German Public Workers Strike to Maintain Benefits 1996

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign fizzled after the Austerity measures passed and were implemented in October 1996.
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Though the strike participation was especially high in Berlin, major cities in 6 of the 16 German states were involved.
To preserve pay, benefits, and work hours for Germany's public works employees.

In April of 1996, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl intended to implement an Austerity Plan which would limit benefits for Public Works employees and increase the hours in their work week without increasing pay. This plan would reduce Germany’s spending by $33 billion, contributing to a decrease in their budget deficit. A decreasing budget deficit would enable Germany to join other European nations in creating and using a single European currency (what would become the Euro).

The German government system was deeply rooted in socialism and as such public works employees had historically been provided with extensive benefits such as health insurance, child care, and automatic pay raises. Some specific threats facing these workers were an increase of work hours from 38.5 to 40 hours per week without compensation for the extra time as well as reduction of unemployment benefits and sick pay. These stringent measures would result in significant decreases in the quality of life of public works employees in a time when Germany’s unemployment was at a record high. Job security was quickly sinking and many workers would have been too afraid to protest if the labor unions not organized massive nationwide collective action. One prominent union which held a lot of media focus during the strike was IG-Metall, headed by Walter Riester.

The labor unions maintained that workers deserved a 4.5 percent pay raise, while government officials refused to grant any pay raise of any amount. The strike on 20 May was organized by nationwide labor unions, who represented 3.2 million public service workers. The strike, which came about as a direct result of the unsuccessful negotiations between labor unions and government officials, affected garbage collection, hospital services, schools, and municipal offices. Ten thousand public service workers walked off of their jobs, many of them going instead to mass protests. Transportation and child care services were also among the most affected service providers, with Berlin’s 1,200 day care centers opening late because their 5,000 educators were at a protest. Mail workers from 6 of Germany’s 16 states refused to sort or deliver mail. This strike was not effective, and Chancellor Kohl responded simply that he was unimpressed by threats and that labor unions would get nowhere. The government did not react to this strike.

The austerity measures were passed on 13 September 1996 by the parliament. The plan was rejected by the Bundesrat, and upper chamber of parliament, but accepted by the Bundestag, a lower chamber, by a large enough margin to pass. The 100,000 workers struck further on October 1st of the same year, when the measures went into effect. Despite these efforts, the austerity measures went into full effect.

In spite of their well-organized widespread collective action, the workers were ultimately unsuccessful in preserving benefits and work hours for public works employees. This campaign, however, influenced the development of labor strikes that later emerged in Greece and Switzerland, who implemented similar strikes by public workers.

Research Notes

This labor strike influenced later European labor strikes

Borg, Gary. 1996. “100,000 Government Employees Hold Strike.” Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 16, 2015 ( workers).

Cowell, Alan. 1996. “Germany Is Tied Up by a 'Warning Strike' of Public Workers.” The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2015 ( 6/05/21/world/germany-is-tied-up-by-a-warning-strike-of-public-workers.html).

David L. Gregory, Why Not A General Strike, 20 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 621 (2006). Available at:

Daniels, Arne. n.d. “: Streit Bis Zum Streik?.” ZEIT ONLINE. Retrieved February 16, 2015 (

Dettmer, Markus, Dietmar Hawranek, and Armin Mahler. n.d. “DER SPIEGEL.” 16/1996. Retrieved February 16, 2015 (

Isaccsson, Carl-Erik. n.d. “100,000 Protest German Austerity Moves.” The Militant. Retrieved February 16, 2015 ( 1996/6036/6036_8.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Beatriz Grace Baker 17/02/2015