A strike movement of an extremely rare scale for Germany began on Monday March 27 to paralyze the entire national transport sector, while the unions are demanding wage increases in the face of inflation. Unlike countries like France, such a unitary movement between unions is extremely rare there.
This “mega strike”, as the German media have already dubbed it, affects a country where prices have been soaring for more than a year, with inflation reaching 8.7% in February. United, the two main unions in the sector, EVG and Ver.di, are asking for more than 10% wage increase. Employers (states, municipalities, public companies) are offering an increase of only 5%, with two single payments of 1,000 and 1,500 euros.
“On the model of France”
Deutsche Bahn decided to completely suspend mainline traffic on Monday, warning that the disruptions would also be very significant in the region. The Federation of German Airports (DAV) has denounced a strategy “of escalating strikes on the model of France”where the days of mobilization follow one another against the pension reform. “A social conflict that has no repercussions is a harmless social conflict”replied Frank Werneke, president of the Ver.di union.
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, expert from the DIW economic institute interviewed by Agence France-Presse (AFP). With a particularly low level of unemployment since the end of the 2000s, the country suffers from a shortage of labour, which puts “in a strong position” unions in the negotiations, according to Mr. Brenke.
Since the mid-2010s, they have succeeded in imposing increases, after 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%.
Other sectors on strike
The mobilization for wages in services has been accompanied since the beginning of the year by demonstrations. After the threat of “open-ended strike”, the 160,000 employees of Deutsche Post, who negotiate separately, have already obtained in early March an average salary increase of 11.5%. At the end of 2022, nearly 4 million German industrial workers won an 8.5% salary increase over two years, after several weeks punctuated by work stoppages.
But the dispute is broader. “It’s not just a question of salary but of resources”Jan Exner Konrad, 34, who was taking part in a protest by teachers in Berlin on Thursday, told AFP.