Account of the 2006 strike at Bosch-Siemens Washing Machine Factory (BSH) in Berlin, Germany and interview with two strikers.
Persons and Places of the Events
Chronology of the Strike
Twelve Concluding Points about the Strike
Conversation with a Colleague from BSH
BSH will continue to manufacture home devices in Berlin - Planned closure for the end of the year is off the agenda;. This was the heading of the Berliner Zeitung on the 29th of June 2006. The article continued: "The BSH-management, the works council and the IG Metall union representatives agreed to negotiate about a new concept for the production location in Berlin. 'The plan is that we keep parts of the production', said the head of the BSH plant Gunther Meier in exchange 'considerable cost-effective concessions' would be expected from the employees; Arno Hager said: 'I believe that we will find a solution in order to keep the production running in Berlin long-term'. Hager did not want to comment on the concessions of the employees for the time being. Meier said that he expects 'a cost reduction clearly in the millions'".
At the beginning of July 2006 the works council rejected the cost-cutting plans. The works council first announced that "we are open for all plans", but some workers made clear that they were not. People want a high leaving package, but refuse deteriorations of the existing conditions in any way. They know that their struggle has become a reference point "Now They Call Us Heroes Everywhere!" [See interview with a BSH-worker in Wildcat no. 75, translated in prol-position news no. 5/2006]
On the 25th of July BSH announced the shutdown of production for the beginning of 2007. This would not effect the research and development department. The IG Metal union and the works council start to negotiate about a social plan for the effected 570 of 1050 employees. When negotiations failed in August a strike committee was set up and production was interrupted by a continuous "extraordinary company assembly", starting from the 6th of September. On the 17th of September is election day in Berlin, therefore the entangled red-tape of SPD and IG Metall has to prevent any further public debates about the conditions of workers in the capital, particularly after the plant closures at Samsung, JVC and CNH, all situated in Berlin.
On the 18th of October the IG Metall and the BSH agree on the following collective contract:
- 400 blue-collar workers get a job guarantee till 31st of July 2010, meaning that they will not be laid off (270 jobs in the production department, 60 in the washing department, 40 in the logistics; 30 jobs are shifted to other companies belonging to the BSH group)
- In 2007 there will be no wage increases or other raises due to collective bargaining
- The performance bonuses that are prescribed in the collective contract are cut by 100 Euros per month on average (this would effect 500 workers)
- All workers who are not employed in the production department will have to work 40 instead of 35 hours, without wage compensation
- All workers have to work an additional hour per week (scheduled as "training time")
- The annual extra-pay ("dividend") is scrapped, which used to be about 1,500 Euros
- The holiday and Christmas money is cut by 20 per cent
- The half-day extra-holiday on the 24th and 31st of December are scrapped
- 216 workers will be sacked
The wage cuts of about 300 Euros per month (of total 1,500 Euros after tax), the sacking of 216 workers, who will receive a meagre leaving pay of about 1.5 monthly wages, is a shitty outcome comprising about 90 per cent of the deal which Meier and Hager initially aimed at in June 2006. But between these two dates the most important strike in Germany in 2006 took place! It can teach us how workers managed at least during a short period of time to turn a seemingly hopeless and badly prepared struggle into an offensive. And we have to learn from it why they did not manage to continue the struggle after the treason of the IG Metall, despite an impressive revolt of a lot of the strikers.
On the following pages we present a chronology which has been assembled from various report, then the article continues, at the end there are some collage-type interviews with workers ; they are product of conversations with various people whose real names do not appear out of safety reasons.
Before the chronology, here is a list of the
Persons and Places of the Events
In total about 470 workers took part in the dispute; most of them belonged to the 620 "blue-collar" workers. Apart from very few exceptions the white-collar workers from the research and development department (about 400 employees) did not get involved.
The chairman of the works council at BSH Spandau, Berlin. Since he got elected in the works council he has been off duty from the regular shop-floor work.
IG Metall secretary, responsible for the industry in Spandau, Berlin. He is the official strike leader.
First representative of the IG Metall in Berlin. He is responsible, e.g. for structural and industrial policy of the IG Metall and crisis prevention for companies in the area. He defends the Hartz IV unemployment benefit reform. He is joint-owner of the employment transit company ABZ, which was formed as a temporary employment opportunity for laid-off workers from JVC and the Siemens Dynamo plant. After this constellation created a scandal at the beginning of 2006, it was decided that the laid-off BSH workers would be employed not by ABZ, but a different transit company called Weitblick. The laid-off CNH people are dealt with by Weitblick, as well.
He is the IG Metall representative of the federal states Berlin, Brandenburg and Sachsen.
He is the second chairman (in 2007 he became first chairman) of the IG Metall, he used to be a member of the KABD, the preceding organisation of the MLPD (Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany). The renegades are always the worst. About the BSH conflict he said: "The production of home appliances in Germany has no future; I will not ruin a collective contract for this".
Manager in charge for the BSH plant in Spandau, Berlin.
A light-bulb manufacturing plant (specialised in supply for the film and car industry), about 750 meters away from the BSH plant. The plant belongs to the Siemens group, as well. Berlin is the central production location of Osram in Germany, employing 1,900 workers.
A motorcycle plant of the BMW group situated about 2 kilometres away from BSH. About 2,200 employees produce about 92,000 motorbikes per year, up to 540 per day. A seventh of the total product is car parts.
Formerly Orenstein und Koppel, a metal plant about 6 kilometres away from the BSH factory. On the 1st of June 2006 after 102 days of strike, the longest dispute in the history of Berlin's metal industry, the IG Metall representatives (the same gang of people like at BSH) agreed on the following social plan: "The closure of the plant will be postponed by four months to the 30th of November 2006. The people effected by the lay-offs will be employed by a transit company for another twelve months". The transit company Weitblick belongs to the union umbrella organisation DGB, like the scandal-shaken ABZ. On the 100th day of the strike Humbel and Wowereit (mayor of Berlin) both make speeches in front of the strikers. These two gravediggers of the Berlin workers movement both belong to the SPD (Social Democratic Party).
BSH Bosch Siemens Hausgeräte (home appliances)
The company employs about 14,000 people in Germany, mainly in the seven manufacturing plants Traunreut, Dillingen, Giengen, Bretten, Bad Neustadt (Saale), Berlin and Nauen. Worldwide the group employs over 37,000 people in 40 countries.
BSH Spandau, Berlin
Since 1953 the factory manufactures washing machines. In 2006 there are 1024 workers in the Berlin plant, 566 in the production department, 345 in the department PW (Development, Quality Management, Purchasing and Information Technology) is situated on the premises, too. Further 55 employees work in the logistics department preparing washing machines and spare parts for the transport. There are many Turkish and Polish workers in the plant. It has a long history of militancy, with particular combative years during the 80s.
BSH Hausgerätewerk Nauen GmbH
The plan is located in about 35 kilometres distance from the Spandau plant. The location in Nauen was built in the 90s, receiving major subsidies. Formally the plant does not belong the BSH group, which means that the company does not have to pay wages according to the collective contract. On the premises there are two factories, manufacturing washing machines and tumble driers. In the long term the plant will more likely be a location for logistics.
BSH Dillingen (in the north-west of Bavaria)
About 900 employees, the location was founded by Bosch in 1960. Global centre for the development of dishwashers.
About 2,200 employees, founded in 1944. The production of refrigerators and freezers started in 1949. The location coordinates and supervises the worldwide research and development work for BSH refrigerating products.
BSH Bad Neustadt (in the north of Bavaria)
The factory was founded in 1937 and belongs to the BSH group since 1996. Bad Neustadt is the biggest vacuum cleaner manufacturing plant in Germany. The department also coordinates the global research of BSH into floor cleaning.
