Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 30 May 1949


V. Jensen

Berliners Back Strikers in Mass Violence
Against Russian Police


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 22, 30 May 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Mass fighting against the Russian police, open strikebreaking by the Stalinist “unions” and organizations – these events in Berlin mean that the power of Stalinism in the domain of the Iron Heel has run up against its greatest upheaval-from-below since the end of the war.

Where the Tito split a year ago cracked the top hierarchies of the new Russian empire, the Berlin railway workers’ strike – coming on the heels of the low pro-Stalinist vote in the East German election – shows the hatred and enmity of the people pouring into the crack, in open struggle against the Kremlin tyranny.

As we go to press, the Berlin railway workers’ strike against the Russian sector railway administration is entering into its fourth bloody day, marked by an unprecedented outbreak of mass violence in the occupied capital. It’s clear that this struggle has far transcended a mere wage struggle and has become a massive political demonstration against the occupation.

The strike began on Friday, May 20, as some 16,000 members of the non-Stalinist Railway Workers Union, residents of the Western sectors of Berlin, left their jobs on the demand that they be paid their wages in West marks. Berlin railways, including the inner city elevated system, are controlled by the Russian zone authorities as part of the zone’s railway network and workers have been paid in East marks whether they lived in the Russian sectors of the city or in the Western sectors.

Started with Wage Fight

The hardship involved becomes clear when it is remembered that since March 20, the West mark has been the only legal tender in the Western zone; railway workers who live in that zone have had to exchange their East mark wages at an unfavorable currency rate.

By the end of the first day of the strike, every elevated train in West Berlin was halted. Almost all freight and passenger traffic between Berlin and Western Germany ground to a stop. Even trains to the Russian Zone, which never stopped rolling during the blockade, were affected.

By the end of the first day also the political nature of the demonstration touched off by the strike was clear, the Russian strikebreaking machine went into action as soon as the strike was called. Russian machine-gunners were placed on the roofs of elevated cars. Some 5,000 Young Communists and members of the Stalinist-controlled so-called “Free German Workers Union” (FDGB) were recruited as strikebreakers, principally info the ranks of the Eastern Zone railway police.

Pitched battles were fought at El stations in the Western Zone, which were policed by the Russian railway cops. Strikers joined by large crowds of sympathetic anti-Stalinist Berliners strove to expel the Russian railway police from the stations they were protecting. Against the Russian police dogs, carbines and pistols, the crowds fought with fists, clubs, stones and steel spikes. By Tuesday morning, 1,000 casualties and one death were reported.

Stalinist Strikebreaking

Anti-Russian feeling running high from the beginning, sharpened as new reports of deaths at the guns of the. railway police circulated the city. Russian officers who showed their faces in the Western sector were jeered, cursed, spat on, and even stoned.

The Ioss of prestige suffered by the Stalinists in Berlin has been tremendous. Their open strikebreaking role cannot be covered by any camouflage or rationalisation. The Stalinist “Free German Workers Union” issued a statement 24 hours after the strike began, saying that it would try to prevail upon the Russian authorities to pay in West marks. Since then it has maintained a deadly silence while its members were recruited into the strikebreakers’ ranks. Small wonder that the fury of the crowds has been greatest against the German Stalinists!

The pitched battles reached their height on Monday at the Zoo Station of the El where the railway police fired six shots into an onrushing crowd – killing two, one a sixteen-year-old boy, and injuring two. As the angry crowd got out of hand, the British public-safety officer ordered the Eastern sector police to leave the station. But the police could not restrain the crowd from pursuing the retreating strikebreakers as they raced to safety along the railroad tracks with a barrage of missiles and stones flying after them. The people shouted: “Go back to your Russian masters!”

Newspaper reports commented on the changing nature of the crowd supporting the strikers. On the first day the crowd was made up largely of young boys and some hooligan elements. As the fight continued, however, the crowd became increasingly made up of older political fighters, many of them in their late teens or early twenties, all furious enough to charge carbines and machine pistols with rocks and bludgeons.

Naturally, the Western powers were not at all ill-pleased by the embarrassment this strike has caused their Russian opposite numbers. At first they adopted a hands-off policy, ignoring a request by the Russian transport chief that they “keep the peace” through military steps to curb the mass violence, while issuing pious statements that the demands of the fairway workers were entirely legitimate.

If was only after the crowds showed that they were capable of taking over the railway stations themselves that the Western sector military commands took any action to force out the Russian railway police.

At one of the Berlin stations, the Westkreuz, the crowd threatened to storm the station successfully. There the crowd had to be dispersed by British sector police after the British arranged a “compromise” whereby they would police the station jointly with the East sector police. The crowd booed the decision and was dispersed ohly by British threats of force.

Points Way

As the strike continues, the Western Allies are beginning to order the withdrawal of the East Zone police; this the latter are doing evidently with great relief. Chances are that the scabbing railway police will be completely withdrawn from Western Berlin stations within the next day or so.

The outcome of the strike is not yet clear, but it is clear that the Berlin masses have issued a resounding rebuke to the Russian occupiers and their German Stalinist stooges and that they alone, by mass force and struggle, have pushed Russian military forces out of the Western sectors of Berlin.

By this action the Berlin workers have shown that they command the strength to begin to solve their own problems, through their own action.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 9 June 2021