Strikers' strategies test mettle of German leaders

At the end of West Germany's first week of major strikes in six years, confrontation is hardening. So far there is no visible inclination to move toward compromise or mediation. Lockouts and sympathy strikes in branches unrelated to the original strikes are scheduled to begin May 22.

The key IG Metall metalworkers union that is leading the crusade for lowering the 40-hour workweek to 35 hours is succeeding in its choice of ''principles that hurt.'' Its initial strikes have been limited to a few tens of thousands of workers in auto parts supply firms in north Baden-Wurttemberg.

In this relatively prosperous region the union could get the necessary 75 percent minimum vote of members in favor of a strike - a result that might not have been possible in the unemployment-ridden iron-and-steel Ruhr Valley.

North Baden-Wurttemberg was also a profitable place to strike. The big car producers there have been quickly affected by the stoppage of deliveries since they have maintained slim inventories of components over the past three years of recession. Yet they are rich enough to afford a generous settlement, since they have been one of the sectors leading the economic recovery of the past half year.

Already the auto manufacturers are feeling the pinch. IG Metall struck a manufacturer directly - Daimler-Benz in Sindelfingen - for the first time Thursday. And producers are closing assembly lines for lack of parts - Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW on Thursday, Porsche and Opel early next week. On May 21 the metalworkers will expand their strikes to include 33,000 in Hesse.

Full lockouts are set to begin May 22, and the DGB trade union federation has pledged retaliatory sympathy strikes by its 17 member unions.

Meanwhile, print workers continue their spot strikes throughout the country in pressing for a 35-hour workweek. A few thousand bank employees of the larger DGB union have also begun conducting brief work stoppages. The smaller independent banking and office workers union agreed last month on raises for a continued 40-hour week.

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