Schorndorf 1991: A Successful Temp Workers' Strike

The FAU was founded as a union for all wage-workers and therefore also for temporary workers. In March of 1991 a spontaneous and successful strike was launched by temp workers at the Bauknecht Company in the small swabian city of Schorndorf.

Bauknecht, a producer of electronic appliances and devices, had needed to fill a variety of temporary positions in their plant in Schorndorf in order to carry out the testing and repair of microwaves. These were filled with the help of the state Work Office and among those assigned were two members of the FAU-Schorndorf. Conversations about the conditions, wages and temporary nature of the work took place on the very first day and revealed that the most recently hired were earning two Marks more than those who had only been hired a few days before, which led to general dissatisfaction with the situation. The company had obviously not been able to find enough workers quickly enough and had raised their offer in order to make the positions more attractive, an arrangement that was justifiably viewed as unjust. After all, everyone was doing the same work, so everyone should receive the same two Marks extra. This demand was presented to the plant director before work had begun and was firmly rejected with a broad grin.

Now, the task of testing and repairing microwaves is as brainless an activity as one can imagine. While one person unpacked the appliances and placed them on plates on an assemblyline the next person tested the devices for errors, repairing them as needed, before sending them to the last station, where another co-worker re-packed the device and stacked on palettes. The top management of the company had also flown in the japanese developer of these microwaves to aid in the testing process.

Things began with the workers that loaded the microwaves onto the assembly-line, who wrote demands for a wage-raise on the pressboards themselves with thick black markers. Thus the demands were sent around to all the co-workers, who added comments, pictures, names of their favorite football club or metal bands. Within the shortest possible amount of time all the boards on the assembly-line were filled with writing-if I remember correctly there were at least fifty. A comprehensive, non-verbal form of communication had been developed. The only person who wasn't horrified was the japanese engineer, with whom we talked more later. Without success, unfortunately. He was the only strike-breaker that we left alone, since we couldn't be sure what he understood of the strike that broke out soon afterwards or what consequences he would have faced for participating. There were eight of us, all unskilled workers, all males in our twenties. After the end of the workday we decided to get together in a pub and discuss how to move forward. We quickly came to the consensus that we would strike if management did not yield to our demand for equal pay. The FAU was brought up and introduced, the latest edition of its newspaper, "Direkte Aktion," was passed around, and its support for the struggle was guaranteed-for all those involved, not just for the two members.

"Strike 'til Victory!"

The next morning we repeated our demand for equal wages for equal work and received the same sour expression from the plant director as an answer. In an independent development, the Schorndorfer FAU-members had already decided to use their time at Bauknecht as an opportunity to agitate against the First Gulf War. As a consequence, the interiors of hundreds of microwaves were decorated with anti-war stickers from the FAU and the Anarcho-Syndicalist Youth (ASJ) before being packed for transport. The following day was chosen as a date for the beginning of the strike. One colleague brought a portable stereo, the other the appropriately revolutionary music. So at 7:00 am the Ton-Steine-Scherben song "Wir Streiken" (We're on strike) echoed through the assembly hall. The mood was great, everyone joined in. After a while everyone got to know the lyrics and by mid-day the words "out of the way capitalists, we're going to win the final battle" was being bellowed to the accompaniment of the stereo. At precisely this moment the regional director of the plant rode up on his bike to confirm that a strike had begun, although he stayed a safe distance away and sent the plant director to talk to us.

His attitude had changed noticeably and no longer talked down to us. It was clear that time was on our side, as every delay ate into the company's profits, which was a plus for us. It was foreseeable that the work would not be finished by the time our contracts were up, so we also demanded extensions, including paid holidays. After a second day of striking, talking about our lives, discussing anarchism and listening to Ton-Steine-Scherben and AC/DC in the assembly hall, the plant director came with freshly-inked new contracts that fulfilled all of our demands. Hourly wages were equalized and the contracts extended, a complete success based on solidarity and fighting spirit.

The only thing left to note is that the two FAU-members couldn't find any more work in the city. The news of the strike and the involvement of an "anarchist union" had worked its way quickly through the management circles of the small city and the residents were equally well-informed about their activities.

M. V.

(Translation from German by John Carroll)

In this case it is clear that the situation was well-suited to the the concept of direct action as a syndicalist method. The optimal conditions consisted of the following:

1) the precarious nature of the work itself and the consequent willingness of the workers to take risks

2) the pressure on the company to make shipments as soon as possible and the related pressure on the workers to act quickly by means of direct action

3) the speedy analysis [of the situation] and the readiness to carry out conscious, collective action

This is a example that explains the continuous loss of members in the bureaucratic, lethargic and increasingly unattractive reformist unions. In an era of transition in productive relations and precarious employment these organizations are no longer able to react flexibly on behalf of their members.

This task can only be achieved via unions with a federalistic structure, in which union locals and syndicates have a chance to formulate their demands and aims independently and according to their needs and the situation. This should be free of any form of intercession from a higher level of functionaries, in accordance with the principle "the workers' retain the initiative!"

This applies, for example, to the beginning and execution of strikes, to the content of demands and contracts and, of course, to the ending of strike actions.

The FAU offers its members these organisational and cultural conditions.

H. (FAU Bremen)