GDL and Bahn: This is how the strike dilemma can be solved

GDL and Bahn: This is how the strike dilemma can be solved

The situation between Bahn and GDL is deadlocked and paralyzing the whole of Germany. The longer the conflict lasts, the more emotional it becomes. A mediator explains what helps now

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at again. Capital belongs like that star to RTL Germany.

Ms. Bielecke, the GDL-Locomotive drivers are striking Deutsche Bahn for the sixth time in just a few months. Three years ago, an agreement was also a long time coming. It feels like you’re experiencing deja vue, doesn’t it?
On the one hand yes, on the other hand not. Because if you follow the well-known model of the conflict researcher Friedrich Glasl – the so-called conflict escalation model – then the strike parties are sliding a little further towards the “abyss” than before.

What exactly does this abyss look like?
The model describes a staircase with nine steps down. With each of these stages, the hardening in the conflict increases: you believe more and more firmly in your own point of view and try to convince the other person of it. At the same time, you no longer switch perspectives to get an idea of ​​what the other side wants. And the more this happens, the more empathy for the other side dwindles and the less successful it is to respond to them.

So your view becomes narrower the further you go down the stairs?
Exactly, the emotionality increases and the surroundings are lost from view, for example the image of the company or the passengers in the case of GDL and Bahn. Each side in the conflict is convinced that they are right. Room for solutions that were previously possible are more likely to be wasted.

To person

Alexandra Bielecke is a qualified psychologist and works, among other things, as a mediator and coach. She was chairwoman of the Federal Mediation Association and is now a member of the Council of Elders.

The strike is obviously not just about the content, but also about personal sensitivities.
I believe that both sides are trying to get the best for their respective organizations. But injuries are likely in the way people talk and negotiate with each other, for example when evaluating the other side’s proposed solutions or choosing the means of persuasion. Deutsche Bahn tried to avert the strikes in court, which is entirely legitimate. At the same time, she is changing levels – certainly in the hope that the court will find her right.

The situation seems more deadlocked than it has been for a long time; a neutral authority now seems to be the only way out. Need train and GDL Arbitration Procedure?
I only see what is communicated to the outside world. The content of the negotiations is protected for good reasons. I have the impression that both parties tried to negotiate on their own for a long time. That is always the first step: sitting together at the negotiating table. The next step is mediation or moderation, which is what Bahn and GDL have also tried. There are two independent mediators who ensure that each side is heard, that contributions to the conversation are balanced and that the conversation is more objective overall. However, moderators do not suggest solutions.

Does this only come about in the arbitration process?
Exactly, that would be the next step. Both sides must hand over responsibility to a third person who they trust and who integrates their own interests well into a proposed solution.

What can arbitration do that negotiations cannot?
In negotiation situations, it happens relatively often that one overestimates one’s own concessions and underestimates those of the other person. During negotiations, parties are also strongly required to submit their own suggestions for solutions and make offers. The feeling quickly arises: If I give something away, the other person wins. If you don’t feel adequately addressed or even devalued, your willingness may be more limited. Both sides are under pressure from public attention. What was announced to the press matters. People don’t like losing face. For example, how do members see it when concessions are made?

And what about arbitration?
Everyone can take a step back and focus on their own interests. With the arbitrators, there is another authority that keeps an eye on both sides and may show scope for a solution that one party was no longer able to formulate or see. It is the task of the arbitrators to make a concrete proposal from the possible solution options.

“People who are not heard also behave outrageously,” mediator Alexandra Bielecke

The mood between the parties is usually very tense when they sit down at the table again. Above all, they criticize the combative language on both sides. Do the arbitrators first have to ensure a good atmosphere?
I certainly imagine that there is a certain powerlessness and desperation to “bite the granite” on the other side. That’s not a nice feeling. When someone comes in from the outside, they will probably first ask questions and listen: Why is this important to you? Why are you so attached to this number? That alone can provide relief. People who are not heard also behave outrageously. If you can address emotions and discuss the reasons for the bad mood, this takes additional pressure out of the conversations.

Do arbitrators also show boundaries?
Sometimes they hold up the mirror and say when there was really little room for maneuver in an offer – but constructively. They ask questions and help the party to think back to the good idea and perhaps rummage through their own solution kit again for an idea.

GDL boss Claus Weselsky repeatedly emphasizes that the railway is “stubborn” and will not budge from its position, but he himself insists on his demands. An additional dilemma is that the GDL’s collective agreements with other railway companies are tied to the conclusion of the 35-hour week with Deutsche Bahn. How do you find a compromise?
This is a very difficult task and it is anything but easy to say who is the “better” party here. From the outside, it’s easy to think that Mr. Weselsky’s demands are no longer grounded in the facts and that there are certainly personal interests on both sides. However, the situation is particularly complicated because there are so many different companies within the railway with different collective agreements, possible allowances, training and so on. This can hardly be compared with models in other countries. That’s why it’s extremely difficult to judge what a comparable good salary is. There is hope that a third person will show the limits of comparison models and can reopen the framework for negotiations.

The railway has shown itself to be open to arbitration proceedings. Has this taken the first step towards de-escalation?
I think so. The railway is very interested in finding a good solution. One can only hope that the GDL will also get involved. An arbitration procedure is essentially not a loss, but rather a gain in terms of negotiation opportunities.

How long would such an arbitration procedure take?
The duration should definitely be determined in advance. Otherwise it’s too easy to get up from the negotiating table and say we can’t come to an agreement anyway. For example, you could try four weeks, which would take the pressure off and give those involved the opportunity to think about a proposal. So far there has always been concern about delays in the process, about the next court proceedings or strikes.

There is now even discussion about reforming the right to strike. Should arbitration before strikes become law?
I think it is difficult to establish a specific procedure. But you can definitely stipulate that a strike cannot occur immediately, but must be negotiated first. This can be graduated, from sole negotiation to moderation to arbitration. The problem is that no one can be forced to have a constructive conversation. The basic attitude of the parties is always crucial in a conversation.

Source: Stern

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