EAST BERLIN — Thousands of East German factory workers staged a series of warning strikes today following the weekend economic merger with West Germany, labor union officials said.
On the first business day since the West German deutschemark became the currency of the East, long lines formed at most grocery stores and other shops.
Many East Germans snatched up long desired goods with their new money, but some were shocked by higher prices.
The official ADN news agency, reporting from Potsdam just southwest of Berlin, said prices for East German-produced butter and cheese were about the same as before, but the price of milk had more than doubled.
It said consumers were comparing prices and shopping carefully.
One shopper, 70-year-old Werner Ludwig of East Berlin, said he saw Western electronic goods with lower prices and better quality than those available before. "But on the other hand, things that you need daily, like bread and flour, are much more expensive," he said. "How often do you buy a color TV? You need bread every day."
ADN said today's warning strikes were for better pay and working conditions.
East German workers are demanding to be brought up to parity with their richer neighbors in West Germany. Others were expected to strike in a bid to keep their factories from closing.
During a rally in the town of Hennigsdorf, south of Berlin, a labor union spokesman claimed that up to 15,000 laborers had taken part in the brief work stoppages.
Spokesman Karl-Heinz Graffenberger said the strikes also took place in metalworking and electrical factories around Berlin.
Graffenberger, a local union leader affiliated with West Germany's powerful IG Metall labor union, said that the strikers included 3,000 people at the locomotive factory in Hennigsdorf.
Other labor union officials claimed the number of strikers was closer to 20,000.
In another protest, coal dealers used their trucks to block loading points in four places in East Berlin.
They were protesting the end of state subsidies that were a hallmark of the nation's Communist-run economy. State subsidies have been halted as the country adopts capitalism.
Both East and West German officials predict that the next few months will be difficult, mostly because many of East Germany's 8,000 state-owned companies are expected to close.
Burdened by heavy debt and unable to generate enough sales to pay their employees in West German marks, many East German factories and businesses are expected to fold even before they can convert to private ownership.
One company, Elektrowerk Electronicon of Gera, announced that a quarter of its 5,000 workers would have reduced shifts beginning today.