Guest contribution: On the way to the next battle in the rail industry

The specter of citizens accustomed to mobility barely returned to Germany: the railway workers went on strike again. After the big strikes of 2007 and 2015, the latest round of collective bargaining between Deutsche Bahn and the German Locomotive Drivers’ Union (GDL) has intensified. After three waves of strikes, an agreement was surprisingly found. But the dispute over the railways is structural in nature. Because despite the agreement with the GDL, new strikes in the railways were by no means excluded. Rival union EVG (railway and transport union) wanted to make use of its special right of termination and renegotiation: EVG boss Klaus-Dieter Hommel stressed his union’s ability to strike and threatened: “Collective bargaining is over when it ends with EVG.” This is how it happened: Railways and EVG reached a collective agreement last week.

Open detailed view

Peter Imbusch is professor of political sociology at Bergische Universität Wuppertal.

(Photo: oh)

The GDL strike and the fundamental dispute at Deutsche Bahn make two things clear: On the one hand, collective bargaining disputes do not intensify most when it comes to money, but when it comes to money. deals with an overview and fundamental issues: employment, the bargaining system or union status. On the other hand, the risks of escalating conflicts accumulate and multiply when a company’s unions compete for power, membership, influence and better collective agreements.

Open detailed view

Joris Steg is research assistant at the Chair of Political Sociology at Bergische Universität Wuppertal.

(Photo: oh)

Pay disputes, labor disputes and strikes have a long tradition. Since the Industrial Revolution, strikes as a means of upholding interests – just like their counterparts on the corporate side, such as lockouts – have been inseparable from the history of capitalism and the relationship between capital and labor. But not all conflicts are created equal, and all strikes are not created equal. Conflicts have very different causes, triggers and contexts.

The most recent wage dispute between the railways and the GDL was more than just a round table, it was a special dispute which reached an extraordinary level of escalation and has the characteristics of a “savage social conflict.” »(Axel Honneth). For this reason alone, this conflict differs from usual collective bargaining. However, this is only one side of the coin. On the other hand, the logic and structure of labor dispute follow common patterns of conflict escalation in collective bargaining disputes.

In an empirical study, the authors of this article examined collective bargaining conflicts and strikes at Lufthansa between 2000 and 2019. Different conflicts were systematized according to their causes, origins and areas in order to transfer them into a typology of conflict. depending on the level of climbing. It has been shown that the duration and intensity of a collective bargaining conflict depend largely on the subject of the conflict and the type of conflict.

Conflicts over money are easier to resolve than over power

The history of disputes at Lufthansa shows that pure wage disputes, that is, disputes over quantifiable material issues such as the level of wages, generally do not have any particular escalation potential and can usually be settled relatively peacefully. In the typology, conflicts of this type were seen as consensual or as controversial but regulated conflicts. Using the categories of Albert O. Hirschman’s conflict theory, these types of wage disputes can be described as divisible conflicts of a “more or less” nature.

On the other hand, collective bargaining disputes intensify mainly, dealing with qualitative issues such as jobs and working conditions, recognition or status of a (branch) union as an autonomous party. collective bargaining, or the basic structures of collective bargaining and the rights to be able to conclude collective agreements for employees. These types of conflicts have been defined as basic or elementary conflict as well as status or recognition conflict. According to Hirschman’s distinction, they are indivisible conflicts that follow an “either-or” logic, which makes compromise and understanding more difficult.

In this regard, the new escalation between the railway and the GDL was a conflict with an announcement. Because this conflict also involved material issues such as the percentage increase in wages and a corona bonus. If these material quantitative issues had been the only contentious issues, however, the conflict would have been quickly resolved by consensus. However, this conflict was not primarily a question of money. The focus was on qualitative issues: these were the status of the GDL as a party to collective bargaining and the question for which part of the workforce the union can negotiate collective agreements.

GDL feared losing its status

The conflict was also and precisely determined by the relationship with the EVG, the largest railway union, and was shaped by the disputes over the role, power and influence of the GDL in the railway company. All of this must be placed in the context of the law on collective bargaining, which was introduced in 2015 following a strike by the GDL – thus also called Lex GDL – and which states that if there are several collective agreements in a company, the collective agreement of the union with most of the members is valid in the case of the railway, it is usually the EVG and not the GDL.

The GDL saw its power and position in the group as well as its basic collective bargaining status in jeopardy. Because these were fundamental issues, since from the point of view of the GDL its status and future as a union was at stake, the GDL was not very willing to compromise and was very willing to do strike. If the railroad had not caved in on the question of who the GDL can conclude collective agreements for, no deal would have been reached, but there would have been more GDL strikes.

Despite the deal, the structural conflict at Deutsche Bahn has not been resolved. Because the GDL prevailed against the railroad and also reached a higher degree than the EVG, the largest railroad union is now under enormous pressure and the next conflict seems inevitable. In any case, the signals are unmistakable. It is more than likely that this industrial action at the railroad was by no means the last, but only the preliminary stage to the next battle.

Related Articles

Back to top button