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EU Dock Workers Strike

Tens of thousands of dock workers in several European Union nations went on strike Wednesday to protest plans to liberalize cargo handling at EU seaports, unions said.

The European Transport Workers' Federation said a total of about 40,000 people participated in 12 countries to protest an EU bill that would open up cargo handling to competition.

Supporters say the bill is needed to cut costs, speed up deliveries, and encourage investment in ports across the 25-nation bloc.

Dock workers' unions fear it would lead to lost jobs, lower wages, and less safety. They want qualified stevedores to continue dock work, arguing the job is too specialized to leave to untrained personnel.

Some 4,500 German port workers took part in Wednesday's strike, which paralyzed container terminals in Hamburg, where some 1,000 workers walked out. "Not one crane is moving cargo," said a union spokesman.

In Bremen and Lower Saxony state, 1,600 workers took part in protests. Short strikes were also planned in Baltic Sea ports.

German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee joined the criticism, saying the plan could damage the ports and result in job losses. "Port Package II will not lead to more competition and higher quality in the seaports," he added.

In Rotterdam, only a few hundred dock workers were expected to stage a four-hour strike at the European Container Terminals, according to Port Authority. With 58,000 employees working at Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, operations would barely be affected, a spokesperson said.

Workers planned to strike for four hours in Antwerp, Belgium, the EU's second largest port, and union members at three other Belgian ports plan to join the protest.

Dock workers in Finland also took part in the staggered strike, scheduled to last a few hours, but it was not expected to halt passenger ferries between Finland, Sweden ,and Estonia, union officials said.

The EU's Executive Commission redrafted the bill, after the European Parliament rejected the last attempt to open up port services in 2003, following several strikes.