Germany’s largest public strike in decades brought trains and aircraft – but not the country – to a near standstill on Monday in an unresolved cost-of-living pay dispute.
About 400,000 air passengers and an estimated seven million rail passengers were affected by the strike, but traffic chaos was largely avoided as commuters made alternative travel arrangements or worked from home.
The 24-hour warning strike was called by the Verdi public sector union’s 2.5 million members, as well as the EVG rail union’s 30,000 workers, ahead of further rounds of pay talks with employers.
As well as flights in almost all major airports and long-distance rail services from state operator Deutsche Bahn (DB), seven states where DB operates public transport also had to do without buses, trams and local trains, as well as many state-run kindergartens.
By midafternoon, however, public transport in Berlin, Munich and other cities was up and running again.
No major traffic jams were reported in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to one in five Germans, nor were there any unusual tailbacks in major cities Hamburg and Berlin.
Verdi and civil servant union DBB are demanding a 12-month deal with a 10.5 per cent pay rise, or at least an additional €500 monthly, for their members.
Outside Berlin’s central station, bus driver Frank Kerstel criticised transport firm managers for spending billions of euro on “vanity projects” and their own salaries but not, as he put it, “on the people who make sure things run every day”.
“In the traditional family with one earner it’s not possible to live off this salary and inflation’s made things much worse,” he said, in reference to Germany’s 8.7 per cent inflation rate.
The few commuters who made it to the train station on Monday were largely understanding of the strike action. “It makes things complicated for me but these people have to live too,” said Florian (22), astudent trying to get to Frankfurt.
After another round of unsuccessful pay talks on Monday, Verdi said employers were refusing to agree to its demands.
“There is really pressure building up among our members,” said Frank Wernicke, the union’s head. “Employees are sick of being fobbed off with nice words. Working conditions keep getting worse and many jobs remain unfilled.”
Civil servant union DBB’s head Ulrich Silberberg warned that a lack of movement on the €500 payment made it likely that Germany would soon face longer, open-ended strikes.
“With the runaway cost of living, unions will not be able to agree to anything without a minimum payment agreement,” he said.
Employers, who have offered a one-off payment of €2,500 and a 5 per cent pay rise in a 27-month pay deal, criticised the scale of Monday’s strike and dismissed pay demands as impossible to finance.
“Millions of people who depend on rail and buses are the ones suffering from this overblown strike,” said a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn, which was also hit by a strike in its cargo business. “Thousands of firms have been hit by a strike where the only winners are the petrol companies.”