A mega transport strike, unseen over decades, halted Germany. With the largest strike over decades, Airports, train stations and bus stations across Germany were at a standstill on Monday. The strike is the result of demands for wage hikes issued by several major trade unions.
As Europe’s biggest economy reels from inflation, Germany has been brought to a standstill by the “mega strike”, as two powerful unions — public sector union Verdi, which represents 2.5 million workers, and transport union EVG, which represents around 230,000 employees at Deutsche Bahn and some other bus companies, — joined forces to cripple the country’s transport infrastructure.
Media reports said:
Airports, bus stops, and train stations were at a standstill across Germany on Monday, as more than 400,000 public transportation employees took part in a 24-hour strike. The workers are demanding pay rises to compensate for inflation, which has soared in Germany since last year.
The strike began at midnight and is set to end at midnight on Tuesday.
Eight major German airports were affected, with the German Airports Association estimating that around 380,000 travelers were left stranded. Munich Airport shut down entirely from Sunday onwards, with all flights canceled and its terminal deserted.
Deutsche Bahn said on Monday that all long-distance services were canceled, while regional services were only restarting in some areas by Monday evening.
Trams, buses, and metro lines were also affected throughout the country.
Freight trains were halted too, as was shipping traffic in and out of Hamburg, Germany’s largest port and Europe’s third-busiest.
Verdi seeks a pay rise of 10.5%, but no less than €500. EVG, demands a 12% wage increase but no less than €650.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told Reuters on Monday that an agreement between the government and the unions will likely be reached this week.
Roughly 400,000 workers took part in the strike, Verdi chief Frank Werneke told German media. Newspapers in Germany described the walkout as a “mega strike,” calling it the largest such disruption in decades.
Werneke told the German newspaper Bild that securing a pay rise is “a matter of survival for many thousands of employees” struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.
Once Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany has seen its industrial output shrink and inflation rise to 8.7% in February, up from a steady rate of 0-2% between the mid-1990s and the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine last year.
Germany was heavily dependent on Russian gas and oil imports before the conflict, which all but ceased following the EU’s imposition of sanctions and the allegedly U.S.-orchestrated destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines. Although the German government announced in January that the country would narrowly avoid a recession this year, credit ratings agency Fitch predicted earlier this month that the German economy will enter recession by late 2023.
Other media reports said:
German airports and train stations resembled ghost towns on Monday as workers downed their tools in a 24-hour strike.
In one of the largest strikes in years, flights, train services and buses were cancelled across the country.
The aim is “to make it unmistakably clear to employers that workers are behind our demands”, said Verdi boss Frank Werneke ahead of negotiations with the government this week.
State rail company Deutsche Bahn criticized the action, describing it as “excessive and overblown”.
Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s largest air hub, confirmed that over a thousand flights had been cancelled.
Traffic jams were not as severe as expected at rush hour as many workers appear to have taken the chance to work from home.
Local councils have warned that the unions’ demands will bite into the public purse at a time when money is tight.
Municipalities “will be forced to raise taxes for rubbish collection, entrance fees for swimming pools or property tax”, said Gerd Landsberg, head of the association of local government, to Bild newspaper.
The strike caused disruption for millions at the start of the working week during one of the largest walkouts in decades
The 24-hour “warning” strike were the latest in months of industrial action which has hit major European economies as higher food and energy prices dent living standards.
They kicked off three days of wage talks which could lead to further strikes if they fail to yield a compromise. Employers have offered 5% more wages over a period of 27 months and a one-off payment of 2,500 euros – proposals unions, which are calling for double digit hikes, call unacceptable amid soaring inflation which reached 9.3% in February.
Germany, particularly hard hit by higher prices as it scrambled for new energy sources, and inflation rates exceeding the euro-area average in recent months.
Worsening chronic labor shortages give unions a strong negotiating hand, economists say.
The Airports Association ADV estimated that 380,000 air passengers were affected by flight suspensions including at two of Germany’s largest airports in Munich and Frankfurt. In Frankfurt alone, almost 1,200 flights for 160,000 passengers were cancelled and stranded travelers slept on benches.
Rail services were also cancelled by railway operator Deutsche Bahn. Striking workers wearing yellow or red high-visibility jackets blew horns, sirens and whistles, held up banners and waved flags during protests.
In Cologne, the lack of city trains prompted a dash for taxis.
“Millions of passengers who depend on buses and trains are suffering from this excessive, exaggerated strike,” a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson said on Monday.
Persistent cost pressures have pushed central banks to a series of interest rate increases, with policymakers urging Germany to avoid a destabilizing price-wage spiral.
The interior ministry said the demands were equivalent to extra costs of 1.4 billion euros per year – and if that wage agreement were extended to other public sector workers as well as retired civil servants, judges and soldiers, it would equal 4.7 billion euros in total.
A government spokesperson on Monday said politics should stay out of the wage talks, while Interior Minister Nancy Faeser expressed confidence that a solution would be found this week.
EVG chairman Martin Burkert warned further strikes were possible, including over the Easter holiday period.
“We have been dragged along here for too long. The big ones benefit and the small ones, who keep everything running, get nothing,” said striking worker Christoph Gerschner. “People have second or third jobs to make ends meet.”
If independent mediation also yielded no result, “then the situation will get very dark in Germany”, warned Ulrich Silberbach, head of the German Civil Service Association (DBB). “Then we will have to launch an indefinite, nationwide industrial action.”
The union strife still pales in comparison with protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms in neighboring France which have sparked the worst street violence in years.
Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer said the economic impact of Monday’s strike on Germany’s 181-million-euro ($194-million)-a-day transport sector was limited so far but this could change if the strikes persisted over a longer time.
“The losses are likely to be limited to the transportation industry because factories will continue to operate and many employees will be working from home.”
The head of the Bundesbank, Joachim Nagel, said last week Germany needed to avoid a destabilizing price-wage spiral, which he had not so far observed.
“To be clear: Preventing inflation to become persistent via the labor market requires that employees accept sensible wage gains and that firms accept sensible profit margins,” he said.
It all marks the latest in months of industrial action throughout major European economies, as higher food and energy prices dent living standards.
In Spain, air traffic controllers have walked out on several days throughout March, while Italy is also preparing for major strikes.
Rail sector workers in France have participated in the massive unrest over Paris’ planned pension reform.