Friday, November 23, 2007

Germany: Rail strikes bring country to a standstill

Rail workers from the German train drivers union, the Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer (GDL), have repeatedly brought the country to a standstill in recent weeks, with rolling strikes against the state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn AG.
The immediate cause of the nation-wide rail strikes — the biggest in recent German history — is a dispute over wage increases. The 34,000-strong GDL has turned down a 4.5% pay rise plus a one-off pay-out of 600 euros that was accepted by two other unions covering rail workers, and is demanding an increase of up to 30%, claiming that German train drivers are paid less than their European counterparts. The 4.5% deal would also represent a net decline in wages, which have stagnated and dropped in recent years.

At the same time, Deutsche Bahn, which was corporatised after merging with East German rail company Deutsche Reichsbahn, is expecting up to 2.4 billion euros in operating profits in 2007. Since German unification in 1990, over 400,000 rail workers have lost their jobs — 100,000 alone under the current management of corporate hardliner Hartmut Mehdorn. In July, right-wing German Chancellor Angela Merkel lent further support to Mehdorn's management when her cabinet approved plans to privatise up to 49% of Deutsche Bahn, plans that the current strike may place in jeopardy.