Rail strike announced: The paralyzer: Who is GDL boss Claus Weselsky?

20-hour strike: Even before the first round of negotiations between Deutsche Bahn and the German Locomotive Drivers' Union (GDL) has even begun, rail traffic has come to a standstill from Wednesday evening - once again.

Rail strike announced: The paralyzer: Who is GDL boss Claus Weselsky?

20-hour strike: Even before the first round of negotiations between Deutsche Bahn and the German Locomotive Drivers' Union (GDL) has even begun, rail traffic has come to a standstill from Wednesday evening - once again. And this puts the head of the GDL once again in the spotlight: “We have to build up pressure,” said Claus Weselsky, justifying the work stoppage. The Saxon-born man once again becomes a figure of attraction for train travelers. Who is the man who has been driving Deutsche Bahn away from him and his relatively small union for years?

Weselsky was born in Dresden in 1959 as the youngest of three children in a working-class family. His parents initially worked as “new farmers” and were given expropriated land in the GDR. Both later trained as tram drivers. Weselsky followed in their footsteps: After graduating from the Polytechnic High School, he completed training as a rail vehicle fitter in the mid-1970s and became a locomotive driver for the Deutsche Reichsbahn. Initially as a shunting engine driver, he was later allowed to drive freight and finally passenger and express trains.

He was never in the SED, something he is still proud of today. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it quickly became clear that Weselsky had political talent: he became involved in the re-established train drivers' union in Pirna near Dresden and became its chairman in 1990. From this point on he quickly made a career in the GDL. In 1992 he became deputy district chairman and thus a member of the main board. In 2002, the railway released him completely from his union activities. Weselsky came to the Federal Executive Board in Frankfurt am Main as an employee of the collective bargaining department. For two years he was the second man behind chairman Manfred Schell.

In 2008 Weselsky finally became chairman of the GDL. But even though he was elected to office with 90 percent of the vote, criticism was raised early on - even internally. When Weselsky fired his two deputies because he had clashed with them, Schell accused him of having an "authoritarian leadership style" and even put his aside Honorary chairmanship of the GDL. Weselsky explained that those fired had mixed professional and private interests.

The “heater from Saxony,” as the “Financial Times Deutschland” called him, is the undisputed leader of the union. Weselsky managed to make the GDL one of the most powerful unions in the country despite its relatively small size. He regularly pushes Deutsche Bahn ahead of him in collective bargaining rounds, which not only won him friends.

Loyalty, it seems, is above all else for Weselsky. And it has already become clear several times who he is loyal to: his colleagues in the driver's cab. He resisted the call of big money back in 2007 when he turned down the offer to move to the other side and thus to the railway's human resources director.

Criticism that he is taking the entire country hostage with the strikes seems to be brushed aside. He is a stroke of luck for the GDL. Chain dog and patron saint in one. Even if many train travelers have often seen this differently. As the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" reports, a tabloid printed his cell phone number during a four-day strike in 2014 - dozens of angry rail customers called. Weselsky kept a cool head and simply activated call forwarding - to the number of the then railway boss Rüdiger Grube.

While many members of the GDL celebrate him for such an action, train passengers in particular repeatedly accuse him of egocentrism and a lack of willingness to negotiate. It is well known that the bandages with which he fights are tough. You could call him “uncompromising,” even if his job is actually to find those compromises.

Weselsky now also lives from his reputation for being a tough dog. A strike before the first round of negotiations, like this Wednesday, supports this observation. He is a strategist, a power broker and a trade unionist through and through. But above all, labor activists. Just nice promises won't bring him to the negotiating table - and the trains won't get back on the tracks.

Sources: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Hans Böckler Foundation

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