Beginning in the wee hours of this morning (Tuesday, May 5) and ending at 9 a.m. on Sunday, the Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer or German Train Drivers Union (GDL) is staging it’s eighth strike in 10 months. This one is set to be the longest rail strike in German history, lasting most of this week.
The GDL is striking for shorter work weeks, a 5% increase in wages, and the right to include more railway workers in its union. It currently represents around 34,000 members and wants to increase that number by around another 17,000.
The GDL isn’t even the largest railway workers’ union. That distinction goes to the Eisenbahn- und Verkehrsgewerkschaft (EVG) which has nearly a quarter million workers. However, without drivers, the trains don’t run. These strikes have affected all German freight and passenger trains; including the S-Bahn system that exists in many German cities.
The below graphic shows all the S-Bahn lines in Berlin that are completely shut down or only partially running during this week’s strike (any line with an X means it’s shut down). Just over half of all S-Bahn lines are either completely closed or only partially running during the strike. Further, train frequency will be reduced from about every 10 minutes per train to every 20 minutes on any line that is running.
This week, we’ll be joining the tens of thousands of other commuters on the U-Bahn (subway) and buses instead of relying on the S-Bahn system to get around. Generally, we use the S-Bahn for about half of our journeys and it plays a key part in our getting to school. However, the strike isn’t really going to cripple our mobility. We’ll just need to plan ahead a little more and deal with the over-crowding that will inevitably result on the other modes of transportation that continue to run in the city. Berlin’s transportation system is safe, efficient, and relatively cheap; we really have no complaints. This week’s strike just means it will take an extra 10 minutes for us to get to school.
The GDL’s ongoing labor disputes have affected us before. Our visit to Berlin last October coincided with a strike that rendered most of the city’s S-Bahn system paralyzed. I had tickets to a Saturday afternoon soccer match and had to take a series of buses and trams instead of the S-Bahn that would normally have gotten me to the stadium in about 45 minutes. Because of the strike, it took me over 90 minutes each way.
Just before another strike two weeks ago, we took the train to Amsterdam. We ended up having to take a bus from Holland back to Berlin. The bus turned out to be comfortable, clean, and cheap; so much so that we would consider taking a long distance bus over the train when planning future travels. It isn’t always practical but the price often can’t be beat.
The railways aren’t the only industry suffering from labor disputes in Germany. Postal workers have staged one-day strikes at select outlets over the past couple weeks, bus and tram drivers in the state of Brandenburg (which surrounds Berlin) are striking this week, and the couriers that deliver cash to ATMs in Berlin are also striking.