With their warning strike on Wednesday, July 27, Lufthansa workers demonstrated their power. Now they have to resist pressure from the media and the company, because the union’s wage demand is the minimum, given the inflation in Germany.
Every time there is a strike at German airports, the media focuses on the same old question of how many travelers will not be able to take their holidays. They seek out the dramatic individual stories they can relate. As is often the case, the Image tabloid stood out as particularly despicable, writing that Frank Werneke, leader of the ver.di union, is leading an “icy strike against the holiday happiness of his own people”.
But as with all strikes, it is not the workers or their unions who are to blame. It is the bosses, who leave them no choice but to strike for their rights.
Media efforts to direct travelers’ anger against the strikers are not always successful. On ZDF morning magazine show, a traveler at Frankfurt airport described her intention to take her godchild to Malta as a graduation present – a trip that would now likely be cancelled. Nonetheless, she said, “I am fully behind the fact that the staff are on strike.”
According to ver.di, some 5,000 airport ground workers took part in the walkout, which lasted until the early hours of Thursday morning. Lufthansa had to cancel more than 1,000 flights, mainly in Frankfurt and Munich. The union is demanding a 9.5% wage increase and a one-year collective agreement. So far, the bosses want to lock in that increase for 18 months, which, given continuing inflation, is completely unreasonable.
Thus, the workers had no choice but to quit the job. Peter Schmidt, spokesperson for shop stewards at Munich Airport and member of the works council and bargaining committee, spoke with Gegen Class Class and said of the strike: “It’s the only way to ensure that our demands are taken seriously.” Workers haven’t seen a pay rise for three years, he said, while there has been inflation throughout the period.
“In real terms, we have already lost wages,” he continued. “That’s why everyone has to make sure they get their money and can pay their rent.” In the Munich area in particular, people in low-wage jobs are starting to have to weigh up between paying rent or buying food.
Faced with all the media pressure, it is all the more important that the entire left and the trade union movement support the strikers. In Munich, a solidarity delegation from the University and Research Section of the Education and Science Union (GEW) visited the strikers at their rally.
Strikes in the transport and logistics sector are not only happening in Germany, where dockworkers are fighting in seaports. British railway workers are engaged in a bitter struggle for higher wages and better working conditions. French, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian airports have also recently experienced work stoppages. The question is whether we are going to have a summer of discontent or a hot autumn.
This power of workers in key strategic sectors must not be exhausted. The ver.di negotiator for Lufthansa ground staff, Christine Behle, has already announced on ZDF that there will be no more warning strikes until the next round of negotiations on August 3 and 4. It is not only the typical hesitation of the trade union bureaucracy, which does not want to bring the full force of the base to bear; it is just as much a concession to the public pressure against the strikers stirred up by the media.
An effective countermeasure would be to combine rounds of collective bargaining at airports and seaports (also conducted by ver.di) with large demonstrations against inflation that go far beyond the sectors on strike. “Stop the Inflation Monster!” is ver.di’s slogan for the port strike. This would bring many people to the streets, which in turn would reinforce the strikes.
First published in German on July 27 in Gegen Class Class.
Translation by Scott Cooper