Germany: Railway workers’ union, EVG, holds strike ballot

Jonas Grampp is a member of the youth group of the Berlin region of the German Railway and Transport Union (EVG) and of the youth representative committee of DB Netz AG, the railway infrastructure division of the state owned German railways (Deutsche Bahn). He is also a member of Sol (CWI in Germany), and active in Bahnvernetzung, a grouping of militant trade unionists in the EVG and the smaller German train drivers’ union (GDL), which are close to the Network for Combative Trade Unions (VKG). Sascha Staničić spoke with him (in a personal capacity) on behalf of Solidarität, the socialist monthly journal of the German CWI section.

Q: The EVG has declared the collective bargaining with the DB to have failed. That was surprising for some. What is the reason for this decision?

A: Since the documents on this are not public, it is difficult to grasp all the decision points of the Federal Executive Committee and the bargaining commission. But it is clear that, in particular, the long duration of 27 months (12 months were demanded by the EVG) was a huge factor. But also a fixed amount of about 400 euros cannot be reconciled with our demands and even less so with a duration of more than 2 years.

Q: Now we are calling for a strike ballot. How do you assess the mood among the workers?

A: If I had been asked at the end of May, one week after the court hearing at the labour court in Frankfurt, my estimate would have been around ninety percent in favour. The protracted negotiations, in which the members had hardly any insight, have reduced the willingness to strike. Nevertheless, I think we will break eighty percent approval.

At the moment, the agreement with Transdev and Abellio (private rail companies) is circulating. It includes a 420 euro a month wage increase, as a fixed amount for a period of 21 months, with an additional one thousand euros to compensate for inflation. However, the EVG cannot score points with DB with such an agreement. Not least because of the waiver in recent years at the expense of the employees, we have set up our demands of 12 percent rise, with a minimum increase of at least 650 euros a month,  in a contract lasting of twelve months. There is no reason to deviate from these demands now at the beginning of a ballot and strike. If the EVG leadership wants to transfer the Transdev and Abellio agreement to the Deutsche Bahn (the state owned rail company), they are making a serious mistake and will weaken the willingness to strike in case of doubt.

Q: After the ballot normally comes a strike. It was different with the Post Office this year. Do you see the danger that this ballot is only meant to build up pressure and avoid a strike?

A: The executive committee of the EVG made it clear in today’s press conference that they can also imagine warning strikes until the end of the ballot. With an expected duration of the ballot of four to five weeks, this is also necessary to build up additional pressure and to “warm up”. However, they have already stated that they are ready for further offers from DB and do not rule out negotiations. In my opinion, the Federal Executive Committee’s decision was mainly to increase the pressure on Deutsche Bahn, but I don’t yet see whether we will actually go on strike for an indefinite period.

Q: How should a strike be conducted in order to be successful?

Strikes should be structured in such a way that they pick up all workers and underline our common demands. For this, it is absolutely necessary to deal with full transparency about offers, negotiation results, and strike tactics. At the same time, there is a need for a more appropriate means to democratically discuss and decide on the continuation of strikes or a later acceptance of an offer from the employer. This requires democratic structures, which must be further developed and strengthened. If we go on strike, we will certainly be confronted with a media campaign and statements by bourgeois politicians against the strike. This makes a broad solidarity campaign of all trade unions necessary and, of course, also an appeal to the colleagues of the GDL (the other rail workers’ union mainly organising train drivers) to, at best, also stop work, but at least not to break the strike.

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June 2023