BSH Plants in Turkey and Poland
Since 2005 here is a BSH plant in Lody (Poland) and since the 90s there are factories in Istanbul and Cercezkoy (Turkey).
6th to 22nd of September
The production is stopped by "extraordinary company assemblies".
15th of September
The company tries to take away the machines, but workers prevent it.
19th of September
Strike ballot, 95 per cent vote for strike action.
1st day of strike, 25th of September
At 3 am workers block the factory gates, first strike assembly at 12:30 pm.
2nd day of strike, 26th of September
The chairman of the general works council of the Bosch-Siemens corporation from Munich visits the strike tent. Arno Hager turns up, as well.
3rd day of strike, 27th of September
The strike newspaper is distributed in front of the factory on Bernauer Street. At 11 am the apprentices of a nearby construction technology school visit the strike tent together with their teacher. At 12:30 a delegation of three workers from Siemens-Messgerate (PTB) arrives. During the strike assembly people read out solidarity messages from the Siemens general works council and from unionists working at the company AEG.
4th day of strike, 28th of September
During the morning school classes visit the strike tent. Klaus Ernst, rep of the WASG (Party for Social Justice), makes a speech. He draws parallels to the long march of workers employed in the ball bearing industry of Schweinfurt who organised a protest march to Bonn during the 90s. He promises to help organising the march to Munich (BSH head-quarter) and to establish contacts with union bodies in Bavaria. The second speaker of the day, Oliver Höbel, criticises the general lack of workers participation in companies.
5th day of strike, 29th of September
The management tries to refuse the members of the works council admittance to the company premises. A group of 20 to 25 strikers return from a spontaneous trip to the BSH plant in Nauen. Several school classes and their teachers come for a visit. The climax of the day is the appearance of Gregor Gysi (leading figure of the Left Party, Party for Democratic Socialism) at 11 am. The former Berlin mayor Momper arrives without announcement.
7th day of strike, 1st of October
A calm Sunday, the striking workers and their families and supporters have a common meal, the chat and debate....
8th day of strike, 2nd of October
During the morning various media reps arrive: Welt, Berliner Morgenpost, ZDF, WDR and Spiegel TV. Petra Pau from the Left Party arrives, Klaus Lederer (ditto) presents a solidarity petition signed by participants of the last party assembly plus a donation of 400 Euros. The notorious Monday Demonstration (in the tradition of the anti-Hartz IV protests, see prol-position news no. 1/2005) arrives at the strike tent; only few people took part, hardly any workers. The debate in the tent is dominated by the MLPD.
10th day of strike, 4th of October
Today there are no guests apart from Spiegel TV and the unionists from BMW. The official strike leader Luis Sergio and Güngör Demirci are nearly the only people who attend the strike assembly. During the afternoon a washing day takes place at the Breitscheid Square. Dirty washing is washed by hand, symbolising the future of Berlin without the BSH. The turnout for this action could have been better, but despite the rain the workers attracted a lot of attention.
11th day of strike, 5th of October
The march of solidarity starts at 9 am, delegations from BMW, Daimler, Otis and Siemens take part. Amongst others the DGB-boss Michael Sommer, Oliver Höbel, mayor Wowereit and the town senator for economics Harald Wolf (Left Party) make speeches. The demonstration lasts till 12 am and brings the whole of Spandau to standstill. After the demo people embark onto eight buses while being greeted and seeing off by Gregor Gysi. First destination is the plant in Nauen. The village policeman is confused and despaired: "But the IG Metall guaranteed that all lorries would be able to enter and leave unrestricted!" Answer: "This might be true, but we don't agree. We are here in order to block the gate". About determined 250 people manage to block the plant effectively.
According to the first impressions while watching workers arrive and leave after shift most of the staff in Nauen are between 17 and 30 years old, most of them from East Germany, amongst them a lot of temp workers. There are hardly any signs of solidarity; one guy gives a 20 Euros note for the solidarity fund. The workers from Spandau form a long row on both sides of the exit road and enjoy letting the workers from Nauen drive pass it. All people who are too cool, too grumpy or with too short of a haircut have to drive through a particularly long and narrow pen. The unionists and works council of the plant in Nauen do not seem to be interested in the action. A sole works council shows solidarity with the struggle. Only later on and half-heartedly the works council picks up the demands of the strikers.
12th day of strike, 6th of October
During rainy weather most of the workers sit together in the strike tent. Six works council and the shop steward leader of the former Ford plant arrive. At 12:30 pm the strike assembly starts. Luis Sergio and the official strike leader ship: "The action yesterday was a complete success. Right on the first day we managed to get into the main television news. Our colleagues in Eisenhüttenstadt did a very good action today. Now a new stage of the struggle begins. We have to use all forces. Therefore we should travel to Leipzig tomorrow, because the famous priest of the Nikolai church, Christian Führer, announced his willingness to address the strikers at 2pm".
13th day of strike, 7th of October
About 200 strikers travel to Leipzig. They gather on the yard in front of the station and march towards the Nikolai church, distributing leaflets on the way. In the Nikolai church a panel discussion about welfare cuts and the reform of the health system takes place.
14th day of strike, 8th of October
Relaxing, chatting and reflecting.
15th day of strike, 9th of October
Since the start of the solidarity march the attitude of the media is surprisingly positive: Spiegel TV (RTL) broadcasted an objective report on Sunday evening, mentioning as the main reason for the dispute the profit seeking policy of the company. The local RBB wants to broadcast a documentary on the indefinite strike on Monday prime time.
16th day of strike, 10th of October
The march of solidarity reaches the washing machine plant of Miele in Bielefeld. The strike activists report that the IG Metall has completely retreated from the march, that wherever they arrive they would not get any support, contacts etc. from the union.
17th day of strike, 11th of October
A delegation of the Siemens Dynamo plant pops by for a visit. Solidarity messages from the IG Metall Nurnberg, the GEW (union for education) and the IG Metall Rosenheim arrive. Arthur Fischer, main representative of the IG Metall in Rosenheim wrote a letter to Jorgen Peters (union boss) and Berthold Huber asking them to develop a common strategy for the strike at BSH. He suggests that all employees of all BSH plants in Germany should take part in the demonstration on the 19th of October.
18th day of strike, 12th of October
Short messages from the strike buses on their way to Nurnberg, all seems fine.
19th day of strike, 13th of October
Apart from the picket there are only a handful of people on the strike premises, six buses left for a visit at BenQ (former Siemens mobile plant) in Kamp-Lintfort (over 500 kilometres from Berlin). Around noon a delegation from the nearby Osram plant arrives together with the shop steward-leader, they have a long chat with the official strike-reps. At 4pm the work-mates send a message from Kamp-Lintfort. The mood rises.
20th day of strike, 14th of October
The atmosphere on the strike premises is livelier than ever. Unionists from Osram and Icom (formerly Herlitz) arrive in the early morning hours in order to get an up-date on the situation. Afterwards Güngör Demirci informs about the current stage of the legal process at the labour court: the court did not pass a sentence, but in respect to the wish of the management of BSH a settlement was decided on: the strikers have to leave a three meters wide alley for people and trucks to be able to enter and exit the plant. After the decision Oliver Höbel says: "Great respect for this motivated staff. This exceeds all expectations. You should not stop before the counter-party pays tribute to you, as well". A team of the state TV-channel ZDF arrives.
Panel discussion with unionists from Poland, Turkey and Spain (Hasan Aslan from DISK, Todeos Felizinski from Solidarnosc and the translator Gesine Traub on behalf of the Spanish unionists).
Hasan Aslan: Since 1997 BSH produces home appliances in Turkey, about 3.5 Million products each year. In 2005 BSH increased profits by 55 per cent, to a total 55 million Euros. The workers get 2.13 Euros per hour; this amounts to 680 Euros before tax per month. This is only for the permanent staff, which account for only a third of the total work force. Most of the workers are temps; they only receive the minimum wage of 284 Euros before tax per month.
