Largest strike in decades brings Germany to a standstill

Inflation in Europe is being driven by profit-expansion by companies that have taken advantage of the crises to raise prices in excess of their costs.

germany strike
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Frankfurt: Air, rail and bus, port and subway transportation across Germany came to a standstill on Monday in a 24-hour “warning” strike that made for one of the largest walkouts in Germany since 1992. The strike was called by the two of Germany’s largest trade unions, Verdi and EVG railway and transport union, as part of a larger struggle against rising inflation in Europe. 

While the strike was set to begin at midnight, Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail operator, suspended all long-distance trains for the day. Some airports also cancelled flights scheduled to arrive or depart on Sunday

Commuter and regional trains came to a standstill. Trams, buses and other local transport services stopped operating in seven out of sixteen federal states. Thousands of flights have been cancelled, especially in Frankfurt and Munich, which are two of Germany’s largest airports. Reuters reports that almost 1,200 flights were cancelled in Frankfurt alone, leaving 16,000 passengers stranded. According to estimates by the Airports Association ADV, nearly 380,000 air passengers were affected by the flight suspensions. 

Following the warning strike, the employers and unions are engaging in three days of wage talks where employers have offered a 5% wage hike over a period of 27 months and a one-off payment of 2500 euros. However, Verdi has asked for a 10.5% wage increase and EVG has asked for a 12% increase. 

Verdi represents around 2.5 million public sector employees including public transport and airport workers, and EVG represents 230,000 employees at railway and bus companies. Should negotiations fail, both unions will increase pressure on the employers and may hold further strikes, even over the Easter holiday break.

Similar strikes have been held over the past few months in Germany. In February, members of Verdi and the Civil Service Association organised a strike in seven major German airports – Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Bremen, Hamburg, Hanover and Dortmund. More than 2,300 flights were cancelled affecting 300,000 passengers. In early March, postal workers won a 11.5% pay rise. Public sector workers in childcare and education have also organised walkouts in recent weeks. Last year in November, one of Germany’s biggest unions, IG Metall, also won a pay rise of 8.5% for the 4 million workers that it represents. Such joint calls for strikes are rare in Germany and are representative of rising public anger over ever-increasing commodity prices. 

Read Also: Popular Pushback Against Pension Proposal rocks France

Rising Prices In Germany

Germany has been struggling with high inflation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which affected Germany’s supply of gas. This led to a massive hike in petrol and food expenses in the recent months. Strikers told Reuters that the pay rise is a matter of survival as people are having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Indeed, wages have been growing far more slowly than inflation, and there has been a 5% drop in the standard of living for the average employee in Europe in comparison to 2021. 

In February, the inflation rate hit 9.3%, due to which the European Central Bank (ECB) has raised interest rates by the most in four decades to prevent an inflation spiral from increase in both consumer prices and wages. The assumption here was that inflation was wage-led. However, ECB reports show that rather than the war in Ukraine or a wage-price spiral, inflation in Europe is being driven by profit-expansion by companies that have taken advantage of the crises to raise prices in excess of their costs. The data articulated in their reports show that company profit-margins have been increasing rather than shrinking at the expense of the workers of Europe, who are underpaid and overworked. Despite this, officials and employers continue to perpetrate this false narrative by warning that an increase in wages could lead to higher taxes and fares.

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