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Germany: Public transport laid low by latest strikes

March 3, 2023

Local public transport across much of Germany is not running amid a round of public sector strikes in six states. The climate change activist group Fridays for Future was planning parallel demonstrations as well.

Trams or streetcars in Hanover stationary, with large stickers in their front windows saying "today, warning strike." March 3, 2023.
Trams in Hanover and a variety of German cities were largely stationary on FridayImage: Moritz Frankenberg/dpa/picture alliance

Public sector workers in several German states downed tools on Friday in the latest so-called warning strike as negotiations between employers and a major trade union falter.

Local public transport was the focus of the strikes in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden Württemberg, Lower Saxony, Bremen, and Saxony. 

Almost all local trams or trains and buses in the affected regions were not scheduled to operate throughout the day. 

A series of public sector strikes have taken place around the country during the winter, recently impacting airports in particular but also other services like postal deliveries

Major trade union Verdi, Germany's second largest by membership, is trying to negotiate a pay rise of 10%, or a minimum of €500 per month (roughly $530), for around 2.4 million employees in a variety of fields from bus and tram drivers to children's daycare workers and others. It also wants a promise of renewed talks 12 months later.

Unions say both unusually high 2022 inflation and workers already being paid too little contribute to the demands. The latest round of talks, which began in January, concluded without progress last week.

An empty platform is seen at station "Kroepcke", one of the main tram stations in Hanover, during the early hours on March 3, 2023 in Hanover, Germany.
Subway, bus and tram stations were deserted with this sign in Hanover telling travelers that no services were running at all on FridayImage: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Fridays for Future protests in parallel

Meanwhile, as more people were likely forced to use their cars, climate change activist group Fridays for Future said that it would organize protests around the country to coincide with the strikes. 

First evidence of this could already be seen early on Friday, with police in the western city of Bonn saying, "Currently people are blocking traffic on the Adenauerallee, heading towards Bonn," and advising motorists to avoid the area if possible.

"Indeed, people have currently attached themselves to the roadway," police said in response to a query as to whether they were describing such a protest.

That said, although the group in Germany had linked the activity to the strikes and said it was coordinationg with unions, it was also calling for a "Global Climate Strike" on Friday more generally.

The head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (the BDA), Steffen Kampeter, said it was a mistake to link the two actions. He said that while strikes were a legitimate tool in pay disputes, they should not be mixed with more general political goals and campaigns. 

Union leader calls critcism 'complete nonsense' 

The co-leader of Germany's Green party, Ricarda Lang, voiced support for the strike in an interview with online news portal web.de. She said rural areas, in particular, were struggling to recruit bus drivers. 

"They need good wages and better working conditions, for example a shift system that's family-friendly," Lang said. 

The secretary-general of the German Trade Union Confederation (the DGB), Yasmin Fahimi, defended the wave of industrial action in an appearance on a podcast operated by the Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger and the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland group of newspapers.

She said it was "of course complete nonsense" to say unions had lost their sense of perspective, even if citing the current economic difficulties. 

"In every crisis we hear over and over these demands for restraint, restraint, restraint — for collective responsibility," Fahimi said. But she said that by the end of these crises, the final result was always "that the rich get ever richer and the whole issue is paid off by the workforce." 

She said this could not continue and that employees could not be allowed to "fall behind" amid rising inflation. 

Fahimi also said it "made sense" that Fridays for Future would protest in parallel. She said Verdi and the climate activist group shared an interest in "a massive expansion of local public transport" — if admittedly not this Friday in much of Germany.

msh/nm (AFP, dpa)

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