Todeos Felinzinski, member of the regional committee in Lodz, conveys a solidarity message from the BSH workers in Lodz. He says that he was not able to contact any official representatives. He describes the desolate condition of his union, which lost about 90 per cent of its members during the last ten years. The workers cannot count on the support of the unions. The wages range between 300 and 400 Euros, all contracts are timely limited. In Poland the unemployment rate is about 15 per cent, meaning that 3.5 million people are without jobs. The unemployment rate dropped by five per cent compared to the previous year, which is not due to more employment, but due to people leaving Poland, mainly to Great Britain and Ireland.
21st day of strike, 15th of October
Family Day, common meal and drinks. The Offene Kanal (Open Channel, an independent media collective) films and interviews people.
22nd day of strike, 16th of October
There is no alley for the trucks! As early as 6:30 am a huge mass of people, amongst others workers from Osram, BMW and Siemens Messtechnik gathers in front of the factory gates. The SPD has announced to organise a rally from 6 am to 6 pm, in order to support the workers. The speeches are as daft as ever: Lucy Redler from the WASG calls people to participate in the DGB-demonstration on the 21st of October. But for the first time all people get involved, a different, more combative atmosphere spreads. Neither bosses nor scabs show up. According to unofficial declarations the bosses will not try to enter the factory neither today nor tomorrow. Luis Sergio guesses that at the moment the compromising faction within the Siemens Company board dominates the hard-liners. Initiated by the employer there will be an attempt to reach an agreement in front of the regional labour court tomorrow at 8am. Many people have objections against it. The work-mates from BMW organise their works council meeting inside the strike tent. Another big bulk of solidarity greetings arrive, amongst others from Switzerland and Austria. The work-mates working at Miele announce that they will send two buses full of people to the protest in Munich.
23rd day of strike, 17th of October
A delegation that has been at the labour court arrives at the strike tent. The lawyer Thomas Berger summarises the proceedings on behalf of the strike leader-ship: he has the impression that BSH wants to keep the plant in Berlin open. BSH does not want to appear as the job terminator of the nation, they do not want to provoke a situation similar to the one after the closure of AEG in Nurnberg. Luis Sergio announces that the strike leader-ship will have to elaborate a concept for the partial continuation of the production by the 22nd of November. This would be a rest time for the strikers which they can use in order to get prepared properly. He supposes that there won't be any results concerning closure or dismissals before Christmas. Güngör Demirci begins to speak "News of success are coming in from all sides. BSH workers in Dillingen walked out today. The willingness of the employers to enter negotiations can be seen as a positive signal. We will join the negotiations and repeat the known demands". On Friday, the 20th of October there will be a strike party, all strikers, their families and friends will have a common meal, listen to music, watch a documentary about the strike.
24th day of strike, 18th of October
In the early morning hours the compromise between BSH and the IG Metall, which has been agreed on during the night, is presented to the workers: out of the 616 currently employed people 370 are supposed to stay under considerably worse conditions; 30 people are supposed to be employed in the mother company in Berlin; 216 will be dismissed. There won't be any additional dismissals till 31st of October 2010. The IG Metall signs that they will abstain from organising any protest actions outside from Berlin. The official end of the strike is dated 20th of October 2006, midnight. While Höbel announces these results the strikers spontaneously throw their strike vests and stickers onto the stage. During the whole day very controversial debates take place. The strikers feel betrayed by the negotiation delegation and strike leaders. The atmosphere got tense when Luis Sergio claims that the numbers of demonstrators mentioned in the strike newspaper has been altered in favour of the strikers.
During the afternoon a helpless anger prevails, some dream about revenge or hope to continue the struggle, others try to talk themselves into a state where the official result seems better than it is. It is rather overwhelming to see the impression of defeat even in the eyes of those workers who will vote against the acceptance of the agreement tomorrow. Even the angry workers are clueless about what to do in case the ballot will be in their favour, which is highly unlikely.
Later on I understand that there is often a unionist (a guy from the negotiation delegation or a works council or another official rep) standing in the middle of the discussing groups, answering the questions and complains. A kind of human lightning conductor, who consoles and calms down. Amongst them the works council chairman and another colleague from CNH, who sit together with strikers and make jokes: "I will de dismissed, as well, but I am contented with our result. We could not have achieved more. The people were worn out by being on strike. Some started building their own house recently, they could not afford to be on strike...". Yeah, right, but they can afford wage cuts and unemployment!
25th day of strike, 19th of October
The strikers disagree with the result and express their anger during intense discussions on the strike assembly. Surprisingly many people take the mic and get applause for it. They are particularly angry about the joint action of strike leader-ship and IG Metall renouncing the planned protest rally in front of the BSH head quarter in Munich. A worker takes over the mic and criticises the fact that the result is even worse than the last offer made by BSH, he demands that the workers should not accept this sell out, but continue the strike. He claims that neither BSH nor union has handed out the written agreement to the workers yet, so there cannot be a secret ballot about it amongst the workers. He received standing ovations from 95 per cent of the people. Sergio answers that the ballot would have to be secret, but that he would postpone it and explain the agreement to everyone in a following assembly. After this announcement the atmosphere is less agitated. A female worker accuses the works council Demirci of betrayal, he told everyone that he would not share a table with manager Meier, but now they both signed the agreement. Demirci feels more and more trapped and is pushed into a corner. The situation escalates again after a worker calls him a scab and demands that he is therefore excluded from the ballot. The works council looses his mind and screams that he started fighting monopoly capital aged 18 and that no one could accuse him of breaking the strike.
There is a break.
After the break they discuss each point of the agreement. When point 9 ("no protest rallies outside of Berlin") is read out the situation finally gets out of hand: all workers in the tent get off their seats and shout "Work for all - Solidarity!" The panel looses control, Höbel and Hager search refuge behind the last row of seats. Several standing ovations and speeches, people chant, "We want to fight", and on the stage people fix a banner "Say No" which receives a long applause. There is a Solidarnosc-flag, as well. The whole increasing tension seems strangely torn, developing in stages.
The workers demand an open, instead of a secret ballot. The union insist on their statute, but finally a unionist says that the reaction is an obvious vote against the cancellation of the strike. A speaker, who took part in the march, asks at the end of his speech: "Who is in favour of the continuation of the strike"? Many people (not all) raise their hands; there are no votes against the strike. Later on Güngör Demirci proclaims during one of about a dozen personal statements that the works council has the right to topple the agreement by revoking the settlement that has been declared in front of the labour court. He says that for him 50 per cent plus X is a majority and that of course he is on the side of the workers. At the end of the assembly he stands on the stage, his fist in the air, while the unionists look around in distress. Nearly all people in the assembly accept Demircis announcement and greet it with applause. The tent trembles. Then the ballot starts.
26th day of strike, 20th of October
The ballot box closes at 12 noon. The public counting begins. At about 1:15 pm Sergio announces the ballot result. When he addresses the workers as "dear colleagues" they start to shout: "We are not the dear colleagues of strike breakers!" He does not repeat the address, instead he announces that people on sick leaf, people on holiday and strike breakers are not allowed to take part in the ballot, but that according to the statute their vote will automatically be counted in favour of the negotiated agreement. People get agitated, there are catcalls. According to the strike leader-ship 539 people were allowed to vote, 513 people voted, which are 95.8 per cent. Out of which 167 vote in favour of the agreement (32.5 per cent) and 344 vote against it (67.5 per cent). Two votes are invalid. According to the German union regulation 75 per cent of the total staff has to vote in favour of strike action in order to get union support. The BSH workers would not be able to continue the strike legally.
