Around 160,000 employees in the automotive, steel and electrical industries have engaged in token strikes, called by the IG Metall union, in the first week of January 2018. The union is currently negotiating a new wage contract for 3.9 million workers in Germany’s largest industrial sector. The actions include workers at Porsche, Daimler, Bosch and other auto, auto parts and electrical companies like Siemens and AEG.
Workers of Ford, Saarlouis factory on strike in Germany
For years, workers have witnessed how profits and the wealth of the super-rich exploded, while their income has stagnated or declined. Increasing rent prices and healthcare costs, which are hardly noted in the official inflation rate, pose an existential threat for many. Dividend payouts to shareholders increased in the metal and electrical industry by 11 percent per share in 2014, 9 percent in 2015 and 12 percent in 2016, while nominal wages rose by between 2 and 3 percent annually, resulting essentially in a real wage freeze. Hundreds of thousands of temporary contract workers labour in the factories and portions of production have been outsourced to Eastern Europe, where wages range from one third to one tenth of what is paid in Germany. The owners of the companies on both sides ensure that there is no unity between the workers of Western and Eastern Europe. There is widespread anger over job-cutting by Siemens and other profitable corporations.
The struggle in Germany is part of the growing resistance of the working class in Europe. In France, opposition is mounting to the Macron government’s labour laws. Over the past year, Fiat workers in Serbia and VW workers in Slovakia have gone on strike against starvation wages and working conditions.