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  • Konrad Werner: The point of a trade union, 25 years on


Konrad Werner: The point of a trade union, 25 years on

The train strike is a nuisance? Well, that's kind of the point. When you moan about it you're basically saying, "How dare the train drivers not let us take them for granted."

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Photo by bigbug21 (Flickr CC)

Don’t worry, you nearly made it. We’re half-way through the longest ever train strike in the history of German train driving. Are you okay? Treat yourself to a rub down. People seem to be getting really angry with the train drivers’ union the GDL. When I say people, I mean mainly businesses and politicians and newspapers. The media especially is inevitably making it sound like the train drivers’ union the GDL is pushing the country into economic ruin by stopping working for a few days. Meanwhile, some politicians like the CDU’s Erika Steinbach even decided that the GDL was a bit like the East German dictatorship whose end 25 years ago we’re going to celebrate this weekend, because – logic fans – they both restricted freedom of movement. One of the many things she failed to point out in her brainless tweet was that the right to strike was one of the freedoms the people of East Germany were demonstrating for 25 years ago.

Another thing that the people of East Germany were demanding in those days was an independent trade union, like the one that arose in Poland called Solidarność, which played an essential part in inspiring the revolution we’re all celebrating. Many commentators have taken particular offence at the GDL’s actions because this industrial dispute is essentially a power struggle between the GDL and the EVG, a more moderate, compromising union. This newspaper column, for example, suggests that the GDL is in danger of unbalancing the delicate ecosystem between industry and workers by being all forceful and demanding things.

But the GDL’s point is that the EVG is too close to rail operator Deutsche Bahn (“two sick people in bed together,” as GDL leader Claus Weselsky put it), and is therefore no longer independent enough to represent the train workers. And seeing as quite a few DB employees have switched sides in the last few weeks, they seem to agree. Plus, DB is demanding that the two unions not be allowed to strike for each other’s workers – another freedom that was won with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s not something that should be compromised on.

It’s true that strikes are not good for people who need to get to work, or people who want to go on holiday, or businesses who need to send things to other towns, but, then again, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT. It’s meant to be a nuisance. Everyone appears to be so pissed off with train drivers for not allowing us take them for granted and for daring to point out that they are necessary to the economy, so maybe we should pay them a bit more. And while we get so excited about this weekend’s anniversaries, we should remember that the trade union and workers’ freedoms are as essential to democracy as all the other freedoms that were won back then.