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German Rail Strike Disrupts Travel and Freight

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German Rail Strike Disrupts Travel and Freight

by MARK LANDLER

FRANKFURT, Nov. 15 — A bitter strike by train drivers in Germany has tied up freight traffic, shut down an auto factory and stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers in what has become the German state rail system’s largest work stoppage.

Since Thursday morning, when the three-day strike spread from freight trains to commuter and long-distance service, Germans have gotten a taste of the chaos in France, where the railroads are also paralyzed.

But while the French strike is the result of a power struggle between the labor unions and a new government, the German job action reflects what labor experts regard as a bold gamble by an isolated union.

The locomotive drivers’ union is demanding a 31 percent increase in wages from the Deutsche Bahn, the state company that operates Germany’s railroads — far more than the 4.5 percent raises agreed to in July by the company’s other, larger unions.

The Deutsche Bahn has rejected this initial demand, saying the union’s bid for a wage deal of its own would splinter Germany’s tradition of collective bargaining, in which several unions sign on to the same contract.

The union, known by its German initials as the G.D.L., argues that its members are paid less than train drivers, or engineers, in other European countries. It points to other skilled workers, like pilots and air-traffic controllers, who have begun organizing outside mainstream unions.

Strikes of this magnitude are rare in Germany, which values consensus in its labor relations, and rarer still when the employer is a state monopoly like the Deutsche Bahn. No other big union is supporting the strike, nor is the German federation of trade unions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far declined to intervene but has expressed qualms about giving the union an exclusive contract. Government officials, who are seeking to privatize the railway, pleaded with the two sides to sit down for negotiations.

That seems unlikely in the short term, given the stream of vitriol from the company and the union
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