June 1, 2017

1949. No End in Sight for the Berlin Rail Strike

Stalemate Over the Anti-Communist Strike
Striking rail workers take down a portrait of Vladimir Lenin as they storm the German Reichsbahn headquarters in Berlin, May 21, 1949 (Alamy/DPA)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

June 4, 1949

Berlin has the strike jitters again today. Fear that violence may again break out in the two-week-old elevated rail strike followed the failure yesterday of the Big Four Berlin commanders to reach an agreement on ending the walkout that has tied up the railway and stopped movement of supply trains from the West.

The non-Communist union has alerted its striking members that the Soviet-controlled directorate might order rail police again into the Western sectors of the city in an attempt to get the elevated line working, but up until this moment there have been no incidents and no change in the situation.

There was hope yesterday that the meeting of the American, British, and French commanders with Russia's General Kotikov might produce some results—that perhaps word had come from Paris to settle the strike and remove this international irritant.

However, after three and a half hours the meeting of the four military men broke up. Kotikov had submitted a demand that the West Berlin police, ordered into elevated stations to preserve the peace, be removed. He charged that the Western police were leading the strike, and that, if they were removed, elevated traffic and freight traffic from the West would begin immediately.

The Western commandants submitted counter-proposals for negotiation of the strike. The Russians refused any compromise and left.

All sides agree that the next few days of the foreign ministers conference are critical ones for Berlin. But the morale of the Western Berliners is good. Despite the stoppage of rail transport into the city, the airlift and truck and barge deliveries have built up a sixty-day reserve of food and coal here. Altogether Berlin is getting between eight and nine thousand tons of supplies a day.

This morning the striking union submitted new proposals for settlement. The original issue demanding payment of wages in West marks has now become secondary. The UGO union is demanding recognition and assurance that there will be no reprisals against strikers when they return to work.

A byproduct of the totalitarian expansion westward is the political refugee, the national who cannot live with his conscience and Communism in his own country.

This morning it is revealed that Dr. Bedřich Bruegel, acting chief of the Czechoslovak mission in Berlin, resigned his office ten days ago and has fled to the West. Bruegel is the second Czech head-of-mission to take the step and the seventh of ten original members of the mission who have quit since the Prague coup.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

June 8, 1949

A new wave of pessimism is sweeping Berlin today as the Big Four foreign ministers fail to reach any kind of agreement on Germany.

The Berlin money market is reflecting this feeling. When the Paris conference was announced, the exchange rate between the East and West mark dropped three to one. But today, with no currency agreement in sight, the West mark again has risen to five to one.

Berliners apparently are settling back for another long period of stalemate and crisis.

American, British, and French economic advisers are meeting again today with the Russians in an attempt to untangle the city's trade and transport difficulties, but no settlement is in sight. Russian failure to settle the seventeen-day-old elevated strike continues to enforce a rail blockade here.

A new theory is circulating as to the reason for Russian recalcitrance in Paris and Berlin after their apparent willingness last month to reach a settlement over Germany.

One of the biggest stories that has been front page news in both the Eastern and Western press has been the recent declines in the Wall Street markets. The Communist papers are interested because an American depression would prove their contention that capitalism is doomed to bring about its own destruction; also any economic crisis in the United States would seriously affect the Marshall Plan which they are fighting.

Thus, the reasoning goes, the Soviet negotiators are stalling for time to see if the current stock market crisis is a serious condition or only a temporary decline.

A Bavarian court announces that it will try Ilse Koch, the wife of the commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp, after she completes her four year American prison sentence in October. Frau Koch will be tried on evidence turned over to them by American war crimes investigators. The charge will be murder and assault upon German nationals committed to Buchenwald.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

June 10, 1949

America's deputy military governor for Germany, General George Hays, this morning is moving to comply with a directive from the Paris foreign ministers conference to renew meetings here in Berlin which will restore rail traffic into this partially blockaded city.

Hays and the British and French military governors have formally invited Russian officials for still another meeting to solve Berlin's traffic difficulties. The Russians have not yet replied.

The action confirms a growing belief here that about all the Big Four ministers will be able to accomplish in their discussions on Germany will be a partial revival—at least—of trade between the Eastern and Western parts of this divided country, a trade policy which, it is believed, may eventually be extended to include more agreements between the Eastern and Western parts of Europe.

In Berlin, hope that concurrence would also be reached on a unified Germany has disappeared. In other words, the prospect now is for economic agreement, but not political agreement.

At the Russian-controlled elevated rail headquarters in the American sector, West Berlin police have been stationed around the big brick building to maintain order in the 200-man picket line that now is surrounding the main offices of the railroad. All of the office workers failed to cross the picket line this morning. There were no incidents, only a handful of Russian officers is inside. Soviet transport personnel are not being hindered from leaving or entering the headquarters, but Western police are under orders to prevent repetition of the incident night before last in which the strikers stormed the building and clashed with Russian officers in a bitter brawl.

This strike is one of the things that will have to be settled by the four economic authorities when they meet here in Berlin.

The walkout of the 12,000 rail workers has stopped freight traffic on the outskirts of the city, and both Eastern and Western military governments blame the other for continuance of the strike.

There are no signs here that the Berlin conferences to restore rail traffic will be any more successful within the next day or two than they have been in the past three months.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.