Und Täglich Grüß die Bahn (Groundhog Day with German Railways)

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The lounge of the train station in the town of Zeitz, located in Saxony-Anhalt. Its charm resembles the German Democratic Republic, yet it has seen its better days with peeling wall paper, empty platforms and even the lounge that is empty, with the exception of two people talking about the better days before the Wall fell. Yet despite its emptiness, the trains are still running- ableit privately.

Two rail lines are owned by two different train companies with no affiliation with the German Railways (Dt.: Die Bahn), one connecting Weissenfels and Zeitz (via Burgerland Bahn) and another between Leipzig and Saalfeld via Gera (via Erfurter Bahn). Private railways, like the buses, are becoming more and more competitive because of their attractiveness and the ability to get passengers to their destinations in a timely manner. With the German Railways striking again, it will become obvious that once an agreement is finally made, they will lose more customers and most likely, more rail lines will become privatized.

As this goes to the press, the train drivers (or engineers) who are operating the trains are on strike for the seventh time. 60% of the long-distance InterCity and ICE trains have slashed their services until Thursday evening, the regional trains by 50%. This is the second time since November that the state-owned rail service is on strike.  The latest strike is starting to resemble the scenes from an American film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, which was filmed in 1993. For those who don’t know the plot of the film, the sneak preview below will help you:

The German public TV station NDR, based in Hamburg produced a parody of Groundhog Day in connection with the strike in 2008. While it has been awhile, the latest strike is becoming like the film that has found a place in American culture, used in the classroom to refresh one’s English skills and provide a whiff of what American life is like:

If you want to learn German, this is the place to do it.  😉

The main question lingering everybody right now is: How many more strikes like this will we have before an agreement between the worker’s union GDL and Die Bahn is finally made and sticks like concrete. Will the workers be happy with their new contract, or will we have more strikes? If the latter, we will see more privatized rail lines and buses going through communities in Germany and less of Die Bahn, resulting in (near) empty train stations and platforms like this:

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Think about it……

 

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German Railways on strike- again!

An empty Flensburg Railway Station. No train driver, no trains, but many infuriated passengers, even if none are seen here.

Third union strike in two months. Longest strike in the history of Die Bahn. Court decision on the legality of the strike.

Travellers heading to Berlin for this weekend’s 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall may have to look at alternatives to train travel. Since this yesterday at 4:00pm, the train engineers are on strike, which has put most of the train service at a standstill in all of Germany. This strike is unique for two reasons: 1. This is the third strike in two months and 2. This strike is expected to last five days total (four days for passenger service), which is the longest in the history of the German Railways (a.k.a. Die Bahn).  The cause: The arbitration talks between the worker’s union GDL and Die Bahn broke down after the latter rejected demands of the former calling for a wage hike of five percent and a reduction of working hours a week to 37 hours.

The strike has reduced train travel throughout Germany to an average of 30%. This does not include the private railroad providers that are not affected by the strike. Yet this unprecedented strike has caused widespread anger among passengers, industry leaders and even politicians in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded that both sides hold talks to end the strike as quickly as possible. It is already having a rippling affect on the economy, already predicted to stagnate come 2015 because of problems throughout the European Union. Analysts are predicting a loss of over 100 million Euros a day, while gas companies are predicting fuel shortages as early as Sunday as many motorists hit the roads to either celebrate in Berlin or in the case of school children  in Bremen and Lower Saxony, return home from vacation.  An injunction is being sought by Die Bahn to end the strikes, with the decision by the Labor Court in Frankfurt/Main to be made this afternoon German time.

Even if the strike ends on Monday at 2:00am, should the Court in Frankfurt rule in favor of GDL, it will eventually force Die Bahn create tougher measures to make striking more difficult to even impossible, it will most likely start a debate in Berlin on the possibility of reforming the strike laws so that they are not used excessively, as is the case with GDL. While the concept is widely known in the US, the idea of Strikebreakers- people who work despite the strikes- will most likely be considered to ensure that train service runs. In either case, with two thirds of the German population being dependent on train travel for holiday travel or commuting to work, this strike will serve as a wake-up call for all parties involved, including those working in Frankfurt and Berlin, that changes in policies regarding employee and employer relations are long overdue. Especially for even if a compromise is reached or the GDL has it their way, the Bahn may have to shed more rail lines to private rail firms, such as Abiello, Cantus, ODEG or even Metronome in order to break even financially. This is something that Die Bahn cannot afford.

Please refer to ARD and Deutsche Welle for more on the Strike. Articles on the Strike can also be found on the Files’ facebook pages.