After the announcement of the result Olivier Höbel wants to say something. Someone tells him to piss off. "I will stay", he answers. "Then we will piss off". If anything left a little chance for the future struggle than it was this action of the workers leaving the assembly in protest. My impression was that people are really angry, but that it is difficult to find alternative ideas. The idea "to piss off" illustrates the problem. Höbel's answer triggered the reaction of the workers. Would Höbel's answer had been different; their reaction would have been, as well. The tent grows empty, the IG Metall officials, the strike leader-ship stays alone with the media people. People shout while leaving: "We will continue the strike! Solidarity"! Shortly after the action a cop car turns up, someone must have called them, probably the union. Outside the tent people debate about how things could continue. Later on the works council's chairman joins the crowd and announces that he will do everything in order to make the continuation of the strike possible. Despite the result he wants to try to convince the union local and IG Metall committee to continue the strike for political reasons (although in Germany political strikes are illegal, as well - note of the translator). He wants to convey the three main demands of the workers: no dismissals, higher leaving pay, better conditions for early retirement. By acclamation the gathered crowd votes unanimously in favour of the suggestions. The vote for a new strike-leadership is announced, but the vote does not happen.
Another break again!
It remains completely unclear how things are going to be continued from here. The fact that, after all what happened, Luis Sergio (and to certain extend Güngör Demirci, who at least made verbal revocation after each written betrayal) can still stand and talk on the stage says more than words. So does the fact that there is a break after each decision that somehow should trigger the desire for practical steps or at least further clarifications. The spokesperson of the IG Metall Bernd Kruppa stresses that according to the union statute the agreement has been accepted. The BSH workers do not want to agree on that, a works council member declares: if the IG Metall refuses to support us, we will continue the struggle on our own. In the evening the news arrive that the highest committee of the IG Metall refuses to acknowledge the demands of the strikers. Anger and hopelessness increase, many people demand the continuation of the dispute without the IG Metall.
All of a sudden Wowereit (mayor of Berlin), Gysi (head of the Left Party) and Harald Wolf (senator for economics of Berlin regional government) turn up in order to talk to the strikers and calm them down. Neither them nor the songs of Dieter Dehm are able to appease the workers; he has to leave the stage in order to avoid physical damage.
21st of October
The BSH workers participate as a group on the DGB (union umbrella organisation) demonstration, they carry a banner: "We want to keep on fighting! Where is the IG Metall?" They are not allowed to speak on the stage.
24th of October
BSH opens a new assembly line for washing machines in the plant in Nauen.
25th of October
Workers in Spandau, Berlin go back to work after two official holidays.
Twelve Concluding Points about the Strike
First. All union lead struggles end in an official victory - it is only the rank and file who might experience it as a defeat. The IG Metall arranged the struggle at BSH in a way ("against the plant closure") that would enable them to sell the outcome as a success: the BSH management never said that they wanted to shut down the plant completely! The research and development department was supposed to stay in Berlin and already as early as June 2006 the union and management agreed on a partial continuation of production. The fact that even two months after the end of the strike there has been no official IG Metall document hailing the victory means that something did not work according to the official plan.
Second. How to struggle against plant closures? What can be done once the strike in itself does not hurt the employer anymore? The workers' "march of solidarity" was a way to get out of the trap. The move to give the brand Siemens a bad name aimed at a vulnerable part: companies which threaten with re-location of production to other countries (two years ago it was Opel, at the beginning of 2006 AEG, now Siemens...) still depend on the consumer market Germany. Siemens paid a lot of attention to the so-called "AEG-effect" (double digit decline of sales after the strike in Nurnberg), after all their own brand profited from the AEG crisis.
Third. In a way the workers took the offensive behind the back of the official bodies. The IG Metall has sent them to Kamp-Lintfort (mobile phone plant threatened by closure), where we could see scenes of fraternizations on the street. A spark to the powder keg: an explosive mixture of downsizing and wage cuts on one hand; corruption and self-service-mentality in the boardrooms on the other. The march of the BSH workers started to bring together affected workers from the shop floor. A joint workers' action in Munich would have had a signal of enormous impact and attraction.
Fourth. During the days of the march the workers finally started to take the struggle in their own hands. In Berlin they refused to open an alley for scabs and trucks, against the court rule. In the buses they left the official route of the union, they formed a creativity collective. On the background of the dynamic of other workers joining the struggle in solidarity ("towards Munich"), these "little signs" of self-determination were strong enough in order to turn a seemingly hopeless struggle into a threat. By the way, any workers struggling against the closure of any plant is able to create these "little signs": a few thousand Euros for the buses and 40 people who are willing to have a one week trip to other workers in a similar situation.
Fifth. When twelve loads of BSH workers started their earlier trip to Munich on the 31st of May 2005 the management was afraid enough to cancel their balance press conference. In 2006 Siemens was under even greater pressure: the corruption scandal, the sell-out to BenQ, the 30 per cent income increase of Siemens board members... and in this situation they had to face a joint demonstration. During the strike assembly someone described the situation as follows: "We were about to grab the Siemens group by the throat when the union smacked our hand". The political function of unions is to take the brunt out of the direct confrontation between workers and employers. Secret ballots and statutes are part of the game, if they don't work there is still the option to black-mail or to enforce decisions: already during the night of negotiations point 9 of the agreement was implemented, they canceled the march to Munich, they called back the buses. "Munich" was a charged issue for the unions, as well. Immediately before the German wide union demonstration on the 21st of October the action in Munich would have become a guideline for the general struggle. Workers in struggle who combine their action spontaneously would create a dynamic difficult to control.
Sixth. As soon as the struggle increases its strength, the employers calls for negotiations and thereby divides the strikers. In a previous interview with wildcat [no. 74; also in prol-position news no. 4/2005] a worker said "only about 30 per cent would accept the deterioration of conditions [in order to save jobs]" - exactly these 30 per cent have won the ballot! As long as the company refused to negotiate they united the workers and it was possible to increase the demands for leaving pay. A conscious unity was a prerequisite for the struggle. Only the demand "No dismissals!" was able to create it. The bad thing about struggles against closures: a foreman or master has got more of an interest to save his job than an assembly line worker.
Seventh. How can you think that you can delegate a struggle "against dismissals and deterioration of working conditions" to the IG Metall, knowing that they always mediated job cuts and deteriorations of the remaining jobs (for example at BenQ)? Because at BSH there were hardly any independent organisational structures of the workers left! The active workers were busy stabilising the strike and had now energy left in order to take care of leaflets, a strike newspaper, demonstrations and so on. The union's legitimacy is based on this situation: their job is to defend weak workers (Sergio in the strike tent: "We doctored the numbers of participants"). On the other hand the union perceives the independence of the workers as a threat (Oliver Höbel: "If you won't cancel the strike we will never again call any workers who are threatened by closure of their plant to walk out").
Eight. The workers learnt a lot during the strike (therefore we limit our contribution to these concluding points and let them speak for themselves in the following interviews). But there is no way to condense these experiences if now mainly the active generation of workers leave the plant. "They will start working somewhere else and their experiences will contribute to the situation there", this hope expressed during a conversation would only become true if they would be part of a different struggle soonish. At least statistically the prospect that this will be the case has considerably improved (the numbers of strike have clearly increased).
Ninth. We can see the same problem like during the public sector strikes during spring 2006: The workers block production for seven and a half weeks and stand on the picket for nearly four weeks, but hardly anyone comes by in order to support them. Neither workers from other companies nor people from the Berlin radical left scene. (Struggles about) the conditions of expenditure of labour power are not perceived as something political. Strikes will have to re-open up this space. Only a "workers' struggle", which neither represents "the general interest" nor fits the paternalistic pigeonhole of "victims needy for support" would be able to break with the current understanding of politics. Only an offensive "egoistic" struggle for the interests of those fighting would have the potential to overcome the isolation of the various struggles and to change the world.
