German train drivers ramp up pressure with longest strike yet

Train drivers walked off the job on Wednesday in Germany’s longest rail strike yet, stranding commuters and piling pain on the country’s economy, with both sides far from agreement.

Across Europe, transport workers have staged strikes to demand higher wages to cope with the impact of inflation.

Germany’s six-day strike, the fourth and longest round of industrial action in a months-long dispute over pay and working hours, began at 2 am (0100 GMT) on Wednesday and is set to last until Monday evening.

Two weeks after a previous strike halted national rail traffic for three days, the new action prompted calls for a resumption of talks between the GDL union and state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn to try to limit the damage to Europe’s largest economy.

“We believe you have to come to the table, you have to find compromises. That is the only way,” a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson told reporters, pointing to the strike’s “massive impact on the economy”. The spokesperson also referred to “massive restrictions” on the rail network.

Drivers of freight trains are holding a simultaneous strike that began on Tuesday evening and also ends on Monday.

Industry figures and economists, who have warned of the impact on production and supply chains, said the latest strike action could cost a billion euros ($1.09 billion).

Transport Minister Volker Wissing said the strike would cost over half a billion euros if it continued through to Monday as planned.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended the right to strike from calls from the conservative opposition to make it more difficult for workers in critical infrastructure to do so.

Deutsche Bahn and GDL have traded blame, as politicians push for the two sides to end their dispute.

“We have to strike longer and harder because the railway management is resistant to advice,” GDL leader Claus Weselsky told broadcaster ARD.

One of the GDL’s main demands is a reduction in working hours to a 35-hour week, from a current 38 hours, while retaining full pay.

Deutsche Bahn has rejected this as too costly and said it would need to employ 10% more workers to fill the gap, when industry analysts are warning of skilled labour shortages.

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