhance its pro-worker profile," said Verdi union lea
6 July 2004
BERLIN - Leaders of Germany's major trade unions Tuesday promised to step up pressure on embattled Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's to ease up on controversial economic and social reforms after overnight crisis talks broke down with officials of his ruling Social Democrats.
The union leaders, conferring at the Berlin headquarters of the mighty DGB trade union, said it was up to the SPD to shift its stance.
"The chancellor's coalition needs to enhance its pro-worker profile," said Verdi union leader Frank Bsirski, a key critic of the chancellor's reform package. "It is up to them to budge, not us," he said on N-TV television.
Another union head, German Police Federation leader Konrad Freiberg, said the ball was now in the SPD's court.
"It is up to the SPD to show some movement," Freiberg said. "If this conflict proceeds as it has been, everyone will be the loser."
SPD leaders called on both sides for restraint.
"We are traditional allies and if we don't work together, we will both descend into political obscurity for generations to come," warned Sigmar Gabriel, a leading Social Democrat from Lower Saxony.
The remarks came after overnight talks between union leaders and SPD officials broke down without agreement.
The rift between the two traditional allies was as large as ever, said Michael Sommer, DGB head.
"We had serious and frank discussions which unfortunately did not bring us closer together but which did reveal that both sides have their problems with the chancellor's Agenda 2010 reform package," he told reporters after the crisis talks.
SPD Chairman Franz Muentefering also expressed dismay, but said the two sides had agreed to continue talks in coming weeks.
Sommer stressed that, while the SPD had not shown any sign of movement toward the union stance on the reforms, the major unions did not however support efforts to form a new political party to the left of the SPD.
Disenchanted Social Democrats upset at reforms being pushed through by Schroeder were among leftwing activists who gathered in the German capital at the weekend to discuss formation of a new political party.
They threatened to create a party called the Election Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG) by the end of the summer unless Schroeder relents on his plans for social and economic reform.
Schroeder called on the nation's trade unions in an interview published Monday to have the courage to embrace his controversial economic and labour reforms.
"The question facing German unions today is whether certain of their leaders, who have no new ideas, ought to be shaping trade union policy," Schroeder said in an interview with Der Spiegel news magazine.
His remarks were directed at Verdi union leader Bsirske, who has been highly critical of Schroeder's reforms.
"I think there ought to be some serious discussion within the unions on this issue," he said.
On Friday the German Bundestag parliament passed a controversial labour-reform law that cuts unemployment benefits for long-term jobless Germans. Union leaders have threatened protests and possible strikes against that and other reform legislation.
A new survey shows the SPD has fallen to a historic low in voter support, down to 23 percent, while 11 percent support the Green Party coalition partners.
It is the lowest poll standing in post-war history for the SPD and it means the SPD-Greens coalition would not have a majority if elections were held now.
In contrast, the opposition Christian Democrats have the support of 45 percent of voters, and their potential coalition partners, the Free Democrats, have 7 percent.
The pollsters said respondents cited dissatisfaction with Schroeder's handling of the economy for their low approval rating.
Subject: German news