Iraq: Stop work to stop the war – German trade unionists organise action

Stop work to stop the war.

German trade unionists organise action

In Germany the trade unions, under pressure from the anti-war movement, were forced to mobilise to the big demonstration in Berlin on 15 February. In some other cities and regions they mobilised to local demos or even to the demo in Brussels, Amsterdam and Luxembourg. Ver.di Cologne for example sent a coach to Brussels on 15 February. 

In Stuttgart the metal workers union (IG Metall) and ver.di (public and private service union) called together with attac, anti-war-coalitions and "youth against war" for a local demo which attracted 50,000. Politically the leadership of the unions has the same position as the Schröder government. They even try to use the anti war protest to support the government. However there is growing opposition against this inside the anti war movement and the activists inside the unions.

At the demonstration of 50.000 in Stuttgart on 15th of February SAV member Tinette Schnatterer spoke at the end of the final rally to some thousand demonstrators left on behalf of "Youth against War" and the student organisation of ver.di in Stuttgart. Ver.di is the biggest union in Germany with about 3 million workers, half of them from the public sector. Tinette in her speech called on the unions to organise strike action against the war.

The school student strike in Stuttgart on 25th February with more than 10,000 protesting and an impressive demonstration through the streets of the city centre had a big impact inside the unions. The local leading official of the ver.di in his speech at the rally said that the school student strike has to be followed by strikes at the work places. At the school student strike also young people, dressed in their blue work overalls, from apprentices schools took part.

Members of the Socialist Alternative, the German section of the CWI, have a leading role in the "network for a fighting and democratic ver.di". This network is an organised opposition inside the ver.di union and has produced a new leaflet headed "stop war against Iraq with strikes". It demands national strike action on Day X, strikes against transport of war material, strikes of the civil workers at the British and US military bases in Germany and strikes of the civil workers in the Bundeswehr against all work connected to the war. The left network inside ver.di calls also on the unions to appeal to the British, American and German soldiers to collectively refuse orders connected with this war. And last, but not least, it demands on the German unions to call on the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) and ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) for European and worldwide general strikes against the war. The network adds that the ITF (International Transport workers Federation) should call and coordinate international strikes against the military’s logistical network. This leaflet will be spread in some thousand copies on Friday 14th of March. On this day there will not only be the anti-war protests called by the ETUC, but also a rally in Berlin by the transport unions against the plan of the EU transport ministers to liberalise and privatise railways and public transport.

At the same time SAV members in the unions are putting demands for strike action to the leadership of the unions. Our members in the workplaces try to bring in the demand of half an hour stoppages on Day X even if there is no official call by the trade union leadership. In a local hospital in Stuttgart the shop stewards have already agreed this proposal. In Kassel motions calling for this have been put forward in the local hospital and at the university, but not yet agreed.

At the youth conference of the DGB in Hessen on 8 March a motion was passed, demanding resistance to war and to any German support of the war. The motion asks also for half hour work stoppages on Day X. The motion was brought in by a SAV member, who is also member of the executive committee of the DGB youth in Hessen.

The trade union leadership in the beginning tried to limit the call of the ETUC for protests at the workplaces on 14 March to a 5 minutes work stoppage and silence. Now they call for 10 minutes protest. Our comrades in the work places are being asked to play a leading role in organising these protests and where possible extent the time of protest to half an hour. "Youth against war" (YAW) will go to work places on Friday with an open letter to the unions asking workers to hold joint strike actions and demonstrations on Day X.

In several local groups of YAW there are apprentices. For example in Bremen apprentices of the local armament factories (Airbus and Daimler Chrysler) are involved in YAW. There is the plan to set up anti war committees in both factories.

At this week’s regional conference of ver.di in Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW), which is the biggest region of ver.di, there will be a motion from the executive committee of NRW south district demanding in case that war starts an immediate and unlimited strike of the civil workers at the British and US bases in Germany, at the German army, at the German ports and airports. All other sections of the workers should called for solidarity action like limited or symbolic strike action, peaceful sit ins in front of military bases, demonstrations etc.

In general there are lot of resolutions from shop stewards against war and demands on the unions to stand against the war and call for action. However politically there is the general weakness of illusions in the United Nations.

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March 2003