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War of words in German rail strike ahead of court ruling

The war of words in the wage dispute between German train drivers and national rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) turned bitter Thursday, with the drivers GDL union accusing DB of unfair tactics.

The GDL union called out its staff on city services in Berlin and Hamburg for two hours during the morning peak on Thursday, causing widespread disruption to commuters. The action, announced 12 hours ahead of time, came after a labor court in the southern city of Nuremberg on Wednesday banned a national strike targeted at goods traffic that the GDL had set for Thursday. The court also banned strikes aimed at long-distance passenger services, saying the impact of the strikes on the national economy was out of proportion to the rights of the drivers to press their demands. The GDL launched an appeal, which was to be heard in Nuremberg on Friday. Another court banned strikes targeting DB’s regional services.

GDL boss Manfred Schell accused DB of unfair tactics for failing to inform GDL lawyers that applications were being made to the courts. He said future strikes would not be announced ahead of time. Several legal experts said the labor court rulings were shaky, and trade unionists universally condemned them. Juergen Peters, head of the powerful IG-Metall union, said the rulings undermined the right to strike and that it was absurd to ban strikes on the grounds they would cause economic damage. “A strike that does not apply economic pressure is not a strike, but rather collective begging,” Peters said. The GDL is demanding a 31% pay rise for its members and a wage deal separate from that entered into by the national rail company, Deutsche Bahn, with other unions. Deutsche Bahn has struck a deal with a 4.5% pay hike with two other unions representing 134,000 workers. About 8,000 train drivers organized in the GDL voted for a strike in a ballot, the results of which were announced Monday.
The strike comes ahead of the planned part-privatization next year of the wholly state-owned national rail network. (