For a change of pace, let’s look at a trio of union problems in Greece, France, and Germany.
Greece Exports Foll 18% In Strike
Greek motorists lined up at gas stations as fuel stocks dwindled while a strike by customs workers over government austerity measures stretched into a fourth day, hurting imports and exports.
The Federation of Greek Customs Workers called a three-day strike on Feb. 16 and decided yesterday to extend the action by six days to protest government austerity measures aimed at trimming Europe’s biggest budget deficit.
Greece is once again “hostage to strikes by powerful labor union groups,” the National Federation of Greek Commerce said in an e-mailed statement. The strike is “catastrophic” for the country’s trade and industry as well as shipping, food and transport companies and the Greek consumer, said the Athens- based organization, which represents Greek commerce groups.
Exports have fallen 18 percent since the beginning of the customs strike as the shipping of goods via maritime, rail and air links is paralyzed, Christina Sakellaridi, president of the Panhellenic Union of Exporters, told private Skai radio today.
Greece’s taxi drivers also staged a 24-hour strike today, the second in as many weeks, to protest measures including an increase in fuel tax and the obligation to give customers receipts, part of the Greek government’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion.
Greek Unions Launch Assault On Austerity Plan
A civil servants’ strike grounded flights and shut down public services across Greece on Wednesday, as labor unions mounted their first major challenge to austerity measures in the debt-plagued country.
Air traffic controllers, customs and tax officials, hospital doctors and schoolteachers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest sweeping government spending cuts that will freeze salaries and new hiring, cut bonuses and stipends and increase the average retirement age by two years.
“It’s a war against workers and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is overturned,” said Christos Katsiotis, a representative of a communist-party affliated labor union.
The rational tourist would respond by avoiding Greece. Who needs to put up with taxi strikes and grounded flights?
Sarkozy, Unions Battle Over Benefits
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and eight government ministers met business and labor leaders to start talks on cutting retirement-system losses, with the sides clashing over taxes and benefit cuts.
The negotiations begin in April, after a report on the pension system’s finances is completed, with proposed laws coming after September. Union leaders said today they won’t accept an increase in the retirement age of 60, while Sarkozy said he won’t consider additional taxes.
“I reaffirmed that we won’t allow the right of retirement at 60 to be put into question, and we won’t accept an increase in working years,” Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of union Force Ouvriere, said as he left today’s meeting. “Pensions are a financial problem, a question of fiscal policy.”
Sarkozy said on Jan. 25 that he won’t increase social-security contributions because French taxes are already high.
Retire at 60? Sarkozy should offer 75. They can settle halfway at 67.
Flights Grounded, Garbage Mounts In Germany
Germany’s powerful trade unions are flexing their muscles, pressing for wage increases and job guarantees just as Europe’s biggest economy struggles to emerge from its worst post-war recession.
Pilots at Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest airline by sales, voted on Wednesday to stage next week what is being billed as one of the most severe strikes in Germany in recent years.
Meanwhile, about 300 easyJet airline cabin crew walked off the job on Thursday morning at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport, causing the cancellation of seven flights.
But it is in the public sector that Germany’s unions are making themselves heard the most, with about 120,000 workers across the country stopping work in early February in what unions called “warning strikes.”
The industrial action kept buses in their depots, flights grounded, kindergartens closed and rubbish uncollected across Germany, Europe’s top economy.
“In the private sector, unions have seen that the crisis left deep wounds last year and have been more open to cooperation,” said Gernot Nerb from the Ifo institute. “But in the public sector, the unions have more room to act.”
“In the current situation the unions have to be honest what their demands will mean: higher taxes, more debts, higher kindergarten fees and the closure of libraries, theatres and swimming pools,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said this month.
How much longer this can go on is uncertain, however, as Berlin seeks to balance its budget and as government stimulus programmes run out, and to prepare itself for the long term challenge of an ageing population.
Once again it is public sector unions that are the big problem. Reagan handled airport strikers in the proper manner. He fired them all.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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