Strike: Strike at service area: truck drivers fight for their wages

The nights are slowly getting uncomfortably cold, because with the end of the diesel supplies, the auxiliary heating in the driver's cabs of the striking truck drivers is no longer running.

Strike: Strike at service area: truck drivers fight for their wages

The nights are slowly getting uncomfortably cold, because with the end of the diesel supplies, the auxiliary heating in the driver's cabs of the striking truck drivers is no longer running. Their will to fight for fair pay and their outstanding wages is still unbroken. "The mood is great," says Ruslan, one of the strikers. "We've held out so far, we want to keep fighting." And he emphasizes something else: "We are not afraid. We will not be intimidated."

Because the approximately 50 long-distance drivers from a Polish company who have been on strike since the end of March at the Gräfenhausen service area on the A5 near Darmstadt have had turbulent days. Most of the men come from Georgia and Uzbekistan and, according to the union, are bogus self-employed on behalf of the Polish freight forwarder. The drivers, who say they have been waiting for their money for months, received an uninvited visit from the owner of the trucking company on Good Friday - and he did not come alone.

Eighteen employees of "Patrol Rutkowski", a security company hired by the freight forwarder, arrived in three of the company's minibuses and two vehicles that would have fit into a US police thriller. Some of the partially masked, black-clad, broad-shouldered men who lined up in front of the truck drivers had dangling badges reminiscent of sheriff's stars. A Polish camera team also traveled there, apparently the entrepreneur's determination should also be demonstrated to the local audience. German trade unionists who observed the incident spoke of a paramilitary thugs.

A video shared on social media shows a security guard getting into a truck against the protests of the drivers and trying to drive it away, a second attempt fails because of the resistance of the drivers surrounding the vehicle. The crew of a patrol car tries to keep the situation under control until reinforcements arrive. The freight forwarder's voice can be heard in the background: "You will all be deported!" he threatens.

In an interview with the Polish online portal Wirtualna Polska, Krzysztof Rutkowski, the head of the black-clad security force, appears harmless and accuses the German police: "It's an international scandal," he complains, claiming that the action took place on Good Friday was reported to the police. The owner of the haulage company had hired his men to "negotiate" with the strikers: he was threatened with enormous penalties from the customers who were waiting for their goods. The drivers attacked his people, claims Rutkowski, who is a colorful figure in his homeland.

"What happened on Friday cannot be put up with by a constitutional state," said Günther Rudolph, leader of the SPD parliamentary group in Hesse, on Sunday. The freight forwarder and the security company posed a threat to public order and security in Hesse. "There must be no vigilante justice on Hessian land," emphasizes Rudolph, who visits the truckers at the service area on Sunday.

With vegan pea stew and halal sausages, the drivers received solidarity from trade unionists and politicians on Sunday. "Thank you for the solidarity," says Ruslan. "It's great, it helps us a lot." Help doesn't just come in the form of extra fuel, which Tiny Hobbs from the Verdi union brought to the drivers so they don't have to freeze at night, nor just food brought in by volunteers. Motorists who fill up at the rest stop and have heard of the strike also greet the strikers with their horns and a thumbs-up. A family brings a few kilos of pasta and a pallet of tomato sauce for the strike kitchen - the drivers repeatedly experience spontaneous solidarity.

Verdi flags hang from truck tarpaulins as a sign of solidarity. Advisors from the "Fair Mobility" network are on site and are also drawing attention to the drivers' protests on social networks. A temporary lounge with beer benches and tables has been set up in one of the trucks, where the striking drivers can have a bite to eat or just sit down to play cards or chat.

One of the striking drivers is Georgian Kakhaberi Maharadze, a stocky man with a lined face and a hard life of manual labour. Still, there's a warm sparkle in his brown eyes when he talks about his wife, children and four grandchildren, whom he hasn't seen in months. "The last time I was at home was at Christmas," he says, running his thumb over the cellphone photo of his daughter and granddaughter. Many of the other drivers have often been away from their families for months, living in their cars, although the applicable regulations do not allow this.

The Georgian has been working as a truck driver for a year and a half, hoping for a better future for his family from working in Europe. But that dream was shattered for now. Not only has he not received any money since February - he also has no insurance, according to the driver. "Until a few months ago I had health insurance, but it was only valid for Poland. And that has now expired too." Even more: After an accident, the driver would be asked to pay.

"Actually, I have three jobs," says Maharadze, who has installed a pennant from his Georgian homeland in the driver's cab of his car. "Not only do I sit behind the wheel, I also have to do the loading and unloading and am responsible for safety. And yet, despite all the work, I've been waiting for my wages for weeks."