Tenth. The phase of "extraordinary company assemblies" and the first ten days of the strike have been wasted ineffectively. The workers neither established contacts to other companies nor created an external impact on possible supporters. The IG Metall gadgets and official leaflets and the self-painted banners ("We want to work") rather frustrated people who came to Spandau in order to support the strike. The brave rebellion against the agreement came too late, the workers would have needed months of preparation, of forming relation-ships with allies, establish contacts and so on.
Eleventh. Some simple rules which we always tend to forget: never send individual persons to the negotiations; never demand a strike ballot before you have lost the struggle; all workers should take part in the decision-making; contacts should be established by the workers themselves; paint the banners yourselves, write the leaflets yourselves... Who could write an "ABC for strike beginners"?
Twelfth. What can we do in order to support such a strike from the outside? Visit the people, talk to them. Offer support. Catch some ideas; make a leaflet out of it (give them a voice). Conversations also have the simple effect of serving as a mirror for the strikers. Whoever wants to do more: just go fly-posting, or put stickers on Siemens devices in sales rooms, leaflet in front of the job centre, on weekly markets, in the public means of transport. We can also get involved as "colleagues", students or professors can organise (nightly) courses (for the night picket) in front of the factory. School students can leaflet at their schools and call for visiting the strikers, for participation in their demonstrations (their have been huge school student mobilisations of school students in Berlin recently). People in other companies can establish contacts; drag their work-mates along to the gates...
A Conversation with a Colleague from BSH
On September 6, we started with work meetings and so we stopped production. On September 25 we blocked the Gate; this was the official start of the strike. It was not our plan to have a three week long work meeting, we though after three days we would have nothing to say anymore. The chairman of the works council talked almost 45 minutes to an hour every day, and two consultants of the works council talked 30-45 minutes daily. The works council had invited many people to talk: works councils from other plants, politicians, Hartz IV consultants and tax consultants...
...who explained you in detail what stays left from your compensation money...
He wanted to talk about compensation money and taxes. We didn't care how to make an eight hour works meeting over weeks, we were ok with everything even tax consultants... But then he explained a lot of bullshit and scared people - it wasn't wrong, if you have 80.000, in any case 20.000 are gone!
Actually the strike should have started at the 18th, but when it finally started we had talked about everything three times. We had nothing to debate about in the first days of strike, so we watched movies, everyday strike movies.
But haven't you been watching movies at the works meetings, too?
Yes! Infineon strike, AEG strike, this Interconti strike, where they were striking over three years in Mexico... We also invited people from Charité (hospital in Berlin); they talked for about two, three hours.
Was there any effect? Did they show up when you were on strike?
We wanted to have a common works meeting with them and railroad workers in front of the Brandenburger Tor [historic monument]. The strike at Charité was canceled and the railroad workers disappeared. The people from Charité didn't come to visit during the strike. But it was good that they came to talk. It isn't easy to prepare people for a strike, who had never been on strike before. The more people came from outside the more brave the colleagues became: "We are not alone! We can make it!"
You didn't get much support, didn't you?
The most people from other plants were delegates. Not many workers showed up, only from CNH, four or five people came often. One works council from BMW was here almost all the time. But from Osram only two works councils visited two times! All in all we had expected more. We didn't get much support from other plants.
I guess, it's common sense: everybody dies alone. If BMW would have been on strike, maybe only five from our plants would have gone to visit. When the workers of CNH were on strike, not more than 10 people from our plant went. If there would be a strike today maybe 30-40 people of BSH would go and support them. But these are experiences, which developed during the fight, you need help and you should help others. Just like the ones from CNH who visited us, before I didn't even know that this factory existed, you've never seen them at mobilizations! Lots of people got a little political during the strike. They know now were they stand and where the capital is and something about the background stories. Some were really scared in the beginning: "Okay I want to be on strike, but the boss shouldn't see me." Later this constraint was gone, the second week, when the strike breakers came, these people were up front. Others were ashamed to distribute leaflets the first time in their life - and than it became just logical to distribute leaflets. That kind of practical stuff, that's clear now for people.
Who proposed ideas? Were all actions initiated by the strike administration?
Yes, it was organized by the strike administration, to block Nauen (little town outside of Berlin, another BSH factory) and so on. Sometimes things just happened. For example some colleagues went to Osram, they had coordinated that before. Two times leaflets were distributed at Nauen without asking the strike administration...
Did you get any contacts at Nauen factory after distributing leaflets and the blockage?
After they sacked 600 people in Nauen, now more than 50 per cent working through temp agencies at the plant, they don't give a shit. The rest of them are appointees or people with any kind of positions. No, we don't have contacts.
Your strike administration was accrued through coincidence, is that true?
In August, when 70 per cent of the people were on holiday, we needed to build up a strike administration to develop demands. The IG Metall (Industriegewerkschaft Metall - union) arranged a meeting of union members, only 38 people came. Out of this group 15 people were campaigning and got elected. This went according a quota: one Polish, two women, one appointee, one industrial worker and so on.
Was there any other group except the strike administration? For example a Polish or Vietnamese group?
No. Sometimes people had proposals. German skilled workers proposed to build up a music group, which should play at Kudamm (Downtown Berlin), to get attention for the strikers. But this didn't happen. Everybody participated but not on their own initiative. It's a kind of BSH tradition: if you call, they join it! It?s a little strange if you compare it with other factories.
Why did the people who talked at the works meeting shut up after the strike had started?
Maybe their goal was to strike - with the start of the strike their goal was reached, and everybody was happy. There were no ongoing political demands. The people felt just fine, they had enough food, and THE weather was good... you know, there was no atmosphere of really fighting. This happened at the end of the strike, that people stood up and spoke. Before the strike was just like a works meeting. Politicians came and got 'cheerled': "Colleagues, stay tame, maybe they can help us."
What else have you done besides a strike newspaper, website and a march of solidarity? And how many people participated at those actions?
Before the strike we had an auto convoy and a rally in front of the headquarters of Siemens. During the strike we did laundry at Kudamm and distributed leaflets in front of shops like Saturn, MediaMarkt, Karstadt (Big household appliance shops) and so on. At Siemensstadt (neighborhood in Berlin) we distributed leaflets in the morning to people on their way to work. And of course at the traffic light in front of the gates we distributed a lot of leaflets every day. We said: Who is going to participate? We need 30-40 people. And 30-40 people announced to do it. People didn't ask for actions! Sometimes there were only 10 people for an action.
Were those all ways the same people?
The ones who distributed leaflets were mostly skilled workers - electricians, locksmiths and assembly workers. We thought they wouldn't even participate in the strike. At the laundry day two works councils, assembly workers, two or three skilled workers and a few women were washing clothes. It was a different composition than distributing leaflets.
By the way, how many people were on strike?
Out of 1000, 470 got strike money. The first week was bad; a lot of people were looking for a chance to walk off! The strike itself, the picketing was a job for 150 people. Once 100 people had signed in, but only 20 were actually there. At another day we got back from an action and only 10 people were at the strikers' tent. Until then a lot of people didn't understand the political meaning of the strike. "I just want to sign in to get my money; I don't care about anything else." Then it was decided that people have to sign in and out with their group leader.
What was the positive surprise during the strike?
That a lot of people, you would not have thought that they would even participate, were very active in the strike! Never been at a demo, never distributed leaflets! It was important that the skilled workers were there. They had never before been at a demo or distributed leaflets. And the Polish, they have a clear workers consciousness, they may not be lefties, but they can easily keep the classes apart. Out of maybe 100 Polish, 80 were very active.
Where there also people on strike who were not union members?
Yes, a few. A lot of non-members took a sick leave, a very little group participated. The clerks were working or used all their vacation time. In Nauen, they had only work for 120 or 150 people.
How did it work with the strike newspaper? This was an idea of IG Metall, wasn't it?
