Germany: Longest train drivers’ strike in German history

German train drivers follow French model

Taking their fight to a new level, German train drivers will, this week, holding the biggest strike in their history, stopping all freight traffic for two and a half days, and all passenger trains for 48 hours. Last week, the drivers staged a 42 hour strike that stopped Deutsche Bahn freight trains. This came after a court decision on 2 November that overturned a previous court ban on drivers striking on freight and long distance passenger services.

The fact that the court upheld the drivers’ right to strike boosted the workers’ confidence. Pushed by the mood of their base, the leadership of the train drivers’ union, the GDL, said for the first time that an indefinite strike is possible.

Fake negotiations

The GDL rejected Deutsche Bahn’s latest contract offer, which includes a one-time payment of 2,000 euros and a 10 % rise. But 1,400 euro out of the 2,000 euro was already paid for 100 hours overtime working and the rest was negotiated in the old contract.

To get the 10 % wage raise, the railway workers would have to work two hours more each week, and the rest of the offer they already rejected. The offer was based on an agreement which Deutsche Bahn made, on 9 July, giving 134,000 members of the other rail unions, Transnet and GBDA, a 4.5 % pay increase.

Trade union leaders under pressure

In Berlin, two days before the strike, the Sozialistische Alternative (SAV) and the GDL organized a meeting where over 100 people discussed how to support the strike actions and protests.

Many trade unionists, from different fields, took part in this serious discussion. Lucy Redler (SAV), who was on the podium, made an important point about the chair of the DGB trade union federation, Sommer, who spoke at metalworkers’ conference about unity between workers and employers through “social peace”. In contrast, Lucy said unity should be achieved between trade unions and workers during their struggles against the cuts and not in a refusing to fight back.

As well as the train drivers’ strike, there are rallies taking place, including at the DGB building and at the Federal transport ministry.

Despite the DGB leaders trying to isolate the train drivers, there is widespread solidarity for the strikers, expressed by many workers from various unions. In Hamburg, the Ver.di union invited train drivers from both main rail unions, Transnet and GDL, to discuss with them about their demands and strike policy. They have also set up a website calling for solidarity for the train drivers, as SAV-members and others proposed. The SAV, along with others, also set up site in solidarity with the drivers and which gets many visitors.

The combination of the, so far, successful strikes of this smaller union organisation GDL and the fact that around 1,000 workers have changed trade unions to join the GDL increased pressure on the leadership of the other rail unions, Transnet and GDBA.

These unions suddenly announced, last Friday, that they may also go on strike against the latest privatisation plans of the Deutsche Bahn. For years, the union leaders supported privatisation but now feel forced to show signs of resistance. However, they are not opposing privatisation but have started (very belatedly), to demand job guarantees for rail workers.

The latest plan of the railway management is to move the train drivers into a separate service company and to negotiate their own pay contract directly with these workers, to supposedly end the stand-off.

How can the strike be won?

To win this important dispute, the rail trade unions should call for a stoppage that could win significant wage increases and against privatisation of the Deutsche Bahn. This could serve as an example how to fight back and to end the feeling amongst many workers that there is no chance but to accept wage cuts instead of losing jobs. However, instead of leading, the leadership of Transnet and GDBA have to be pushed by their members to make every small step. In this situation, rail workers need to organise to build unity at the rank and file level, and to build a united struggle that can lead to victory.

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November 2007