German strikes go on, making Kohl look weak Talks with union to resume tomorrow

May 05, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Strikes escalated across west Germany yesterday.

Airports closed. Trains and buses stopped. Bicycles swarmed. Traffic jammed. Trash piled up.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl looked shaky.

And after an exhausting day of massive strikes marked the beginning of the second week in the biggest national strike since World War II, union and government negotiators announced that stalled negotiations would resume tomorrow in Bonn.

The government was believed to be preparing a new offer that would give bigger raises to workers at the lower end of the pay scale.

Snipers aimed at the chancellor from all sides. Politicians and observers from right to left were asking whether his government could survive till scheduled elections in 1994.

Even his finance minister, Theo Waigel, the leader of the Christian Socialist Union, said his party's coalition with Mr. Kohl's Christian Democrats looked troubled.

Der Spiegel, the weekly news magazine, plopped down on the newsstands at the closing airports with a cover showing a wooden Kohl and the question "How long now?"

Der Spiegel may ask that about itself next week if the strike continues. The printers unions threatened to join the strikes if they don't get more than the 3.3 percent they've been offered. Metal workers are already making "lightning" strikes around the country.

It was unclear whether the strikes could be settled if the offer was less than the 5.8 percent raise package already reached by the city of Aachen with its unit of the striking Transport and Public Service Union.

Mr. Kohl stood to look foolish if the 5.8 percent raise became a pattern for the rest of west Germany.

The chancellor has vowed to resist any settlement over 4.8 percent, which is roughly equal to the rise in inflation and productivity in west Germany.

The 2.6 million members of the Transport and Public Service Union began walking out last week when government negotiators turned down the 5.4 percent raise recommended by a mediator they had initially agreed to follow. The union reverted to its opening demand of 9.5 percent.

A junior finance minister was quoted yesterday as predicting the government might have to follow the Aachen agreement, and junior ministers rarely make statements their senior ministers disagree with.

At Berlin's two main airports, Tegel and Tempelhof, the dreaded word "Canceled" popped up after flight numbers like a rapidly spreading virus.

Air traffic controllers and firefighters were joining the public service union strikes that had began their second week throughout Germany.

Unhappy travelers were shipped to Schoenefeld, the airport in east Berlin that used to belong to the Communists. It was still open because east German unions negotiate separately from the westerners. Schoenefeld, a smallish airport with 50 to 60 flights on a normal day, had to deal with 170 yesterday. Flights were delayed for hours. Strikes had spread to airports in most German cities.

Flights to Moscow and Rome were canceled early in the day. A TWA flight to New York made it out before things really began to get rough around noon.

At Schoenefeld, travelers couldn't even find their airline counters. A tourist from Switzerland, trying to get home, looked for Swissair: "Upstairs they tell me downstairs. Downstairs they tell me upstairs."

Dave Watters, an Englishman from Coventry, had waited for a train five hours in Poznan, Poland, Sunday night. Once in Berlin he started walking to Tegel airport when he found transit workers on strike. Then he learned Tegel was closed.

"I'm not worried yet," he said. He sat down on the floor with an ice cream cone and waited for British Air to tell him when he could go home.

Delays were already up to five hours. By the end of the day nearly 90 percent of the flights at Schoenefeld were canceled.

Berlin schools closed because janitors were out. Trash went uncollected everywhere in Germany. But an estimated 4 1/2 tons seemed exceptionally unpleasant on Kurfurstendamm, Berlin's showplace fashion street, where things are supposed to be elegant.

Berlin's burgermeister, or mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, a Christian Democrat like Mr. Kohl, told his burgers they should try not to litter.

"Berliners should be friendly," he said. "Help your neighbor."

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