Yes, it's a standard at strikes. But the IG Metall censored the paper from the beginning. Once someone answered the question, about how long we want to be on strike: "I already ordered a Christmas tree, don't worry." They had it in the paper, but they had to take it out again.
IG Metall distributed the money, the common stuff and the flags...?
Yes, the first day they had put up everything. Sergio (Luis Sergio - union secretary and official strike-leader) was there every day, the other came over for two or three times, solely to have speeches at the tent. At the strike meetings everybody was allowed to speak, the MLPD (Marxist Leninist Party of Germany) with the Monday demo, or who ever.
But there is a different impression if you put up all the IG Metall flags, wear the IG Metall t-shirts and draw all the sandwiches with "work, work, work!" or you take your own matters into your own hands. Those t-shirts were printed by the union, but then they wanted 10 Euros each. We took them all, sold them for 5 Euros and put the money into the strike cashier.
For a lot of people it was important that IG Metall announced the strike, because then you don't need to worry about your wage at the end of the month - the union was your boss. And a lot of people, actually the majority said: We're not gonna make it without them.
How was the effect concerning this question on the strikers? Did a few people realize that 500 people can manage something?
A few of the active colleagues say: They didn't want to, a lot was possible, but the IG Metall didn't want to.
When did you realize that negotiations were going on?
Already on Friday! They didn't tell what they were doing, but they said something about signals for negotiations. Most likely they would have an agreement by Tuesday, but no one should know about it, because of a possible failure. A week before they had a supervisory board conference; Huber (Berthold Huber - vice chairman of IG Metall) is also a member there. I believe, at this time they agreed on the vertices of the agreement. It was very strange that the bosses were so late in asking for a legal application for passing the picket. They could have had this application in between three days, but they let it go for two weeks and until the third week they went to court to ask for the application.
And still you weren't prepared for the betrayal!
On Monday one of us said openly: "People, tomorrow there will be negotiations." The people asked right away: "What's about Munich?" And IG Metall and works councils promised: "No matter what kind of agreement we will have, we're going to Munich! If the workplaces are going to be saved, we go to thank them." Something like that bullshit. The next day, they canceled the trip. That was one of the main critics of the people: "You lied!"
The leaders of the strike had voted 9:6 to end the strike...
Yes. The chairman of the works council and his deputy are members. One fore worker and two German women who just wanted to work are too.
Especially people who are not threatened with lay-off and go with best interest of the existence of the plant, no matter under what conditions. They didn't care if 216 people have to go.
Were the strike breakers allowed to take a vote?
32 percent voted for "yes", there was no manipulation. With 3 percent of the strike breakers they got 35 percent. The Yes-voters took their vote on Friday. A lot of those who were active in the tent, voted for "yes" and were even more active in discussion afterwards not to get remarkable. Sometimes it wasn't possible to say openly, "Yes, I vote for the end of the strike." It's always that way. There is still a split in the plant between Yes-voters and No-voters. "With your "yes" vote you agreed on a lay off of 216 people."
What would have been a goal for the strike? What would have been possible to reach?
That there wouldn't be any lay-offs! That's what the people said from the beginning; And no worsening of the working conditions. At least five years of job security and capital investments. That's what everybody said: "If they don't invest capital, they again want to close down in two years." This is the reason for the overall estimation: "This time we're strong, this time we have to pull through everything."
After the strike
What is the situation in the plant?
30 to 40 percent are on sick leave.
According to the agreement, the arbitration committee needs to be done by December 15. Are they going to make it?
The pressure on the bosses and the IG Metall is pretty strong. They would have problems to push such bullshit through, if they don't make it now. Everything needs to be set by December 31.
The union was busy to bring down the strike for a whole week. At the end Olivier Höbel (chairman of the IG Metall Berlin-Brandenburg-Sachsen) even threatened: "If you don't stop picketing, we will never support a strike when a staff is threatened with plant closing!" That was not a faked threat; an union has to guarantee to get workers back to work after a strike.
IG Metall realized that they would loose control, that's the reason for ending the strike. They had underestimated that the things would change during a strike. Two things were important: the big solidarity in Kamp-Lintfort (Siemens-BenQ factory, going to be closed soon) and that we didn't let people into the plant. That scared IG Metall. We said in the strikers tent: "We don't let anybody in!"
One failing attempt to get in would have been 25000 Euros or something like that, but we answered: "We don't care, we don't let anybody in!" That threatened IG Metall. Since Monday morning 6 o'clock, we had closed the gate. But no one of the management showed up, we were surprised. Later I heard that it was already clear that they would have negotiations on Tuesday. IG Metall had obviously agreed with management that they wouldn't provoke the workers with opening the pickets.
Four days earlier the spontaneous fraternization in Kamp-Lintfort showed them that something could happen...
It wasn't like, that we wouldn't have been warned! Workers from AEG came over to us and said: "They're going screw you, watch out!" People from CNH said the same. But you don't fight with the IG Metall eye-to-eye, it was our first strike, but it was their hundredth betrayal, they know how to do it. If there would have been 20 experienced people behind us, who have been screwed by the IG Metall like the workers at AEG, then the story would have ended differently. We would probably not have been screwed a second time.
You don't get a second chance, that's the bullshit. The workers at AEG wouldn't have been screwed another time either...
But our problem was: If IG Metall would not have announced the strike, we could have worked our asses off - would have the people go on strike? No! We didn't make it. If we would have been stronger, we wouldn't have needed them. We were just able to go on strike, because they announced it legally.
It's always difficult to fight closings. Normally the power is to go on strike...
We live in modern times: You don't win a strike in front of the factory gate! Publicity doesn't change anything either; auto convoys or demos to Roten Rathaus (town hall) didn't change much. They are afraid if you go to other factories, or even better when you get something done in the same firm. For example Siemens, firm wide, or together with BenQ, then both are threatened to loose control IG Metall and management. They can tell 500 people: "Piss off, the strike is over, go back to work!" But with 10000 it wouldn't be possible.
Now and then one could have the impression that the belief in the leaders was much more of a deterrent in this strike than the past years. This huge rage: "They betrayed us!" is the opposite side of the hope one had with these leaders.
At the beginning the belief in the works council and IG Metall was very big. This trust is gone now. For the IG Metall it was unexpectedly difficult to kill our strike, but they made it anyway. The control mechanism over the working class still works pretty GOOD; it doesn't matter if it comes from the local works council or from the unions. With words we couldn't break peoples trust in IG Metall. But the IG Metall does it with what they do, that is also means to politicize people.
All the bullshit happened before the strike
The union had demanded a social agreement, that's something you can have for a legal strike. But it's not possible to fight for job security under that demand, because you will cause the inevitable question about compensation payment.
During the negotiations before the strike, in June or August they offered the whole agreement as a present. Back then they claimed: "They will close the plant anyway, we have to offer everything, so we will be in a good light in publicity." And that's why they even offered the underwear. This whole bullshit happened before the strike even started!
The management knew beforehand what it would get, when they would get at the table: A 40 hours week, vacation and Christmas benefits... everything was offered already!
At the end of the strike you once said: the last days were so wonderful, they compensate for the whole drudgery. 20 years of slavery away and now I was allowed to be a part of it...
It was worth in the sense that the people didn't listen to anybody and decided their own things. It didn't matter if it was a works council or the chairman of the works council or IG Metall; they always fought them back and decided about the story themselves. The IG Metall said stop and the people opposed.
Do the people have now more confidence in themselves?
Before the strike it was an illusion, now it is a normal thing. So in that sense: Yes! Before the strike maybe a lot of people would have accepted the result we have now, but during the strike they developed such a dynamic, a lot got active. Once I talked to two, three older workers, they told me: "If you would have told me two years ago, you were going to be outside the plant and block the gate, i would have laughed at you." See, what's possible in life! (laughs) One of them had never participated in a warning strike and now he is outside with us in front of the gate. The people see how good it is, if you get active together. For example the question of nationality didn't play any role. During work it is different; Kurds, Turks, Germans, Vietnamese or Poles sit in their separated corner to have lunch. If there wouldn't be lay-offs we easily could build something on that. We got to know new people; we know who has what abilities. It would be a very fruitful soil to plant on... Well, but those 500 people are not going to stay unemployed for the rest of their lives; they will start to work somewhere. That's an important thing: How do they develop their fight and keep talking about at other places?
