Strike at Gate Gourmet in Düsseldorf, 2005

Article from November 2005 with updates on the strike against catering firm Gate Gourmet in Germany.

It’s been three weeks since this article was written but the strike of the Gate Gourmet catering workers in Düsseldorf is still going on (22nd of November). In August Gate Gourmet workers had been on strike against sackings at the airport in London-Heathrow. They were soon supported by British Airways groundworkers so the airport was broad to a standstill for almost two days. The management accepted to reinstate part of the sacked workers and pay higher compensations to others. Unfortunately, the workers in Düsseldorf do not have that kind of support, yet. But there are still fighting and hope to organize enough pressure. Read the following article and the up-date to find out how to support them...

Acts of Solidarity are needed – and possible: in Atlanta, Bangkok, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Karachi, Madrid, New York, Paris, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo and more places in the world...

The catering company Gate Gourmet became known worldwide through a spectacular strike at London Heathrow Airport which caused turbulence in international air-traffic. (see also here)

Since October 7, workers in Düsseldorf of the worldwide multinational (according to a self-portrayal: “150 branches on five continents, with 26,000 employees”) are on strike. Out of 120 employees, 85 are actively on strike and stay at their strike-tent in front of the company’s gate around the clock. A saying against the strike breakers written with white paint on the street of the company’s ground (“Schleimspur für Streikbrecher”) loosely means continuing to work is the slimy way for scabs to kiss up to management. Passing strike breakers get cat-calls. But visitors who come in solidarity get coffee and rolls and information about the course and background of the strike.

The strikers are an outstanding, strong group and they point out that now they have gotten to know each other much better during the strike than before, despite the fact that some of them had worked together for sixteen years. Because they didn’t have common break-times, and enormous amounts of work to do there was no time for conversations during work. More than half of the employees are migrants, most of them coming to Germany from Turkey, but also from Poland, Morocco, Croatia, Greece, Sri Lanka or Brazil. Obviously this has no negative affect on their solidarity.

“It was just enough!”
The main reason for the strike was the steady growth of stress at work and new impertinences by the management. They had no increase in wages in three years. In the last two years, the workers had given back half of their Christmas bonus. Now the management wants to enact deeper aggravations: extensions of the weekly working hours from 38.5 to 40 hours, shortening of the yearly vacation by about five days to 25 days, more flexibility with working hours and a reduction of bonuses for night shift, Sunday work and holidays. The counter offer of the union, NGG (Nahrungsmittel, Genuss, Gaststätten, union for the food industry and restaurants), to compensate for the changes is a wage rise of 4.5 percent. When the negotiations failed, 93 percent of the workers voted for the strike.

The business in Düsseldorf, formerly LTC, was taken over by the multinational Gate Gourmet. The company agreement after the takeover had already worsened the working conditions. Since then, the work became more and more intensified. On the line, where they equip 10-15,000 food trays a day, they don’t have any breaks anymore. The drivers, who bring the catering/meals to the airplanes, by their own estimates figured that they walk 15-20 km and move 10 tons per hand per shift. The workers get a lot of pressure through the threat of layoffs without notice, formal reprimands for the smallest things and home calls when they are sick. In summer, they have to work 10-hour shifts to compensate for the fact that there are not enough workers. The works council agreed to the longer hours. Most of the workers are between 50-70 hours ahead on their work hour accounts. The strike is not only about the 4.5 percent wage increase, but about the whole situation – a situation that is not uncommon nowadays. It is uncommon that the workers are fighting back.
Organized break of the strike

The strike has cost the company a lot of money already and has disturbed the service of the airlines. Gate Gourmet serves LTU, Air France, Iberia, Air Maroc, Turkish Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Deutsche BA, Egypt Air, and others. In the beginning, flights had delays which caused enormous contract penalties. Towards the official claim that the work is running normally despite the strike, the strikers report that the strike breakers have huge difficulties in coping with the unknown work. From the viewpoint of the airport, they observe that the delivery and loading of the catering into airplanes doesn’t work as smoothly as before. Nevertheless, the company succeeded in half way maintaining their production for 23 days. To weaken the impact of the strike, the company invests in strike breakers and additional security to protect the gates and the strike breakers from the rage of their colleagues.

Beneath the little strike breakers for Gate Gourmet in Düsseldorf, there are three of nine works councils members who refused to strike. That includes the former shop chairman and his deputy, both were deselected three month ago. “They’d rather represent the company than the employees,” reported a worker at the strike tent. Even some of the bosses are forced to now work in production. But most current workers are from other Gate Gourmet locations (Frankfurt, Munich, Stockholm...). The union NGG, which had organized the strike in Düsseldorf, can’t do anything against it because those workers are organized at Ver.di (service union)!? Additional strike breakers are coming from two different temp agencies, Tertia from Krefeld and G+A in Duisburg. Also, a few Chinese students are still working, yet the strikers have some understanding for their situation: “They depend on that job, they can’t do anything.”

A big part of the loss of the production is balanced by deliveries from locations in Frankfurt (Zeppelinheim and Kelsterbach). On October 19, a delegation of 25 workers went to Frankfurt to talk to their colleagues. They couldn’t get into the location because the executive producer and a works council representative stopped them in front of the gate.
Solidarity

The strikers demonstrated at the airport compound two times and distributed leaflets to passengers. Another demonstration, maybe in downtown Düsseldorf, is under discussion (see: www.ngg.net). But Gate Gourmet is present at many airports around the world, so it presents plentiful opportunities to get active. We can show this multinational that we are everywhere as well and we can inform workers at different locations who probably face similar problems as the strikers in Düsseldorf. The further course of the strike will particularly depend on the success of preventing the strike break. When the strike at the catering division affects international air traffic, which happened massively in Heathrow due to the solidarity strike of the ground staff of British Airways, then the workers will succeed in their struggle.

By now, many solidarity addresses for NGG arrived at the strike tent, including international ones, even a letter from IWW in Australia. The works council of the temp agency G+A came over and promised to try to talk their management into not sending workers anymore. If you want to visit the strikers: go to Bahnhof Düsseldorf-Flughafen (not terminal), go downstairs and walk along the sky train in the direction of the terminal, shortly behind the LTU-plant you will see banners and the strikers’ tent. (October 29th, 2005, 23rd day of strike, Wildcat Köln, koeln@wildcat-www.de)

Gate Gourmet locations worldwide under here

From prol-position news #4, 12/2005