BERLIN’s ATMs ran out of cash this week after striking couriers at a local security company stopped filling the machines, the latest in a series of walkouts that have rippled across Germany.
"There’s no visibility when the strike will end — it can end today, it can last four weeks, that all depends on how the company reacts," said Andreas Splanemann, a spokesman for the Ver.di union, which represents the security personnel.
"There are now a lot of cash machines that are empty and the pressure on the company will rise significantly in the coming days," Mr Splanemann said.
As Berliners cope with being unable to withdraw cash, a strike by train drivers that began on Tuesday paralysed travel and clogged highways throughout the country. It follows a walkout in March by pilots at Deutsche Lufthansa, which led to flight cancellations for 220,000 people.
The strikes have riled a nation more used to mocking the labour walkouts that have so often beset neighbouring France. While Germans still strike less than the French, those who have walked out recently in Germany often hold posts that have a wider ripple effect across society.
"It’s really annoying, especially if you’re pressed for time," Batgerel Militz, a Berlin student, said as she unsuccessfully tried to withdraw cash at two banks.
She finally got lucky at the third — just in time to catch her delayed train. "Probably because of the train strike," Ms Militz said with a laugh.
Germany is seeking to curb the influence of smaller unions by drafting a law that would limit companies’ labour representation to one union per group of employees. The measure is winding its way through the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
In the case of the passenger train strike, which is set to run to May 10, the walkout was called by the GDL union, which represents 19,000 train drivers, switch-yard engineers and conductors. The GDL is far smaller than the EVG, which has about 213,000 members staffing the rail network. The Lufthansa strike crippled travel because it was called by pilots.
"They can strike more readily if they do so with solely their own goals in mind," said Stefan Heinz, an academic specialising in labour politics at Berlin’s Free University. "They can get more out of it for their group."
Between 2005 and 2013, Germany lost an average of just 16 work days a year per 1,000 employees due to labour action, according to the Hans Boeckler Foundation, the Confederation of German Trade Unions’ research arm. That compares with 139 days in France and 135 in Denmark.
The 150,000 total work days that Germany lost in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, was the highest in six years.
Deutsche Bahn said one-third of long-distance trains were operating on Tuesday. The rail strike, which is also crippling freight traffic and is set to be the longest in German history, may cost Europe’s largest economy about ¤500m, according to Eric Schweitzer, president of the DIHK industry association.
Traude Fluder, a Hamburg resident heading to Leipzig with six friends, found herself stranded in Berlin after checking the railway’s emergency schedule on Monday night and calling her travel agent to make sure her train would be operating.
By Tuesday morning, things had changed. "They told us it would be running and now we’re stuck in Berlin," Ms Fluder said near Deutsche Bahn’s information centre at the main station, where long lines had formed. "We are very disappointed."
Hopefully, she did not need to withdraw cash. The strike by 150 of Prosegur’s 350 security couriers in the Berlin area has meant that ATMs across the capital are running on empty.
"Prosegur is working with absolute high intensity on individual emergency plans," the company said.
"We still can’t rule out that cash machines in the region Berlin-Potsdam-Frankfurt Oder remain unfilled."