Libation Labor Dispute Bavarians Worried about Beer Supply

For Bavarians, the fasting period of Lent is a favorite time to drink beer. This year, though, suds lovers may be out of luck, with brewery employees threatening to go on strike. It's just one of many such labor disputes brewing in Germany.

Fasting during Lent is, of course, relative. The Catholic faithful may forego meat for the 40 days before Easter, but there are plenty of other ways to keep one's calorie count up.

Beer, for example. Indeed, many in Bavaria actually look forward to Lent. White sausage and pork roast are -- for the faithful, at least -- taboo, but the season is made tolerable by a beverage known as "Starkbier," a slightly stronger and much more nourishing beer brewed for just a few weeks each spring.

This year, though, may be an exception. Bavarian beer brewers this week have staged warning strikes in a number of the southern state's leading breweries, including Augustiner, Spaten, Franziskaner and Löwenbräu. And if the breweries don't make concessions to union demands, brewery workers are threatening to walk out indefinitely. Should that happen, Bavarian beer supplies could dry up.

The 10,000 workers in Bavarian breweries are demanding a 6-percent pay raise. "The warning strikes are necessary because employers have made us a totally inadequate offer," said Hans Hartl, head of the labor union representing the brewery workers, NGG. Hundreds took to the picket lines on Monday, with more set to walk out on Tuesday.

Breweries are offering a 1.7-percent raise. "We are going to be hit hard by the economic crisis," said Wilhelm Hermann, who is heading up the negotiating team for the brewers. "When people have less money, they spend less on gastronomy."

The libation labor battle is just one in a series of such altercations that has already hit Germany this year. Despite the grim economic prognosis, thousands of public sector workers have staged periodic warning strikes across Germany in recent weeks to back up demands for wage hikes -- a pay increase that was granted in an agreement reached on Sunday. German service union Ver.di has also hit Deutsche Telekom with strikes. The same union disrupted Berlin airports in February with service personnel walkouts. And this week, IG Metall has threatened to hit Germany's textile industry with strikes.

Bavarian beer lovers, for their part, will be hoping that the labor dispute in southern Germany is resolved quickly. Should the walkouts become indefinite, the supply on hand at most breweries will only be enough to last a few weeks.

cgh -- with wire reports


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