‘Strike Madness’ Hits Germany While Its Economy Stumbles

For those striking at the gates of the SRW scrap metal plant, just outside Germany’s eastern city of Leipzig, time can be counted not just in days — 136 so far — but in the thousands of card games played, the liters of coffee imbibed and the armfuls of firewood burned.

Or it can be measured by the length of Jonny Bohne’s beard. He vows not to shave until he returns to the job he has held for two decades. Wearing his red union baseball cap and tending the blaze inside an oil drum, Mr. Bohne, 56, looks like a scruffy Santa Claus.

The dozens of workers at the SRW recycling center say their strike has become the longest in postwar German history — a dubious honor in a nation with a history of harmonious labor relations. (The previous record, 114 days, was held by shipyard workers in the northern city of Kiel who struck in the 1950s.)

Jonny Bohne has vowed not to shave while on strike. It’s been a while.Credit…Ingmar Nolting for The New York Times

While monthslong strikes may be commonplace in some other European countries like Spain, Belgium or France, where workers’ protests are something of a national pastime, Germany has long prided itself on nondisruptive collective bargaining.

A wave of strikes this year has Germans asking whether that is now changing. By some measures, the first three months of 2024 have had the most strikes in the country in 25 years.

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