Germany: the transport sector paralyzed by a “mega-strike”

A strike movement of an extremely rare scale for Germany strikes, this Monday, the entire national transport sector. Employees of airports, rail, sea freight, motorway companies, local transport are called from midnight (22h GMT) to 24 hours off work.

This mobilization is part of a context of growing social tensions in Germany, where strikes for wages have multiplied since the beginning of the year, from schools to hospitals, including the Post Office.

Unlike countries like France, such a unitary movement between the EVG and Ver.di unions, representing 230,000 railway workers and 2.5 million service employees respectively, is extremely rare.

A large mobilization expected

This “Mega-Streik” (mega-strike) – as the German media have already dubbed it – affects a country where prices have soared for more than a year, with inflation reaching 8.7% in February . The unions are asking for more than 10% salary increase.

Read also: Inflation in Germany hit an all-time high in 2022, at almost 8%

Employers (states, municipalities, public companies) offer a 5% increase with two single payments of 1000 and 1500 euros.

EVG and Ver.di expect a “broad mobilization”. Deutsche Bahn decided to completely suspend mainline traffic on Monday, warning that the disruptions would also be very significant in the region.

Unions “in a position of strength”

The Federation of German Airports (DAV) denounced a strategy of “escalating strikes on the model of France”, where days of mobilization follow one another once morest the pension reform. The ground is increasingly favorable to the social movement in Germany, which is moving away from the culture of consensus that has made its reputation.

“There have been more strikes in the last ten years in Germany than in previous decades,” observes Karl Brenke, an expert from the DIW economic institute interviewed by AFP. With a particularly low level of unemployment since the end of the 2000s, the country suffers from a lack of manpower which puts the unions “in a position of strength” in the negotiations, according to Karl Brenke.

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Since the mid-2010s, they have succeeded in imposing increases, following a decade marked by the wage moderation policy of the Gerhard Schröder era, in the name of competitiveness.

In 2015, a record was recorded, with more than 2 million strike days in the year. Real wages increased systematically from 2014 to 2021, except in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The momentum was broken by inflation in 2022, with a decline of 3.1%. Employees “are tired of being led by the nose in collective bargaining”, according to Frank Werneke, president of the Ver.di union.

A question of means

After the threat of an “open-ended strike”, the 160,000 employees of Deutsche Post, who are negotiating separately, have already obtained an average salary increase of 11.5% in early March.

At the end of 2022, nearly 4 million German industrial workers won an 8.5% wage increase over two years, following several weeks punctuated by work stoppages.

But the dispute is broader. “It’s not just a question of salary but of means,” Jan Exner Konrad, 34, told AFP, taking part in a demonstration by teachers in Berlin on Thursday.

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