German Workers Call Off Strike After Bonn Caves In

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Public workers called off their nationwide strike Thursday after the embattled government caved in to union demands following 11 days of uncollected garbage, unsorted mail, idled trains and grounded airplanes.

The union leadership accepted the 5.4% raise offer pending ratification by the 2-million-member rank and file. Voting is scheduled to begin today and last through the weekend.

At first glance, the $10-billion pay package appeared to total more than a mediator's 5.4% compromise that the government last month rejected, prompting the union to launch a series of walkouts.

"I'm glad that this wretched strike has ended," Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters said after two days of intensive negotiating ended in Stuttgart.

"We have won a political victory," union leader Monika Wulf-Mathies declared. "I expect that work will be resumed everywhere tomorrow."

Germany's longest postwar labor dispute clearly cost millions of dollars daily but appeared to spark little public outrage--even among vacationers stranded when the strike hit busy Frankfurt International Airport this week. German television even showed striking garbage collectors in one city accepting a cash bribe to haul away mounting rubbish from the curb.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl initially had insisted that his center-right government, strapped by the high costs of German unification, could not afford a pfennig more than 4.8%.

Bonn's capitulation comes at a time when Kohl already is beset by squabbling within his coalition and a flurry of major Cabinet shuffles. During a visit to Berlin on Thursday before the strike settlement was reached, Kohl insisted to reporters that "this coalition is stable. No question."

"The governing coalition is kaput, and the chancellor cannot gloss this over," opposition parliamentary leader Hans-Ulrich Klose said Thursday before the Bundestag, or lower house. The Social Democrat called on Kohl's government to resign.

Economists described the strike settlement as a serious setback for the government.

"That's a small disaster for the employers," Ulrich Hombrecher, chief economist of the Westdeutsche Landesbank, was quoted as saying by the British news agency Reuters.

Even as the public workers prepared to return to their jobs, trouble was brewing in the private sector.

IG Metall, the world's largest industrial union, already has staged warning strikes and has vowed to take a strike ballot of its 4 million members next week unless an acceptable offer is made. The union is seeking a 9.5% raise.

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