Germany is bracing for one of the largest strikes in decades as transport workers demand higher wages to cope with soaring inflation. The 24-hour strike, which began at midnight on Monday, is expected to paralyze mass transport and airports across the country.
The strike is part of a long-running pay dispute between unions and employers in the public sector, which affects around 2.5 million workers. The unions are asking for pay rises of between 10.5% and 12%, or at least 500 to 650 euros ($538 to $700) per month, depending on the union.
The unions say the pay hikes are a “matter of survival” for thousands of workers who are struggling with rising costs of living, especially food and energy. Germany has been hit hard by inflation, which reached 9.3% in February, the highest level since 1993. The country has also faced energy shortages due to its dependence on Russian gas before the war in Ukraine.
The employers have rejected the union demands as “completely excessive” and “unnecessary”, arguing that they would lead to higher fares and taxes for the public. They have offered a 3% wage increase over two years, which the unions have dismissed as insufficient.
The strike is likely to cause major disruptions for millions of commuters and travelers, as well as businesses and industries that rely on transport services. The strike will affect buses, trains, subways, trams, ferries and airports throughout Germany. Deutsche Bahn, the national railway operator, said it expected only 10% of its long-distance trains and 15% of its regional trains to run on Monday.
The strike is also seen as a test for the new coalition government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took office in December after winning a narrow victory over Angela Merkel’s conservatives. Scholz has pledged to tackle inflation and boost public investment, but he faces a difficult balancing act between supporting workers’ rights and maintaining fiscal discipline.
The strike comes amid a wave of industrial action across Europe, as workers protest against pension reforms, labor laws and austerity measures in countries such as France, Italy and Spain. The strikes reflect growing discontent among workers who feel left behind by the economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.