German farmers and train drivers are scaring the country’s bosses


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In GERMANY, Or workers and bosses jointly run many businesses, a large strike is unusual. A wave of major strikes is almost unheard of. Currently, the country of “codetermination” is simultaneously facing an eight-day “week of action” by angry farmers who blocked roads with tractors, a three-day strike railway workers and, to top it all off, an imminent strike by railway workers. doctors, who have already closed their practices between Christmas and New Year. Mistgabelmop (the pitchfork mob), as some have taken to calling it, will test harmonious industrial relations in Germany in the coming year.

The protests were apparently sparked by the government's decision to end subsidies for diesel fuel used in agriculture and remove the car tax exemption for agricultural vehicles. These measures have pushed farmers to the limit. It also mobilized other angry workers, already strained under the pressure of inflation, recession and government self-imposed austerity. On January 9, freight and passenger train drivers of Deutsche Bahn, the national railway company, began a strike over working hours and wages.

In order to defuse tensions with farmers, the government agreed to a gradual elimination of diesel subsidies over three years and the maintenance of the exemption from car tax. Farmers criticized the concessions as insufficient. On January 4, an aggressive group of them prevented Robert Habeck, the Minister of Economy, from disembarking from a ferry as he returned from a family vacation. If train drivers are also not impressed, it could prove costly for German companies, believes I.W. Cologne, a think tank. The railway workers' strike could cost companies 100 million euros per day if it forced them to interrupt production. The automobile, chemical and steel industries, the largest in Germany, are particularly dependent on rail transport.

The mood of the workers is increasingly angry. “Calls are circulating with fantasies of revolution,” warned Mr. Habeck. The far-right Alternative for Germany party is doing its best to stir up the demands. In Dresden, the Free Saxons, another far-right group, infiltrated the farmers' demonstration by calling for “turning off the traffic lights” (as the governing coalition of Social Democrats is called, the Free Democrats and the Greens because of their partisan colors). .

Thomas Puls I.W. Cologne fears that the strikes will damage Germany's image as an economic center. Local bosses are already worried about a German version of the yellow vest protests in France in 2018, which culminated with protesters in yellow jackets setting cars on fire on the Champs-Élysées and police intervening with tear gas. Jochen Kopelke, head of Germany's police union, warned in an interview with Tagesspiegel, a daily, that the farmers were likely just “the beginning of a huge wave of protest this year.” Germany was the only major economy to experience a contraction in 2023, and the year ended on a particularly negative note, with an unexpected drop in business confidence in December. This year promises to be even more difficult.

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