GDL the only fighters

The wage dispute between Deutsche Bahn and the Union of German Locomotive Drivers (GDL) has ended. On Thursday, GDL Chairman Claus Weselsky and DB Chief Human Resources Officer Martin Seiler announced the achieved result at a joint press conference. Railwaymen will receive a 1.5 percent wage increase from December 1 and a further 1.8 percent from March 1, 2022. In addition, there are two "Corona premiums" as one-off payments. In December, 600 euros for lower and middle salary groups, 400 euros for the higher ones. In March 2022, another 400 euros for all employees. The reduction in company pensions demanded by DB is off the table, but only for existing employees with the deadline of 31 December 2021. It was also agreed to increase all hardship allowances for workshop employees by twelve percent. The collective agreement has a duration of 32 months and expires at the end of October 2023.

This collective agreement is to apply in all DB railway transport companies, i.e. not only for the drivers as before, but also for workshop employees, but not for the network and infrastructure areas. Where the contracts of the GDL ultimately apply, must still be legally determined in the 71 affected companies, because according to the Collective Bargaining Act, which has been in force since 2015 and now applied to the railway for the first time, only the collective agreement of the respective union with the most members applies.

Which brings us to the very heart of this bitter dispute over tariffs. Because the larger railway and transport union (EVG) in the group as a whole, which belongs to the DGB, had already concluded a "restructuring collective agreement" with DB in September 2020, which provides for a zero round for 2021, the reduction of company pensions and a term of 40 months. The GDL had refused to give its consent, and the following collective bargaining and conciliation proceedings remained without result, because DB was not prepared to make any concessions, insisted on adopting the ECG conclusion and generally wanted to limit the collective bargaining power of the GDL. Weselsky picked up the gauntlet and prepared his union for a massive confrontation. Accompanied by a successful campaign to gain members in professional groups not previously represented by the GDL, such as driving service managers and workshop employees. While most commentators and his opponents, such as the EVG chairman Klaus-Dieter Hommel, agreed that the" egomaniacal "GDL boss had" gambled away " this time, the trade union leadership calmly prepared a ballot for industrial disputes, the result of which, announced at the beginning of August, left nothing to be desired in terms of clarity: Over 95 percent of the members voted for industrial disputes to enforce the GDL demands.

Three waves of strikes as a learning aid for Bahn AG

For the railway, this should have been a clear warning signal, because the company had to learn already in the years 2007/2008 and 2014/2015 painfully that with the GDL in tariff disputes is not good cherries food. She refused new, serious offers even after the initial vote, which prompted Weselsky to remark in an interview that the "learning curve at the DB board is surprisingly flat". Even after the first two 56-hour strike waves in all freight and passenger traffic in August, the learning curve at DB seemed to stagnate. Whereupon the GDL added a dash and from 1 September entered into the stand-off again, this time for five or four days in the entire freight and passenger traffic. The attempt to have this strike stopped by the Labour court failed in two instances. After the strike, Weselsky granted the railway a not exactly scheduled "cooling-off period", but after the expiration of this period, the strike would certainly continue and become even more intense.

Now the management seemed to be gradually dawning that it will not get any further with its refusal attitude, and politics also scratched its feet in the background, especially since the federal government is the owner of DB AG. Last weekend, the group submitted a new offer to GDL, to whose "careful examination" the union agreed. Now everything went pretty fast. As a kind of moderators, the Prime Ministers of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, Stephan Weil (SPD) and Daniel Günther (CDU), appeared on the scene to bring an agreement to the road in intensive, strictly shielded from the public discussions with the DB top and the GDL. And yesterday morning, enforcement was finally reported.

From a purely material point of view, the collective agreement reached is a classic compromise in which both sides had to leave their feet. Although the GDL has not fully, but largely prevailed on essential issues (no zero round for 2021, no term of 36 months, no reduction in company pensions, recognition as a collective partner for other professional groups).

The real loser of this dispute is the competing trade union EVG, which now has to admit that its "restructuring collective agreement" concluded in September at the expense of railway employees was pretty rotten cheese. Because no matter how you evaluate the GDL degree in detail: It is is much better. EVG boss Hommel now gives the offended liverwurst and criticized the successful moderation of the two state politicians as a "blow to the office of tariff autonomy". The TOE now has the role of free rider, because a revision clause in their collective agreement provides that a better deal with another union is also transferred to them, which the DB already assured on Thursday. What Weselsky rather bitterly assesses "" We concluded differently, and higher, visibly higher. We spend millions, we go on strike, we get scolded, and at the end of the day we get to watch the collective bargaining agreement go after the others."But the whole story should be very beneficial to the reputation of the GDL as a consistent representation of interests at the railway, also with regard to the acquisition of further members and thus the majority relations in the railway companies of DB. Weselsky also sees it this way:"With the appropriate number of members, we will also conclude better collective agreements for our colleagues on the signal boxes, in the stations and in the maintenance of the network companies."

But even far beyond the mix-up at the railway, this tariff conflict had exemplary significance and is quite suitable as a fanal for the coming months and years. Because the strikes of the GDL were accompanied by a very unpleasant background noise. In view of the corona crisis, such a strike "does not fit into the landscape" and is "irresponsible", as it hinders, for example, the beginning recovery of the German economy, was heard everywhere. So to speak, a small taste of the "belt-tightening" rhetoric that will resound to us after the coming election. But the GDL has not played this game and the nursing staff at the major Berlin clinics is currently demonstrating impressively that there is no reason to simply accept miserable working conditions and real wage cuts – Corona or not.

Who actually divides the railway workforce?

The struggle of the GDL has also shown that the unspeakable, whipped by the then Minister of Labor Andrea Nahles (SPD) tariff Unity law was a shot in the oven and quickly disposed of heard. It was intended to contain company and collective bargaining conflicts between competing unions, but it has had the opposite effect on the railways.

A final word was devoted to the accusation that the GDL would act " egotistically "and"divide" the workforce. A very peculiar point of view. The GDL - far from being something of a left vanguard of the class struggle – has been doing for many years only what the actual purpose of trade unions is or at least should be. Namely, to consistently stand up for the material and social interests of its members. Not just for a single, very assertive professional group such as train drivers, but already for other professional groups in rail transport and the prospect of a further expansion of their tariff power. The split was and probably is more a result of the tame domestic union EVG, whose forerunner Transnet, hand in hand with the group management, wanted to impose a rigorous "austerity course" in order to promote the IPO of DB, which was longed for at the time. And the GDL has just as successfully denied this as the current wage dictate, which the Group and EVG wanted to impose on employees.

The provisional end of the tariff struggle at the railway should now also open the view again to the actual problems of the state concern. For decades, it has been systematically rocked down, the infrastructure is sometimes very dilapidated, service quality and punctuality leave more than just to be desired, the expansion of the network is extremely slow. The debt is gigantic, but not because greedy train drivers do not get their necks full, but because the group has sunk tens of billions of euros over decades in disastrous investments in non-rail companies across the globe or in nonsensical large-scale projects such as "Stuttgart 21". But the GDL really cannot solve these problems, because this would require a radical change in politics.