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An anarcho-syndicalist look back on 2015 by FAU Berlin

Published on Dec 29, 2015 Tag:
The year 2015 has been rich in events and has seen many big and small union struggles, actions and activities. FAU Berlin continues to grow, with the number of struggles and actions propelling us to new levels. FAU Berlin had to look for new facilities because the old local has just grown too small. In the new year, FAU Berlin will move into new rooms in Berlin-Wedding (Grüntaler Str. 24, 13357 Berlin).

A lot of new developments contributed to a further strengthening of FAU Berlin: improved foundations for workshop committees’ activities, the improvement of the infrastructure for strikes, an additional union help desk at Technische Universität Berlin provided by the Education Section (Bildungssektion), a help desk on sexism in the workplace provided by FAU Berlin’s Gender WG, and a union help desk for collective companies. On a federal level as well, there have been innovations by the Federal Congress that, this year, took place in the heart of Berlin. A new section for the health and social industries was created in March which, has since already formed workshop committees and initiated union activities in the workplace in several companies.

Further advances:  the discussion on a federation of collective companies pursuing labour union ambitions and connections. For sure, there will be a lot more thrilling developments in these fields in 2016. So let us, despite all the adversities of these times, look forward by having a look back!

 

A grassroots union …

 

The Mall of Shame – exploitation par excellence

FAU Berlin started with an action related to Andreas Fettchenhauer, general manager of the former general contractor of Mall of Shame. The struggle for the wages of cheated and exploited workers at the Mall of Shame began in November 2014 and has now been going on for more than a year. Without a doubt, this has been the most intense struggle in FAU Berlin’s history – a struggle which provided all the useful ingredients for a good whodunit. Also the means of a temporary injunction against FAU Berlin have, again, been used when the latter assertively fought one of the agents. Only months later, it’s been taken off the table. Because of the quagmire that opened up with the Mall of Shame, FAU Berlin also addressed its criticisms to the Berlin politicians in charge who, except for the usual declarations, have remained idle. Given the chronicle of this work conflict, it has almost already been forgotten that Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB) attempted to exploit the struggle of FAU Berlin.

Despite the fact that similar exploitation is common in the construction industry, this case is still incomprehensible. With a well-thought out and conscientious press campaign, we were able to incite broad media coverage of this conflict that accompanied the conflict’s development continuously from the first protests in 2014 up until now. Furthermore, interested individuals and supporters could be reached by focused information on the website berlin.fau.org/mall and a dedicated facebook page. In this conflict, FAU Berlin has materially and ideally been supported by a number of other FAU syndicates as well as NGOs and individuals from different contexts – amongst others, by Amaro Foro, the Hans Böckler Foundation, the Eberhard Schultz Foundation for Social Human Rights, by SO36-Kiezbingo, radikale linke | berlin as well as many other soli-parties and individual donors. For the moment, eight lawsuits have been won and two lost. Most recently, the lawsuits against the subcontractor Metatec was won when the court had no doubt at all that the company had, in fact, employed the workers who were suing them. Appointments for the appeal are upcoming.

FAU Berlin won’t back down in the next year either. If there’s nothing to get from the shady subcontractors, the next step will lead us to fight the high-handed investor Harald Huth who is clearly morally responsible, and whom FAU Berlin will legally make pay.

 

The Swedish School – the 11th commandment: thou shalt not unionise

In 2015, the conflict with the Swedish School in Berlin ended. In this workplace, the whole staff was at first sacked in 2014, only in order to be rehired with different conditions, decided according to their loyalty to management. Some were not reemployed at all, as was the case with two organized unionists. The year before--by means of manifold public protests--we tried to push this school, which is closely managed and funded by the church, to reinstate the two workers who were also FAU members. In the end, FAU Berlin failed in court because the dismissal protection law (Kündigungsschutzgesetz) does not apply to small companies. But in particular, through solidarity actions by our syndicalist sister organisation in Sweden, it’s been possible to produce enormous public pressure and image-damage. A look back by the affected members makes clear that a punctual defeat cannot break the unionist fighting spirit in a solidarity union movement.

 

The Heinrich Böll Foundation– the same difference

Already in mid-2013, the General Syndicate of Berlin defended its members at the Heinrich Böll Foundation's head office in Berlin and fought against precarious employment by the Green Party’s foundation. The Böll Foundation was able to delay the legal assessment of these work contracts that were established in consequence of illegal temporary work; thus, it was only in Autumn 2015 that the last procedure was terminated with a settlement. Though it was the offensive struggle by FAU Berlin that, in the first place, paved the way for changes in the Böll Foundation which only then--given this tiny annoying union--felt compelled to engage in negotiations for a company collective agreement with the DGB union Verdi.

