The GDL train drivers’ union wants to strike passenger traffic at Deutsche Bahn until Tuesday morning – the longest strike in the current wage dispute. In an interview with Jan-Dirk Franke, Kassel union researcher Wolfgang Schroeder explains why collective bargaining between railways and GDL …
The GDL train drivers’ union wants to strike passenger traffic at Deutsche Bahn until Tuesday morning – the longest strike in the current wage dispute. In an interview with Jan-Dirk Franke, Kassel union researcher Wolfgang Schroeder explains why collective bargaining between railways and GDL continues to intensify and how politicians are partly to blame. The scientist also has a suggestion on how the conflict can be resolved in the long term. That union competition can work in a company is seen in other countries.
: This is not the first time that a wage dispute between the train drivers’ union GDL and Deutsche Bahn has escalated. Why is it always so difficult?
Teacher. Wolfgang Schroeder: There are three main reasons for this. Since its privatization in 1994, Deutsche Bahn has grown from a national provider of general interest services to a global player. This means that the company has concentrated on the occupied fields and withdrew from the region. This was accompanied by an economy of working conditions. The second important reason is the competition for collective bargaining between the GDL and EVG unions, which has developed since the mid-2000s with the transformation of GDL from a professional association into a collective bargaining organization. This competition tends to mean overbidding. Third, the whole thing has been exacerbated by the Unified Collective Bargaining Act.
With which politicians reacted to a judgment of the Federal Labor Court (BAG) …
In 2010, the BAG decided that the previous model of industrial relations in Germany – one company, one union – was over. The judgment specifies that, analogously to the freedom of association enshrined in the Basic Law, several unions can participate in collective bargaining in an enterprise. As a result, the then federal government launched the Unified Collective Bargaining Act in 2015. This should restore the pre-2010 state. Based on the model that only the majority union in the company concerned can enter into a contract. collective agreement. In the end, it means: one company, one collective agreement. As a result, the losing union, which is also guaranteed the right to exist, can only become the majority union if it sweeps the other off the ground. And for that it needs a certain confrontational orientation, polarization and mobilization and, ultimately, a better collective bargaining outcome than the majority union that has existed to this day.
In fact, the unified collective bargaining law was supposed to put an end to competition between unions, right?
Yes. It was originally designed to minimize conflict between competing organizations. In fact, and we are living it now, this leads to a maximization of conflicts.
GDL and EVG also conclude tariffs with other railway companies, such as Transdev or Netinera. Apparently it works without major conflicts …
These are small and medium-sized enterprises, at least as far as their size is concerned in Germany. At Deutsche Bahn, on the other hand, we are dealing with a global company that is several times larger in Germany than its competitors. Collective bargaining has a whole other dimension here.
In other companies, the GDL has already concluded collective agreements this year. Why is it not possible to achieve something comparable with Deutsche Bahn?
It is not so easy. With Deutsche Bahn’s competitors it was possible to agree on salary increases and perhaps also on a corona bonus. But not on corporate pensions, for example, they don’t even exist there. In this regard, it is a comparison between apples and pears. It also makes a difference whether you are negotiating collective agreements in a company with 210,000 employees or just for a company with 1,000 employees.
The GDL is asking for a salary increase of 3.2 percent for 28 months. The train offers the same percentage, but for 36 months. In real terms, that would mean a much smaller increase. Does GDL want too much?
You can’t say it like that. It is legitimate for the negotiating parties to advertise and fight for their goals. However, GDL is quite varied in the rationale for its goals.
What do you mean?
GDL refers, among other things, to how the public service ended. You want that too. In turn, she accuses the railway management of lining their pockets with bonuses. This is also cited as the reason for the demands for salary increases and corona bonuses. However, the arguments of the railway should not be overlooked. The group lost several billion euros because of the corona crisis. Collective bargaining policy essentially means the participation of employees in the growth of the company. If there isn’t, there is no room for maneuver.
It is relatively easy for the GDL to strike effectively – trains stop without a train driver. In other regions, it may be more difficult …
It remains to be seen whether all of this is good for the group and the situation of the workforce. Due to the GDL approach, there is certainly a great deal of polarization within the workforce. The point is, GDL stems from a different tradition than EVG, which has been heavily influenced by the railway authorities. She sees herself as responsible for the big picture: where the railroad should go and she is also involved in the debate about the employee’s contribution to it. The GDL, on the other hand, aims to make the most of its members here and now. Because EVG represents many different areas, it has to make a lot more compromises, so its approach is not as aggressive as GDL, where mostly only train drivers and a few flight attendants are organized.
Is there a solution to avoid finding yourself in such a situation every tariff round where rail traffic is idle for days?
You have to find a long term solution. It is also possible. In 2015, Deutsche Bahn had already signed a basic agreement which ran until the end of December last year. Meanwhile, the conflict situation between the two groups was manageable. Regarding the purely tariff requests, we can surely come to an agreement. But there is more to the argument: structural dissatisfaction. And the railway management is responsible because they probably did not see this discontent early enough and did not react to it.
What should be done?
It would take a concerted action where, for example, five people from the GDL zone, five from the EVG and five from the management negotiate the issue of collective bargaining, union competition and the future of the railways. It is also necessary to take into account the way in which the demands are delimited between the unions. Because: The unified law on collective bargaining, as it is currently implemented, tends to promote the dynamism of the bidding process. If you want to get out of there, you have to change something structurally. We must give the GDL its place in the organization and give it space.
Can two unions in a company work together in peaceful coexistence and conduct collective bargaining?
It’s possible. In other countries, union competition is more the rule. In France, we see that when several unions operate in a company, they often agree on a division of labor in collective bargaining. One deals with salary increases, the next deals with a working time management component, the third deals with company retirement, the fourth deals with qualifications. Ultimately, this could be consolidated into a collective agreement. (jdf)
Professor Wolfgang Schroeder
Expert for industrial relations and trade unions is professor of political science at the University of Kassel. There he heads the “Political System of the FRG – State in Transition” department. The scientist, born in 1960, has worked for many years on the subject of unions. (jdf)