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German Strike Would Be 1st in East Since 1930s


BERLIN — A labor dispute in Germany's pivotal metalworking industry deteriorated further Friday, heightening the prospect of the first officially sanctioned strike in eastern Germany in over six decades.

While the large auto and machine tool plants in the western part of the country are not affected, a strike in the east would be a crippling blow to the recovery of the former Communist region, where industry has been devastated by exposure to free market conditions, more than 4 million jobs have disappeared and real unemployment is running at around 30%.

About 400,000 are employed in east Germany's metalworking industry. And the region's smaller steel industry, with about 20,000 workers, is headed on an identical course.

Trade union leaders in Berlin and its neighboring state of Brandenburg agreed Friday to hold strike votes among rank-and-file members later this month to press their demands to raise basic wage levels in the east to 80% of western pay scales, a move that would amount to a 26% pay hike.

Union leaders in two other states have already announced similar moves and their counterparts in the east's two remaining states of Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania are expected to follow suit Monday.

Union officials say a regionwide strike could come as early as the beginning of May.

"We're moving toward an all-out strike," said Klaus Lang, an executive at the giant IG Metall metalworkers union national headquarters in Frankfurt am Main. "I don't see anything at this point that can avert it."

While several wildcat stoppages have occurred in eastern Germany since the collapse of the Berlin Wall 3 1/2 years ago, an officially sanctioned strike would be the first in the region since Adolf Hitler became German chancellor in January, 1933. Under both the Nazis and the Communists, strikes were outlawed.

Adding to the pressure on employers, thousands of metalworkers in the region engaged in sporadic, so-called "warning strikes" Friday, the day after several protest rallies drew about 90,000 demonstrators onto the street.

The dispute began in February after employers took the unprecedented step of unilaterally suspending a 2-year-old wage accord that contained a commitment to raise eastern wages to western levels by April, 1995.

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