On 22nd February 2011, a two hour nationwide strike by train drivers brought most of the morning rush hour rail transport in Germany to a standstill. The Rhine-Main region and Stuttgart were particularly affected. The city of Dresden in East Germany and the Berlin city train system were also hit by this action.
The drivers were demanding a national contract agreement for all 26,000 drivers employed on mainline, metro and freight railways based on a minimum income guaranteed by the national German railways (Deutsche Bahn – DB). Wages for private railway workers are on average nearly 30 percent below the average DB level. In addition, working and social conditions are significantly worse and rest periods are shorter for those employed on private railways.
Key features of this national contract are: a five percent wage increase based on the existing DB train drivers contract, continued employment on equal terms following any change of employer, a uniform working week of 38 hours, minimum qualification standards for drivers, and protection for drivers who are rendered incapable of continuing to drive a train. Drivers have pointed out that the workload on train drivers employed by private companies has had repercussions for the safety of both workers and passengers. This conclusion is underlined by recent figures from the Federal Railway Authority as well. For example in 2009, drivers of private railway companies went through three times as many red stop signals as those employed by the state owned Deutsche Bahn.
In early March 2011, a strike ballot found that 92 percent of union members employed by the state owned Deutsche Bahn, and 96 percent of members employed by private rail companies voted in favour of further industrial action and an open-ended strike.
In addition to facing direct repression by the capitalists and the government, rail workers in Germany also have to deal with the treachery of the labour aristocracy. For example, in the year 2007 / 2008, rival unions were used to break the unity of the rail workers in a nationwide strike, and the leader of one of these unions was later rewarded with the post of personnel manager on the DB board with an average monthly salary of 33,000 (Rs 20 lac).