For the first time in 130 years, the powerful German trade union IG Metall will have a woman at the top starting this Monday. Christiane Benner (55) sees her fight for workers’ rights as a political mission.
During the weekend, the newly appointed head of Germany’s most significant union called on the federal government to pursue a more consistent policy. She also lashed out at Tesla CEO Elon Musk for allegedly trying to ban the unions from his factory near Berlin.
Christiane Benner told the German Welt am Sonntag that transforming into a climate-neutral economy offers many opportunities. However, she said the government must help with long-range planning given the inherent disruptions.
Soaring energy costs due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, high inflation, and weaker demand from key trade partner China make Germany uncertain about its future as an industrial powerhouse and export leader.
Adding to Germany’s woes are long-running structural problems, such as a shortage of skilled workers in an aging country. More than 2,6 million young adults in Germany under 35 have no vocational qualification, despite a growing need for highly qualified employees as new technologies transform businesses.
“The most important thing is keeping industry in Germany and Europe,” she told AFP in an interview in her Frankfurt office.
“It has been calculated where new jobs can be created, whether in e-mobility, the circular economy, or storage technologies. But for that, we need a master plan,” Benner said.
‘Creeping dismantling of industry and jobs’
“It is right to set goals, such as being climate-neutral in 2045 or not allowing any more combustion cars after 2035, but since there does not seem to be one comprehensive blueprint, many people are unsettled,” she said.
Benner said that Germany’s export-oriented and energy-intensive industries are in a difficult situation and complained about a “creeping dismantling of industry and jobs”. One policy she considers useful is introducing a “bridge electricity price”, which could bring financial predictability.
IG Metall was founded in 1949 and is the largest trade union in Europe, representing, among others, workers in Germany’s car factories and technology sector, machine tool, and electrical industries.
The union receives around 500 million euros in membership fees every year. IG Metall is a male bastion – 80% of IG Metall’s members are men – and in that sense, the leadership by a woman is remarkable.