How is it going on?
After every strike there are discussions about what could have been better; what can we learn for the future? The problem is that there is no exchange. For example, maybe it is going to hit Volkswagen, but the people from Volkswagen are not interested at the moment to listen to our experiences during the strike and how we got betrayed to prevent it in the future. We have to analyze the strike politically: What did we gain? What did we forget? I think the march on solidarity is a new form of fighting. How can we spread this out? It doesn't need to be a bus always, but I think about actions not in front of the gate only. What kind of fights can we use? How can we make it better? If we get to another place by bus, we should stay there and invite people for discussions. Then we can have political discussions and set up the next steps. Unlike: go over to AEG; clap your hands and good bye! And we have to do something downtown, it's important: in the morning a rally and afternoon a discussion round or something like that. Otherwise you don't get in contact with people! Then it gets stuck on the level of IG Metall or another... Secondly: we got to that form of activity spontaneously through the miners [Miners' strike in Turkey]. Maybe there are other ways to fight, we don't know about at the moment, which we can present in Germany.
"Suddenly everything fitted together"
You folks had the idea of a 'March of Solidarity' already earlier on...
Yes. We were inspired by the huge miners' march towards the capital in Turkey in 1991. But only shortly before the strike kicked off we started to form a commission.
The IG Metall paid for the buses, organised the accommodation...
Yes. Initially we actually wanted to walk. Always 30 people walking, for three days, then others take over. In order to get to Munich in four weeks, we would have had to march 30 to 40 kilometres daily on average. In the end that seemed too much to us. Why should we not pass through areas where there is not much happening anyway by using the bus? We presented this idea to the IG Metall and they said on the spot: "so we give you a bus". We only started to talk about the question of how we actually want to organise this action when the march had already started! The selection of people who joint the trip was also rather unfortunate. Some thought it would be funny to have a ride through Germany. Others thought that instead of standing on the picket you travel for free. May be 15 people were convinced of the thing they were doing, mainly the Polish, some of the Turkish, two or three German work-mates. To all the others the significance of the bus trip was actually unclear.
Why did you need the IG Metall for getting the bus?
The bus costs 1,800 Euros per day; we did not manage to raise this money. In addition to that the accommodation, one night plus breakfast for 40 people cost 700 Euros. For the logistical and financial support we needed the IG Metall. Furthermore we did not know how to establish contacts. If we had had our own contacts, for example to VW, we would have been able to decide ourselves where to go. After the march started everything was in the hands of the IG Metall, the contacts, too. They decided where to go.
There was a trust relation-ship, like, the IG Metall will organise the thing...?
No, not at all! The IG Metall organised it badly and everyone noticed. But for us the question was 'are we able to organise the factory occupation and the March of Solidarity at the same time?'
Once the bus was sorted you had the idea to pay a visit to Eisenhüttenstadt, Kamp-Lintfort and so on (towns where struggles against plant closures were going on at that time)...
Initially Kamp-Lintfort was not our destination. That was rather an idea of the IG Metall. We wanted to walk through some eastern German towns, our destination was Wolfsburg, where we wanted to pitch up for some days.
Why? Wolfsburg is not at all on the way...
But it is a huge plant!
You wanted to go anywhere where you could meet several thousand workers?
Yes, exactly, this was our aim! But then the IG Metall said that Wolfsburg is in process of finding a production location agreement, they do not want us; we might harm the negotiation process.
I think it is peculiar that Kamp-Lintfort was the idea of the IG Metall! I had thought that they would be afraid that two similar kinds of struggles would come together.
Exactly this is what happened: the whole town was up and about, they promised to come to Munich, as well. It was the climax of the march! And this is what scared the union and the employers. The IG Metall might have thought that once we drop in for a visit may be 20, 30 BenQ-guys would come along - we only got to know in Kamp-Lintfort that they have not worked since two weeks! So it was not the case that they left the plant anyway heading home after work, no, they arrived specially for the demonstration, a lot of them are commuters (so they had to make a journey and effort to come to the demo). If this action in Kamp-Lintfort had remained small scale, we might have gone to Munich. But they have seen a fraternisation taking place. Later on we got to know that 600 people would have come to Munich from Kamp-Lintfort alone: before that the EKO-Stahl people had said they would come, Miele wanted to come; people from Bosch wanted to join... suddenly everything fitted together.
Please tell us chronologically what happened. On Thursday, the 5th of October the bus first went to EKO in Eisenhüttenstadt, which went very well...
We were delighted by Eisenhüttenstadt. The visit at EKO was not the usual ceremony. The came out of the plant and immediately started talking to us: 'Don't let them tell you what to do and want not to do! We have decided ourselves, too. It is about your own arse, so you may well decide yourselves what to do, which action to take!' They occupied the highway and the Treuhand (institution for winding up companies), this is what they told us. They offered that they would take over our picket for the time when we head towards Munich. As an sign of solidarity they also wanted to send a bus to Munich.
After that you went to Leipzig?
The bus was just about to arrive in Leipzig when we got to know that there was a DGB-rally (main union head-organisation) against the reform of the health system, so we send three additional buses. The people from Leipzig looked at us and our leaflets strangely; we were not popular there. We were a lot of black-haired guys, we from Turkey, the Vietnamese. Then we gathered in the Nikolai Church, the priest talked to us. Then, the next Sunday in the Frauen Church was shit, as well. The priest called Führer talked to us. On Monday, the 9th of October we went to Bosch-Buderus in Zwickau. Hardly ten people came to meet us, amongst them three works council members and the town mayor. In the East only EKO-Stahl went fine, during this week the atmosphere in the bus was rather bad; a lot of people were so down that they wanted to get off the bus... On Tuesday, the 10th, the bus arrived at Miele, we had to walk for miles, through fields, although we wanted to go to town centre! On the 11th in Nurnberg again several buses from Spandau joint us. That was much better; people came on their own accord in order to take a leaflet, which surprised me. We nearly walked an hour through town centre in order to get to the factory... cars stopped to take a leaflet, Nurnberg was completely different from how it usually goes. In front of AEG the situation was strange: you are on the road since a week, the work-mates stop work and come outside, the works council chairman talks for an hour, after him the union regional representative and then one of us. Then 'it was all nice, but now goodbye!' No contact established, no talking about what we want them to do or anything alike.
On the way to Kamp-Lintfort we discussed about our problems. We visited Duisburg spontaneously, distributing leaflets. That was quite good; and Kamp-Lintfort (Thursday, 12th of October) was very good. After that the bus was in Bad Neustadt. Only during the weekend in Stuttgart we started to paint or own placards, we wrote our own leaflet and formed a creative group. On the 17th in Dillingen...
Dillingen, as well, was a surprisingly positive experience, wasn't it? You would not have expected them stopping work for an hour and coming outside the factory, like they actually did.
Yes, they do not have this kind of tradition. On the same day in Giengen things did not go that well. Two years ago they signed a production location agreement there: the 36-hours week slashed, the annual extra-payment slashed, increasing piece-work load etc... The following year only 45 percent took part in the works council election. It was clear that not many people would come outside when the IG Metall calls for it, because they are rather cross with the IG Metall. But we were very happy about the fact that in Dillingen 300 to 400 people came to meet and discuss with us. In the night after that the IG Metall put three people from the bus into an aeroplane to Berlin, and these three guys tipped the balance during the strike committee's vote. The vote ended with 9:6 against the strike.
