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Western Europe: German, French Unions Plan Joint Jobless Protest

Bonn, 8 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- German and French labor unions have agreed to mount a joint protest next month against the perceived failure of the European Union to take constructive measures against unemployment. The union said unemployment across western Europe was now around 19 million.

On May 8, German and French workers will stage joint marches and "protest actions," such as occupying government offices. German labor officials say the demonstrations will take place in towns along the Franco-German border and on bridges across the Rhine river.

The plan for the cross-border action was announced in Germany after another of the monthly nation-wide protests against unemployment, which at 12.1 percent is the highest in modern German history. Demonstrations took place in about 300 German towns and cities. Several rally speakers referred to a gloomy prediction by a senior employers' representative that a real reduction in Germany's unemployment could take ten to 15 years unless "imaginative new measures" were found to combat it.

The latest German unemployment statistics, released yesterday, show that in the month of March the number of unemployed fell by 196,000 as compared with February. But as the Federal Labor office acknowledged, the figure remains the highest in modern German history for the month of March.

The new figure of unemployed is 4,623,400. The Federal Labor Office said that most of the improvement was in western Germany. In the former communist east Germany, there is little change in the high level of unemployment and the outlook for the future remains grim.

The government responded to the new figures by declaring that a turnaround was beginning in western Germany. But the metal workers labor union rejected that view in a statement as "election year tactics." The union statement noted that a similar drop in the number of unemployed last year was followed immediately by a dramatic increase.

Earlier this week the President of the employers association for the metal trade, Werner Stumpfe, said that without new ideas, there would be no rapid solution to the German -- and European -- labor crisis.

Unemployment is expected to be a key issue in the campaign for the national elections in September, in which Chancellor Helmut Kohl will be bidding for an unprecedented fifth term in office. His social-democratic challenger, Gerhard Schroeder, claims that the unemployment is the result of the Kohl's government mismanagement of the economy in its 16 years of power.