STEELWORKERS IN GERMANY SET TO GO ON STRIKE

STEELWORKERS IN GERMANY SET TO GO ON STRIKE

The strike set by German steelworkers on Friday could cripple the automobile industry here and certain freight forwarders should it drag on.

The strike vote must still be approved by the board of directors of IG Metall, the metalworkers union.An announcement will come Tuesday and if the board approves the labor action - which is considered a foregone conclusion - it will spell out the union's strike strategy.

The strike authorization received 86.8 percent approval from the rank and file of the iron and steel section of the IG Metall union. The union needed only 75 percent for the strike authorization.

Voting for the walkout were 82,600 workers, while 8,600 voted against it. The union is seeking wage increases of 10.5 percent, but has indicated it might accept an increase around 6.8 percent. The employer's latest offer was a 5.7 percent wage rise.

Freight forwarders specializing in steel transportation said the move would seriously hurt their business. Karl Beiztel, the owner of a forwarding firm by the same name, said the strike would mean a 50 percent reduction in his business. Mr. Beiztel's transportation firm in northern Germany specializes in transporting steel within Germany, but also transports products

from neighboring European Community countries to Germany.

He believes that while some companies may try to increase their steel imports, this will be difficult, because immediate available transportation capacity isn't there.

"Transportation can't be replaced that easily," he said.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bundesbahn, the German Federal Railway, said the steel strike would result in lower cargo volumes, but not necessarily a drop in income, as the cargo would likely be transported by rail at a later time. Some 10 percent of the railroad's cargo volume is derived from steel transportation, he said. German rail carries some 30 million metric tons of steel annually.

Automobile producers said they could maintain production in the very short run, but would run into difficulties if the strike dragged on. The Arbeitgeberverband Gesamtmetall Stahl - the steel employers' group - said the union had shown no willingness to compromise in the last salary negotiations, and instead chose the strike path.

The employers said they were not surprised that the union was able to garner enough strike votes, since every union call for a strike vote has resulted in the needed 75 percent approval.

The employers said the strike decision would set a precedent for this year's labor negotiations, commenting that in a steel strike "there are only losers."