Later on Sergio claimed during a speech in the strike tent that the march did not have much of an effect, that everyone knew that the numbers have been polished up.
He had also claimed that less people than expected would come to Munich, maximum 1,000! He was right about that because his organisation, the IG Metall, had started to demobilise the action as early as one week before Munich was planned to happen!
Your initial idea was to give the employer a bad name in public. Then the dynamic changed completely: the bus travel started to bring together various groups of workers who faced the threat of factory closure. This was neither in the interest of the IG Metall, nor of the employers and the politicians. This is why the bus got ordered back.
...the travel was supposed to join these groups of workers who face closures and their mood: 'This has to stop. We fight back together'! In the end the bus travel contributed a lot to this shitty agreement. Without the bus travel the agreement might not have been reached at all. We threatened to pitch up in front of the Siemens head-quarter and camp there and travel from there to the DGB-demo in Stuttgart on the 21st of October. Siemens wanted to prevent this action in front of their Headquarter at any costs. Because the BenQ story was in their face at the same time. The hotter thing was our strike; they had to finish it off first. The IG Metall underestimated the dimension that suddenly group of workers joined directly. The board of the IG Metall was very concerned about that, they were able to see the political impact. It is never their aim that workers from different companies fight together.
The opposite is true; their aim is to keep them apart.
Exactly. And then they finance a bus under the slogan that we are supposed to fight together! (Laughs).
I started working at Bosch-Siemens 23 years ago, when I was 15 years old, officially 19 years.
Two and a half years ago a lot of people got dismissed. Amongst the dismissed were three of my female work-mates who had already worked in the company for twenty years or more. And of course, the work council signed the dismissals! People who were in the plant since eight, ten or twelve years where allowed to stay. The reason given for this decision was that the dismissed workers were not able to do the allocated job. That's bullshit! We have learnt that we are not stupid, that we are able to learn quickly. It is not a computer game, they are simple washing machines. The wage bracket was the problem, of course [due to seniority the dismissed people had been in a higher wage bracket]! When they dismantled our assembly line we applied for jobs in the laboratory. They told us, that there were any vacancies. Six months later they dismantled another line and suddenly there were jobs in the labs, for people who worked at Bosch Siemens for eight or ten years. At this point they kicked out four people who I knew very well, who had worked in the plant for twenty years or more. A man amongst them had no children, so he got fewer points, two women were single mums, and one was single, without kids. According to the social plan they have less points, although they had been in the plant for a long time. They now receive Hartz IV. A female work-mate told me that during the first visits to the job centre she always had to cry. They have threatened her in strange ways; they accused her of having left the job voluntarily. She told me: "It is really bad out there, you cannot imagine!" And this will be the case for the 216 [sacked] people, as well.
We hold one company assembly after the other; in September we crippled production holding a company assembly that lasted several weeks. Then we discussed: when do we finally start the strike? It took a long time, because for a long time the IG Metall did not want the strike. When the strike finally started, the employer had already had the time to get prepared. The works council always said: we will not be able to make it without the IG Metall. We need a union behind us. This is what they told us, the kindergarten. They wanted to be our educators.
I was at the picket every day. My son was ill at the time, but I prepared something for him and went to the strike every day, ten hours, twelve hours. I wanted to go to Munich, as well, my sister was supposed to look after him during that time.
I was outside a lot, leafleting in the trains, in the buses and so on. A lot of the drivers gave us permission. We stood two hours in front of Osram, I always tried to talk to people, they took a leaflet, but they were not interested. At that day at Osram the management had decided to lower the wage brackets, so people were in a bad mood. But although they had problems, too, and although I invited everyone to come to the strike tent, no one came; apart from some works council members.
On Tuesday we came back from the strike and we went shopping after 7pm, for the bus trip [to Munich], little drink bottles and the alike. Tuesday evening it was the first time that I said: slowly but surely I start to believe in Demirci, I said that for the first time! I think we might achieve something after all. And then, on Wednesday morning I have a look at my mobile, and there were two missed calls from my work-mate, who normally rarely calls me. I rang him back and he said: "Please, come here and tell the others, do you know, they sold us out. Demirci has signed". I just did not get it. I have never thought that I would cry, but I had really bad feelings when I was in the strike tent. We arrived there at half ten, everyone was there, everyone was shocked, many people in tears. The Wednesday was really bad, it was packed, everyone was told to come. Demirci had a completely weird face. Olivier Höbel from the IG Metall wearing tie, of course, Luis Sergio... was really bad! Then they wanted to hold another strike ballot, 25 per cent for them, 75 per cent for us. We did not make it, we got 67 per cent! Shame. I said right away that once we start the ballot, we have lost. Once we trust Luis and Oliver, we have lost.
We wanted to go to Munich; people were full off anger and hate. I was very noisy, too, I shouted "IG Metall out, IG Metall out!" But the main guy to blame was our works council chairman, because he has signed! After the ballot I was so angry, I lost it. I shouted "IG Metall out!" we did not want to continue with the IG Metall, we wanted to occupy the factory, organise the strike ourselves. We had done a lot of illegal things previously anyway. We occupied the gate; we did not let people enter, which was already illegal.
We fought well, but at a lot of points we did not act sensibly, we lacked the experience. We only went on token strikes before. I don't have a clue about some of the things, but I talked to a lot of people and I wrote to people in Turkey. Our colleagues from Turkey and the unionist from Poland both told us: everywhere people are forced to go on shrike without receiving strike pay. In March a unionist from Turkey came for a visit, he told about the strike of 800 workers, who walked out for eight months without a single Cent strike pay. I would give up one or two months of wages if it were necessary for the struggle! But there are a lot of people who talk radically, but without the pay from the union they would not do a thing.
Having to go back to work after the strike was very bad. It was on Wednesday when I went pass it. I did not look in the direction where the tent had been; it gave me a real pain, when I went pass it. During the first three days I did not meet the piece rate. Now I got my pay slip and they reduced it from my wage, but I just was not able to meet it! And I did not want to meet it. During the first day I worked together with a work-mate who did not meet it either. Then I heard from other work-mates, that they did not want to meet the rate, too. We talked a lot about it. I did about two thirds of the normal rate. Usually the foreman is very greedy for work, but during the first week he was really tired, he was in a terrible shape. And a lot of people were on sick leave, of course. One week, two weeks. Their soul was troubled. A lot of people over-exhausted themselves during the strike and became ill, some have been on the picket or running about for 24 hours.
I don't know yet if I will stay. I would stay one or two years, till my husband has his job situation settled. I counted on about 70 to 80,000 Euros leaving pay. My husband has a job now. In case I won't be working tomorrow, at least he would earn. But after 22 years I don't just want to leave like that. That will be terribly painful. I started working there when I was a child. And of course I suffered. I was a single mum for a long time, my husband was in Turkey. When my child was six months old I went back to work. That wasn't easy. I cried on the assembly line, I always had bad feelings about letting my baby alone. If I look at it now, I wouldn't do it again. But I had to work. That wasn't a nice life, tough times. I spend my youth in the plant. If I see my daughter now, who is still acting like a little girl... I did not have this chance.
I don't know what will be the outcome of the 15th of December. Then people will know who has been sacked. I don't know if I belong to those who have to leave. But it is not about me! This is what I always tried to explain to other people. Some people wear themselves out, because they are afraid of loosing their job. Of course, they are right, I am scared of loosing my work, too. But first of all it was the injustice of the agreement, we went into their trap, they have played with us. We have done what they asked us to do, although we told ourselves during the strike again and again: they fuck us over!
Of course I neither want to work under the conditions which they try to enforce now: 23 per cent wage cut, no annual extra-pay, which is another monthly wage, no holiday pay, working-times up to 42 hours per week. May be I won't stay till 2010 anyway. And who knows if the plant will still exist in 2010.