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Berlin (Railwaymen's Strike)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 26 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the recent shooting of German railway workers within the British sector of Berlin by Soviet-controlled police.

The railwaymen in the Western sectors of Berlin came out on strike on 20th May in response to an appeal from the Western sector trade union organisation. The strike was organised primarily as a result of the refusal of the Soviet-controlled railway administration to pay in Westmarks the wages of the railwaymen who live and work in the Western sectors thereby causing serious hardship to the workers concerned. The Soviet-controlled railway administration refused to negotiate direct with the trade union representing these workers and prolonged negotiations with the legal Magistrat proved abortive.The railways throughout Berlin have, as a matter of geographical and administrative convenience, been operated since the beginning of the occupation as an integral part of the railway system of the Soviet zone. Responsibility for the protection of technical railway installations in the Western sectors as well as rolling stock and goods in transit has similarly been recognised from the beginning of the occupation to be primarily with the Soviet-controlled railway police.When the strike broke out the Soviet-controlled railway administration attempted to man key stations and installations in the Western sectors with railway workers from the Soviet zone. Armed Soviet-controlled railway police reinforcements were also sent to the Western sector stations. This Soviet-supported strike-breaking action has been keenly resented by the railwaymen and their sympathisers who have given vent to their feelings by demonstrating against the strike breakers and in particular against the armed railway police. In certain instances these demonstrations have drawn the indiscriminate fire of the railway police. Up to date there are reported to have been one fatal and fourteen non-fatal casualties.The Allied authorities who are responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the Western sectors, could not allow such a situation to continue and therefore, on 24th May, instructed the Western sector police to resume full responsibility for maintaining law and order at all stations. At the same time the railway administration were requested to withdraw their armed railway police from all stations in the Western sectors, leaving only sufficient personnel to carry out their limited functions. The railway administration have complied with this demand and the situation is now under proper control.That is the present position. His Majesty's Government consider that this strike, which was organised by a democratic trade union, was perfectly legitimate and should be settled by the normal methods of industrial negotiation. The action of Soviet-controlled railway police in firing at unarmed workers who are striking on a perfectly legitimate issue is a timely commentary on Communist methods of upholding the rights of the workers. It is our hope that as a result of the arrangements made by the Allied authorities in the Western sectors there will be no recurrence of the unfortunate incidents of the past few days and that the railway administration will be moved to enter upon negotiations for the settlement of the dispute upon an equitable basis.