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Germany: Train strike, farmer protests cause disruption

January 10, 2024

Commuters in Germany are facing a day of delays and disruptions, as train drivers strike and farmers block roads.

A train with red lights illuminated sits at an empty train platform in the dark
Hanover Central Station was empty on Wednesday morningImage: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture alliance

Germany is facing potential transport chaos on Wednesday caused by a three-day nationwide strike by train drivers, coupled with ongoing protests by farmers angered by planned subsidy cuts.

The train strike was given the go-ahead on Tuesday after a labor court in Frankfurt rejected a temporary injunction sought by German rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB).

During the strike, rail services will run on a heavily reduced emergency timetable, forcing many of DB's millions of passengers to cancel their journeys or find other ways of getting to their destinations. Some 80% of long-distance services will be canceled, while regional lines will be affected to varying extents, DB said.

Freight train drivers will also be striking until Friday evening.

The strike has been called by the train drivers' union, GDL, which is demanding better wages, along with a reduction in work from 38 down to 35 hours a week.

It is the third and largest strike by the drivers since their union took up negotiations with DB and other carriers in November. 

German commuters face chaos as a three-day rail strike begins

Union vows strikes will continue

GDL chief Claus Weselsky told broadcaster ZDP on Wednesday that strikes would continue until his union's demands were met and that DB "must make offers that are substantial."   

"If nothing comes by Friday, we'll take a break then go into the next labor dispute," he said, calling DB's latest offer "a provocation."

DB has proposed giving drivers various options on the number of hours they work from 35 to 40 hours per week.

Farmers blocking roads

The rail strike comes as German farmers vowed to ramp up their nationwide protests against planned subsidy cuts, such as those for diesel fuel.

Since Monday, farmers have been blocking a number highway entrances with their tractors, as well as holding rallies in towns and cities. The protests have caused considerable disruption to traffic. 

German farmers blocking the city center of Dresden

Some observers have criticized the fact that many conservatives have given their support to the farmers' protests after slamming similar tactics used by Last Generation climate activists.

Others have expressed concern that the far right has harnessed the farmers' anger to support its own agenda.

In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir voiced understanding for the farmers' fears, saying many were worried that their interests were being overlooked in a political landscape dominated by urban actors.

However, he warned that the current social atmosphere could lead to a situation "like that in the US," where people "do not talk with each other, do not believe each other and assume the absolute worst of each other."

The strikes and protests come as Germany's coalition government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz faces huge challenges in pushing through its 2024 budget. 

tj/wmr (Reuters, dpa)

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