Train drivers and flight attendants strike: Why this concerns us all

Train drivers and flight attendants strike: Why this concerns us all

The numerous strikes are annoying – but the mood is noticeably calm. Maybe also because many commuters and frequent flyers realize that it’s about them too.

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.

It’s not easy to keep track of all the strikes these days.

Is it the flight attendants who are stopping work today or the ground crew? Or the employees at the security checkpoint? And are the baggage carousels running again in the halls, or are colleagues still marching around the terminals? The only thing that is certain this morning is that the trains are running. Or better still, drive. Because things have just become suspiciously quiet around Claus Weselsky.

The country has not experienced a wave of strikes like this for a long time. Recently, early in the morning, I met a friend on the street who is usually on the road a lot and travels around the country almost every day – he had taken his daughter to school, which is also a rare occurrence. I asked him how he was doing with his appointments now, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said: “I’ve given up.” He’s not planning any more trips at the moment, neither for business nor for private purposes.

It’s nice for everyone who can arrange their work like this. But that doesn’t apply to everyone. The strikes have become an enormous test of endurance, for each individual and for the economy as a whole. What is all the more astonishing is the relative calm with which most of those affected react to the strikes – and even how understanding many commuters and frequent flyers accept the permanent interruptions. Of course there is dissatisfaction, but noticeably little about the flight attendants or train drivers. It’s more like this general sigh: Finally come to an agreement!

Work more or less?

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) leaned a lot out of the standing train this week when he said somewhat awkwardly: “In any case, at the moment there is a bit too much striking or advertising for less and less work. We can actually do that can’t afford it at the moment.” With this, Habeck addressed an important question: Shouldn’t we all actually be working more instead of less and less?

The question is tricky because it feels like half the country is actually heading in the completely opposite direction: four-day weeks, more flexibility, taking things a little easier. An entrepreneur from Stuttgart recently reported that he had founded his own subsidiary for young employees who primarily work on digital projects – with the 4-day week as standard. With full wage compensation. “Otherwise you won’t get the young people anymore,” he said. Anyone who works the fifth day will not only receive extra pay for the day, but also a supplement. When I asked whether he could get the job done, he grinned happily and said: “It works wonderfully.”

On the one hand, there is the bitter battle of train drivers that is paralyzing an entire country, on the other hand, there is a minister who is urging people to work more, and in between there is an entrepreneur who has long since arrived at the four-day week – not voluntarily , but rather out of necessity because otherwise he can no longer find qualified applicants. As is often the case, reality is more complicated than the usual talk show rounds in which the situation in the country is discussed: This is evident – to which Capital has dedicated the new cover story this month – as well as in the current labor disputes.

In these strike weeks, more than just the two usual worlds collide with their own perspectives, that of employers and that of trade unionists. And that is reflected in the comparatively calm, almost phlegmatic reactions of commuters and frequent flyers: Everyone feels that these strikes are about more than just two or three hours less work and fair pay.

The work is becoming more, not less

It’s more about the question of how we distribute and organize work when the number of people who are still working is getting smaller and the competition for these people is becoming increasingly fierce? And there is hardly a single correct answer to this question.

From an economic point of view, what Habeck says is true: We will all tend to have to work more and longer if we want to reduce our workforce overall and even come close to maintaining our prosperity. Almost 13 million workers will retire in the next twelve years. This gap cannot be filled with young people and no amount of highly qualified immigration. It is very likely that many work processes will become more efficient, perhaps certain professions will be replaced by new technologies and artificial intelligence – but these will probably not be the tilers, doctors, nurses or the people who heave the luggage onto the planes. And the bottom line is that there will still be more work to be done per capita than today.

Thousands of positions are currently unfilled at the railways. And it is hardly to be expected that in ten years all trains will run without a driver – especially not given the current state of the railway infrastructure and the speed at which the railway is modernizing its network.

What is generally true quickly comes up against the limits of another reality: namely, that far too few people want to do this work under today’s conditions. For example, because other professions offer significantly more attractive conditions. The answer that the market economy gives to this is quite simple: the market will sort it out – if in doubt also by ensuring that working hours and pay in notoriously understaffed professions have to improve significantly. This is the path that the Stuttgart entrepreneur has already taken. And that is exactly what the current collective bargaining disputes are about.

By the way, anyone who now points out – quite rightly – that not all companies can simply afford a four-day week with full wage compensation should be advised: In it, the colleagues described how companies can master ongoing crises and transformation with their employees. Two terms appeared again and again: communication and freedom. Open communication by management, not from above, but at eye level. And the trust in your own employees that, when in doubt, they know best how to do their work and achieve the company’s goals.

Conflict can be resolved

Both factors appeared just this week: According to this, 67 percent of employees in Germany hardly identify with their work and their company anymore, and 19 percent have even mentally resigned. Only 14 percent say they really enjoy going to work and are completely behind their job. And there is another number from the survey worth remembering: Two thirds of those surveyed do not have the impression that their company is sufficiently prepared for the future challenges presented by digitalization, AI and new technologies. Even if the companies are, communication obviously has some catching up to do.

None of these are good conditions for a society that should actually work more, not less. But the good news is: Such conflicts can be resolved, even in the classic way – not in open battle on the runway. It’s high time for that.

Source: Stern

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