A wave of protest has swept through the streets of Hamburg as hundreds of demonstrators voiced their opposition to the announcement of a share sale in Hamburg’s Hafen und Logistik Aktiengesellschaft (HHLA) to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).
The decision, forming a part of a long-term strategic partnership aimed at boosting throughput from 2025, had sent shockwaves through the city of Hamburg.
The gathering took place on St. Annenplatz on the afternoon of 19 September, not far from the HHLA headquarters, and primarily consisted of HHLA employees.
Organised by the labour union ver.di, the demonstration saw an estimated 2,500 participants voicing their concerns regarding MSC’s impending involvement with HHLA. The move is seen as a critical mistake, with an overarching belief that HHLA, as an integral component of the city’s infrastructure, should remain under public ownership.
The preliminary agreement between shipping giant MSC and the city of Hamburg outlined a future where Hamburg’s HHLA would operate as a joint venture. The city would retain 50.1 per cent ownership, while MSC would hold a 49.9 per cent stake.
This arrangement ignited outrage among the demonstrators who saw it as a grave threat to the port’s future and the welfare of its workforce.
The protest later shifted to Rathausmarkt but was met with barricades.
Mooring workers, Eurogate personnel, Hochbahn staff, and even employees from Hagenbeck Zoo, who had been engaged in a protracted battle for a collective wage agreement, stood in solidarity during the protest.
Union ver.di made it clear that the Port of Hamburg, being a critical piece of infrastructure, must remain in the hands of the public.
The union’s concerns centred on the potential risks the sale of shares to MSC could pose to the employees, particularly in light of challenges related to declining throughput figures and the increasing automation of processes.
Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth, ver.di’s federal specialist group leader for the maritime economy, underscored the importance of German seaports as critical infrastructure.
“Since the Corona pandemic at the latest, it should be clear to everyone that the German seaports are critical infrastructure. They therefore belong in the public sector; there should be no sell-out of the seaports and their employees.”
Schwiegershausen-Güth further criticised the city’s stance, claiming that instead of safeguarding its independence, Hamburg was yielding control to shipowners, thereby undermining a future-oriented national port strategy.
She called upon the city to reconsider its decision and to realign with a collective national port strategy, one that would secure the future of German seaports and protect the livelihoods of approximately 5.6 million people dependent on these vital hubs.
The Port of Hamburg has been a focal point of discussions regarding potential sell-outs. The German Government recently reassessed its earlier decision to permit COSCO Shipping Ports to acquire a share in one of HHLA’s three terminals at the port.