Train drivers in Germany’s GDL union held a successful three-hour strike on Friday of last week, bringing much of the country’s rail network to a halt.
The drivers took the action as part of their pay campaign against Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany’s rail company which has been earmarked for privatisation.
Train drivers are badly paid compared to other skilled workers in Germany, taking home around 1,500 euros a month, or just over £1,000. The GDL has warned that they may strike again this week with little warning.
The drivers want a 30 percent pay rise – and this demand is supported by the public. In polls, a majority of people say they back the train drivers’ campaign.
Nevertheless, the leadership of GDL is limiting its actions to intermittent three-hour strikes – so called “needle” tactics that could go on for weeks. DB has tried to block the strikes in the courts.
The strength of public support for the strike is part of a wider feeling that wage rises should be on the agenda in Germany. Real wages have been dropping in recent years and are now at 1986 levels.
Unemployment is going down and the German economy is apparently doing well – yet there is a widespread feeling that ordinary workers are getting nothing out of this.
The GDL strike also threatens to derail government plans to privatise DB.
Financiers say that if the company is forced into granting wage increases to its drivers, it will make its shares less attractive as an investment.
This threat poses severe problems to Germany’s “grand coalition” government, which brings together the social democratic SPD with the conservative CDU.
Privatising DB is one of the coalition’s flagship projects. But the strike – which is backed by the radical Die Linke party – could help paralyse the government and pull the political spectrum to the left.