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Strikes For Members

Why Germany is being hit by strikes almost every day

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Why Germany is being hit by strikes almost every day
A destination board displays cancelled flights at the airport in Frankfurt am Main. Germany hit by strikes almost everyday.(Photo by Daniel ROLAND / AFP)

A wave of strike action has brought Germany to a standstill in recent weeks. So why is Germany seeing seemingly endless strikes in 2024?

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German travellers braced for fresh upheaval after unions on Monday called for renewed walkouts at Lufthansa and rail operator Deutsche Bahn, the latest escalation in a series of rows over inflation-busting pay rises.

"We are starting a so-called wave of strikes," said German train drivers' union leader Claus Weselsky, which will be announced "when we think the time is right" and no longer 48 hours in advance as has been the case in the past.

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When did Germany start experiencing so many strikes?

Since the end of 2022, Germany has seen growing labour unrest. Real wages have fallen by four percent since the start of the war in Ukraine.

A clutch of sectors received pay rises last year -- sometimes up to 10 percent -- but the new settlements did not ease tensions as inflation stayed high at 5.3 percent last year.

The continued price pressure has strained pay talks and led to the number of strikes multiplying.

At the end of January, train drivers staged a five-day walkout. Then workers at airports and local transport services followed with their own work stoppages.

Why strike now?

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"Workers have really felt the loss of income, they have less money in their pocket at the end of the month," Alexander Gallas, a political science professor at the University of Kassel, told AFP.

At the same time, the unions' bargaining power is strengthened by serious labour shortages plaguing German businesses.

But union demands are clashing with "the fact that many businesses are in crisis and do not have much to distribute," making a quick resolution complicated, said Hagen Lesch from the IW economic think tank.

Labour relations on edge.

The proliferation of strikes has called into question the future of Germany's otherwise consensus-driven labour relations.

"It is the moment of truth for the German model," Lesch said. "Unions were more willing to compromise during the coronavirus pandemic. That is over."

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Germany has historically been among the countries in Europe where workers went on strike the least.

Between 2012 and 2021, just 18 out of every 1,000 work days were disrupted by industrial action, compared with 92 out of every 1,000 in France.

What support do the strikes have?

Collective agreements, which long undergirded the system, now cover just 43 percent of workers compared with 56 percent in 2010.

But the current wave of strikes has enjoyed strong support among workers, according to experts, even if a single figure is not available.

"We are seeing high rates of participation, which is leading to an increase in union membership," Thorsten Schulten, a researcher at the WSI institute, told AFP.

What's to come? 

Few decisive agreements have yet been found between unions and management. Meaning this wave of strikes should be expected to continue.

"Everything is possible," said Claus Weselsky, head of the GDL rail workers union, which is behind much of the transport disruption.

And other industries might yet join the fray. A new round of wage negotiations is set to kick off in the coming months, in the chemicals sector, which has known tough times in recent years, 

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