France is currently in flames. Millions have been taking to the streets to protest against the government’s anti-democratic measure to raise the retirement age. Across the Rhine, Germany — where there tend to be far fewer strikes — is also set to experience a historic strike.
Starting on Monday at midnight and lasting for 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of workers will be on strike. This is set to be the biggest strike in Germany in more than 30 years. It represents a convergence of different struggles in progress.
On the one hand, the railway workers’ union EVG (not the same as the train drivers’ union GDL) is demanding a 12 percent raise for their members. Three decades after a partial privatization, the state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn is in permanent crisis, with workers desperately holding together a system that has been hollowed out by under investment. The participation is going to be so high that management announced the cancellation of all trains in the country.
On the other hand, the service sector union ver.di is negotiating a contract for public-sector workers. The TVöD contract covers 2.5 million employees of federal and city governments — in all kinds of workplaces, from hospitals to daycare centers to government offices — and the union is demanding 10.5 percent more money for everyone. The governments are only offering raises of 5 percent — which, since it’s below the inflation rate, would mean across-the-board wage cuts.
Other strikes are taking place now as well. Just last week, thousands of Berlin teachers were on strike for two days demanding smaller classes. Before that was a massive strike at the privatized German postal service. There, the ver.di bureaucracy announced a terrible compromise at the last second — a “raise” below the inflation rate, so a de facto wage cut — even though 86 percent of union members had voted to strike for as long as necessary until the full demands were won. This is a warning that the union bureaucrats are not to be trusted.
Faced with the “Mega Strike” on Monday, the capitalists’ representatives are attacking the right to strike, crying that the population “is being taken hostage” by unions. But the situation is the exact opposite: the only hostage-takers are the bosses. They threaten millions of working-class people: if you don’t keep working, for ever-lower wages, you’ll be thrown out on the street. But in the strikes, we see that workers are rejecting this blackmail. They are showing who is keeping the economy running: by simply folding their arms, they are able to bring everything to a standstill.
Different governments in Germany — whether they are led by social democrats, conservatives, greens, or even “The Left” — are all claiming that there is not enough money for wage increases to match inflation. But these same parties had no problem providing €100 billion for the military. At the same time, German corporations are making record profits. These capitalist politicians tell working people to “tighten their belts” to support the war effort — but they would never even dream of touching corporate profits.
On Monday, buses, trams, and subways in different German cities will stand still. Higher wages for workers in public transport companies are essential to recruiting new workers and overcoming the desperate shortages of personnel. And that is in turn essential for reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector. This is therefore also a climate strike. That’s why Fridays for Future and other climate activists have declared their support for it. The German government, which includes the so-called Green Party, is only interested in building freeways and subsidizing the car industry.
Unlike in France, it is unusual in Germany for different strikes to take place on the same day like this. Germany has one main union confederation, the DGB, with almost six million members. Yet the affiliated unions are involved in constant bureaucratic wrangling and almost never work together. Even during the “Mega-Strike” in Berlin, for example, the EVG and ver.di are planning to march separately.
The “mega-strike” is thus a result of huge pressure from below in Germany’s large but largely passive unions. Inflation has made it essential for workers to fight for wage increases. At the same time, workers in France are showing that fighting can get results, inspiring their class siblings across the border. But there is another important lesson from Paris: a one-day strike will not be enough. The “Mega Strike” deserves full support — and can only be a start for a real struggle to make the capitalists pay for their crisis.