German rail workers strike

The German train drivers’ union, the GDL, struck the German railroad company Deutsche Bahn on Nov. 6 for the third time in a month. The strike was scheduled to last four days, the longest in DB history. The union called it off on Nov. 8 as a “friendly gesture,” according to GDL leader Claus Weselsky. (, Nov. 8)

The strike was effective. Only one train out of three ran, according to DB, and stopping freight deliveries closed factories.

The head of the German bourgeoisie, Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel; the Social Democrats (socialist in name only); and the largest transport union, the EVG — notorious for its collaboration with the bosses — opened up a harsh attack on the GDL.

The media published Weselsky’s phone number with a photograph of his home in order to whip up commuters against him. These forces even compared the GDL to the Islamic State in Iraq and moved to have the strike declared illegal by the courts.

Despite this pressure from the German ruling class, the court, in a stunning rebuke to the government, declared that the GDL had a constitutional right to strike.

The GDL is demanding a 5 percent wage increase and a cut in their hours from 39 to 37 a week. They also want DB to recognize that they represent all the “mobile” workers: conductors and on-board catering staff.

DB, formed in 1994 as a privatized version of the two state companies in previously East and West Germany, is a joint-stock company with the government owning a majority of the stock.

Due to staff cutbacks and speed up, train drivers get only one weekend off a month. They did around 3 million hours of overtime in 2013, which cost the working class in Germany 2,237 jobs.

German workers have suffered a series of reverses for decades, especially after the annexation of the German Democratic Republic in 1990. The German bosses pushed the costs — first, of this process and then, of the 2008 recession — onto the backs of the German workers.

The percentage of German workers in unions fell from 40.6 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This is probably due to a lot more part-time and temporary workers and job outsourcing outside Germany.

The German government is trying to break the GDL and every union in the country, but the workers are resisting and fighting back, which is their right.