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How Fridays For Future went from school walkouts to union picket lines

Peter Oliver in Berlin


Strikes are nothing new in Germany these days; between airport security, Lufthansa ground staff, train drivers and public transport workers, there's barely a sector in transportation that isn't impacted at some point.‌

What has been interesting about the strikes that have halted public transport across the country this week is that they have seen the coming together of two movements equally dissatisfied with how things are going in Germany.

The Verdi Transport Union has teamed up with the climate activist group Fridays For Future (FFF). The organization hit the news in 2018 with then-teenager Greta Thunberg refusing to attend classes until the world political leaders took climate change more seriously. 

That earned Thunberg a meeting with then chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel - and the most prominent German member of the organization, Luisa Neubauer, became the most booked guest on any discussion to do with the future of our planet.


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‌However, the momentum for the group has waned significantly. It used to be that thousands would skip class to protest, now it is barely a thing any more. When the Green Party entered government in Germany in 2021, many saw this as a victory and stopped flocking to the FFF banner.

‌Thunberg faced accusations of anti-semitism over her support for the Palestinian cause and things quietened down… until this most recent strike by the Verdi Union was timed to cross over with the FFF "Climate Strike" in 100 cities across Germany. 

FFF is no longer targeting school walkouts: its latest call to action, published alongside Verdi, reads‌ "We will no longer allow the governing coalition to derail public transport and climate policy," and "Now is the time for us to unite and fight collectively for the things we all need to live."

FFF has also been present at the protests against far-right extremism in Germany following the revelations that some members of the opposition far-right AFD and conservative CDU parties attended a secret meeting with known extremists who discussed the expulsion of foreigners from Germany.

"The last few years have shown that climate-friendly policies can only be achieved with a vocal civil society and a strong democracy,"said spokesperson Annika Rittmann. 


A change of tack

‌It seems a long way from walking out of classrooms raising awareness of the climate crisis, but FFF says it has to change with the times: "We have continued to adapt over the past few years and have started to make concrete demands and reach out to people locally, in addition to large-scale protests."

The unions get the added attention that FFF brings to their cause. Verdi has had public transport workers walk out in 14 of Germany's 16 federal states. The main sticking point in the current contract on the table is that they want a shorter working week and more holiday time available.

Berlin's public transport operator BVG has called the latest industrial action "unnecessary and completely exaggerated."

However, it has drawn large crowds. This strike comes as train drivers' union GDL announced that negotiations with Deutsche Bahn had broken down again and further strike action could be forthcoming.

The dispute there is over working hours and wages, including a one-off payment designed to offset the pain of inflation that has made everything from gas and electricity to butter and chocolate more expensive in Germany.

The situation between the union and the rail operator in that dispute appears to be a stalemate, with both sides accusing the other of being disingenuous in the talks.

For now the rule remains in Germany, check before you travel - because if it's by rail, road or air, the chances are a strike will impact your journey at some point.

How Fridays For Future went from school walkouts to union picket lines

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