862.5045/5–2049: Telegram

The Acting United States Political Adviser for Germany (Riddleberger) to the Secretary of State


766. Berlin Independent (UGO) Railway Workers Union has decided on strike of all Western sector railroad and S-bahn (rapid [Page 841] transit) workers beginning 0001 hours May 21. If strike is carried through it will halt S-bahn and railway operations including rolling stock repair in Western sectors and could mean stoppage of trains coming into Berlin from West Germany unless special arrangements were made to handle traffic on Western sector tracks.

Background of strike is following. After March 20 full introduction West mark in Western Berlin, Soviet-controlled Railway Administration refused to pay West mark wages to some 15,000 railroaders and S-bahn workers living and working in West sectors, and continued to collect S-bahn fares in East marks. Magistrat negotiations with Railway Administration produced no remedy and in April Magistrat voluntarily exchanged two-weeks pay of railroaders into West marks at 1:1. Exchange was made at UGO offices and was completed April 22.

It cost Magistrat about two million West marks. Railway Administration then offered extra rations to workers and set up shops in West sector railroad installations to supply them against East marks. Allied Kommandatura on April 28 at strong desire of US Commandant refused Magistrat request that Kommandatura order Railway Administration to comply with March 20 currency order requiring payment of wages in West marks, though this request was backed by British delegation. On May 5–6 UGO took strike vote among all workers affected (UGO Railway Union had only 2305 members as of April 6, mainly because of Soviet terror and mass dismissals of UGO members). However 12,275 participated in strike vote against strong Soviet and FDGB (Communist Union League) opposition. 2000 more were out of town at work and could not vote. 11,522 or 94:5 percent voted for strike, 549 or 4.1 percent against strike, 204 cast invalid ballots. On May 9 Berlin railway director Kreikemeyer (SED) offered to place entire West mark receipts of railroads at disposal of Magistrat to pay wages, and UGO called off strike (S-bahn had previously announced it would accept, but not require, West marks for fares). Labor Department Chief Fleischmann negotiated for ten days with Kreikemeyer and finally discovered that Railway Administration offered 90,000 West marks per month, whereas over 4 million would be needed. Thereupon UGO decided on strike.

Roman Chwalek (KPDSED), President of FDGB Soviet Zone Railway Union, on May 20 published statement denouncing strike as attempt to disrupt CFM and saying: “shutting-down of Berlin railways would mean that also movement into Berlin of transport from West could not take place”. We need hardly point out possibility of [Page 842] Soviets utilizing this strike as excuse to justify further interference with Berlin-West Germany train traffic.1

Sent Department 766, repeated Paris 286 for USDel.

  1. In telegram 777, May 21, from Berlin, not printed, Riddleberger reported that the Berlin railroad strike began on May 21 as planned. (862.5045/5–2149)