 

Company collective agreement from below

Besides tenacious struggles, FAU Berlin has also succeeded with the signing of a company collective agreement (Haustarifvertrag) in an online retail firm in June 2015. In this company, where all the employees have joined FAU, several demands were finally met through negotiations alone. The rights of the workshop committee are stated in the collective agreement bearing a clear syndicalist mark.

 

Hartz IV – Class war from above

In 2015, the General Syndicate of Berlin supported a member who has been financially sanctioned by the job centre, but who fought back against these sanctions by means of an intermediary loan. A corresponding loan fund was created and is available for similar cases in order to also support struggles against such sanctions. Furthermore, colleagues were given advice and information about their rights towards the Jobcenter as well as about the potential of collective action.

 

(Not) under the radar

Besides the dominant struggles like the Mall of Shame, only a small number of 'splinters' went public, and they represent the everyday activity of FAU Berlin -  dozens of small cases for stolen wages, lack of work documents and other claims are continuously and successfully cared for by FAU Berlin.

The number of cases in the restaurant industry have especially grown, and our union help desk recorded the most cases of advice from this industry. As, for example, with the case of the Cancun restaurant, where, in an immediate way--through direct action--the wages were collected out front of the boss’ restaurant; and the new conflict with the XXXXXX restaurant has also been dealt with using mostly direct action. These cases show that FAU Berlin doesn’t shrink from going public in purportedly 'small' cases in order to fight for the interests and rights of its members. In the new year, FAU Berlin will pay particular attention to the restaurant industry.

(Update, Feb. 15, 2016: Due to a temporary injunction against FAU Berlin, the concerned restaurant cannot be named at the moment. The grassroots union is defending union liberty politically and legally.)

 

… of course also stands for …

 

Solidarity!

Solidarity, of course, has also been an important pillar in 2015. Solidarity not only in the form of declarations in the cases of the strike in the Babylon cinema, the striking train drivers in May, condemning the restriction of the air pilots’ right to strike in September, collecting donations for the employees of Air France who are in court now for attacking their managers and, most recently, speaking out for the prisoners on hunger strike in Butzbach and for the prisoners’ union GG/BO. Solidarity also in the form of direct support as in the case of our sister syndicate from Dresden, who is in conflict with a Berlin employer, was part of FAU Berlin’s activities in 2015.

 

Emancipation!

Sexism is still virulent. Thus FAU Berlin participated, with a leaflet on sexism in the workplace, in the Women’s Fighting Day in March in order to make clear that sexism (not only) in the workplace is never acceptable. Furthermore, the Gender WG offers a monthly help desk on sexism in the workplace or the Jobcenter and also functions as a contact for members of FAU Berlin, when there are problems. In September, the Gender WG of FAU Berlin called for participation in the demonstration against the so-called “March for Life” (organized by fundamentalist anti-abortionists) and claimed the self-determination of one’s own body and the right to a freely accessible, secure and legal abortion for all persons, without 'ifs' nor 'buts'.

 

Internationalism!

Eventually, international exchange as well has been more intense in 2015 than the years before. Members of FAU Berlin participated for both federal FAU and FAU Berlin in several international conferences and meetings with sister unions in Sweden, Spain, Finland, Poland and Portugal. They tied links, exchanged on struggles, got information on the local conditions and contributed practically to the construction of structures.

 

Anti-Racism!

Refugees and migrants in Berlin have faced rampant and fierce racism and nationalism, and have suffered countless attacks. FAU Berlin spoke out on this in 2015 and supported the call against a more restricted asylum right. It also took a solidarity stand towards the direct action of the Escape Aid Convoi 'OpenBorderCaravan' in September. While the state failed, especially the self-organised approaches to supporting refugees have had their effects which now readily are referred to by the decision-makers in order to polish the national image of a country which currently sees more arson attacks and terror against refugees than in the gloomy 1990s.

 

Educational activities!

Beside this, continuously took place some Labour law and organizer trainings as well as our 'FAU introduction'--more and more also in English—took place throughout the year. As well were offered to interested and affected persons, on a regular basis, our help desks on the possibilities and potential for enforcing your rights in the workplace using unionist methods, on pragmatism in collective companies, on sexism and gender issues as well as on problems of tenants’ rights; the Education Section created its own union help desk in TU Berlin. In 2015, several public events shed some light on the housing shortage and tenants’ protests, on the history of FAU and its struggles and work conflicts (an introductory brochure on our struggle with Babylon cinema in 2009/2010 was published), on care work, on migration, on sanctions against wage earners by the social security structures as well as on aspects and dimensions of social movements in other parts of Europe and the world.

... fighting through the New Year 2016!

Stronger together

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