Since the beginning of the year, there have been more strikes in Germany than for a long time. First the postal workers, then the public sector workers, and now the rail workers have taken action. The reasons for this are obvious: economic crisis, massively increased prices and the real wage losses of the last few years. On 27 March, a major strike is taking place, organised by ver.di (Germany’s second largest union) and the railway and transport union (EVG). This will involve bus and train drivers, as well as motorway and airport workers. Note: this article was published last Thursday, before the strike commenced. We will have further coverage soon!
Unions that strike are unions that grow
The strikes are having an effect. Ver.di has registered 63,000 new members since the beginning of the year – never in the 22-year history of the union have so many people joined in the first three months of the year. Higher wages are being demanded everywhere and are more than justified in every sector of the economy.
To give a few figures and illustrate the great willingness of the workers to fight: 42,000 postal workers organised by ver.di have recently been on strike out of a total of 160,000. About 70,000 education workers took to the streets on International Working Women's Day (8 March). On the nationwide strike days on 14-15 March, 30,000 strikers were on the streets of Germany. And in Marburg and Giessen, a report by ver.di states:
"Ready to negotiate – ready to strike – 800 strikers at Giessen and Marburg University Hospital are discussing demands. Either Germany's only privatised university hospital accepts a collective agreement for improved conditions and job security by March 24 – or there will be a serious strike to advance our demands."
Across the nation, things have ground to a halt – many workers, especially young professionals and apprentices, are on strike for the first time in their lives. A militant mood has been awoken. Workers are taking their fate into their own hands and venturing into trade unions, which for a long time had been stagnant. They understand that they have to unite in order to have any significant fighting power at all.
The social partnership begins to crumble
Even the trade union bureaucracies are beginning to stir. The leadership that was previously used to compromises with the bosses is facing new challenges that ought to inspire it to take action. New measures such as balloting and so-called enforced strikes (as opposed to the symbolic strikes common in the past) are back on the agenda for the first time in years. However, the prospect of a general strike, the basis of which would be a strike of infrastructure and public service workers, is causing ver.di and the EVG to panic.
The firm bonds of social partnership have bound the union leaders to the bosses and ensured peace and order within the working class for decades. Previously, the unions would pursue collective bargaining demands in the low single digits and symbolic strikes for public awareness. Bosses and unions would flex their muscles and in the end an agreement would be reached at the negotiating table. Time and again, the working class got the short end of the stick.
But 2023 is different. The workers have been simmering under the lid of the bureaucracy for some time – suffering the pressures of COVID-19, war and inflation. The worse the crisis, the greater the anger of the working class and the deeper its natural desire to organise.
This puts pressure on both sides – on the bosses as well as the trade union bureaucracy. ver.di tries to allow the workers to let off steam through local actions and isolated strikes in which only workers from specific wards or areas are permitted to strike.
The other side relies on provocations. The Union of Municipal Employers' Associations (VKA), the counterpart to the workers’ unions, has not yet made any offer other than the one already rejected by ver.di negotiators. The ruling SPD clearly shows where it stands. Karin Welge, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) mayor of the city of Gelsenkirchen, has been the VKA president since last year. Nancy Faeser (SPD), the Federal Minister of the Interior, is also on the employers' side and has already cancelled her participation in the upcoming round of civil service collective bargaining negotiations, which will take place from 27-29 March. Thus, a collective bargaining agreement is moving further and further away.
However, ver.di wants to reach a deal in this third round of negotiations in order to avoid a possible settlement through arbitration and all the risks that would involve, or even a strike ballot and a subsequent ‘enforced’ strike. The fact that the SPD is opposing open cooperation with ver.di threatens to damage the party’s links with the structures of the German trade union confederation. Yet the trade union bureaucracy clings to the social partnership with all its might. They are trying to maintain the status quo.
Forward to the mega-strike!
BILD, Germany’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper, recently described what it means for the nation’s infrastructure workers to be on strike: "March Revolution! Mega-strike planned ++ Rail, local transport and flights affected. On 27 March a strike threatens to paralyse the whole country."
This strike is an important chance to take the class struggle in Germany to a new level. A nationally coordinated strike that puts public transport, air traffic and even the motorways partially out of action is a clear demonstration of the power of the working class. Above all, it is an excellent starting point to escalate the struggle and win wage increases for public sector workers and all railway and transport workers.
The third round of negotiations in the public sector must either end with a clear victory for the workers or start preparations for a strike ballot at ver.di. An indefinite strike in the public sector, affecting all public services, would bring the VKA to its knees. This is the next logical step in the struggle for better wages, which must be won.
Excuses about meagre strike funds no longer apply. Money for the struggle can be raised from the strike movement itself and through solidarity appeals from the working class. Well-paid public sector workers and well-funded and developed public services are to the benefit of the whole working class. On this basis, strike coffers can be filled and a broad solidarity movement can be built up among the working class through collective action during strikes.
No more isolated industrial strikes – a joint mega-strike on 27 March is the first step to demonstrating the power of the working class to the capitalists, the VKA and the government!
No deal below the workers' demands!
No more compromises – our slogan is: class struggle, not social partnership!