Germany: Train drivers dispute continues

The train drivers’ dispute about wages and working hours in Germany is going into the next round.

On Monday, November 26, the leadership of the train drivers’ union, GDL, declared in a press conference that the latest offer by the railway company management includes absolutely nothing new in comparison to its previous offers and that despite other claims it is not an independent wage contract for the train drivers.

Despite this sharp criticism the union leadership has decided to enter one further round of negotiations with management on December 3. It was expected that either the new offer would a real basis for negotiations or the train drivers would continue the battle with more strike action. But the GDL leadership seems to hope that in a weeks time the opinion of the managers would change – or, as GDL chair Manfred Schell said, that in the run up to Christmas the ‘holy ghost’ would descend on the managers.

The reality seems to be that the trade union leaders themselves are worried about an escalation of the strike. After several strikes of 48 and 62 hours – the longest train drivers’ strikes in German post-war history – the pressure amongst the rank and file for indefinite strike action is growing. This was even mentioned by Schell in the press conference. But he was still not prepared to say that if next Monday’s negotiations fail, the union will call an indefinite strike. They obviously fear that they would lose control of the situation.

The train drivers have suffered many setbacks on pay and working conditions over the last years. This led the GDL (which organises 80 per cent of train drivers) to leave the coalition with the other railway unions and demand a basic wage of 2,500 Euros before tax and a one-hour reduction in the working week in a separate contract exclusively for train drivers.

The right-wing trade union bureaucracy of the biggest railways union Transnet accuses the GDL of splitting the workforce and the trade union movement. In reality it is the right-wing policy of the Transnet leadership that has made many train drivers join the GDL and seek an alternative way to fight for their demands. In the present circumstances the GDL’s strike is rather breaking the ice and giving a positive example to workers and trade unionists that it is possible to fight for higher wages and a reduction in working hours. Many trade unionists say that the GDL at last is acting like a trade union should act – defending their members’ interests instead of agreeing on rotten deals with the bosses. This has led to bus and tube drivers in some cities leaving the main public sector union ver.di and joining the GDL. Under this pressure trade union leaders of ver.di and Transnet have suddenly come out with higher demands and combative sounding speeches. The train drivers’ strike has truly brought some movement into the whole German trade union movement.

Outside Monday’s press conference a group of Berlin GDL activists, together with members of SAV (German section of the CWI) and other activists from a solidarity committee, used the opportunity to hold a protest action and to underline the preparedness of the workers to struggle.

SAV branches all over Germany have built links with strikers and organised public activities and meetings in solidarity with the strike. Together with other left-wing trade unionists a website in solidarity with the strike was launched which has had a big impact. SAV members in the Left Party have put pressure on the leadership to come out in solidarity with the strikers. For many months the leadership of the Left Party tried to have an almost neutral position – saying that they understand the demands but do not agree with the fact that train drivers’ went on strike for a separate contract. But one week ago the Left party’s national committee came out in support of the strike at last.

GDL rank and file workers should now put pressure on their leadership to make sure a thorough democratic debate and decision making process is guaranteed in the trade union and that an indefinite strike should be called immediately if management does not give in to the demands of the GDL.

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