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Swedish School: 'We will take care of it in the autumn. There's no need to worry'

Published on May 28, 2015 Tags: , ,
Exactly one year ago today the entire teaching staff of the Swedish school in Berlin was sacked, and then invited to reapply for their old jobs. As subsequent events showed, this was a deliberate strategy to get rid of the workers who were trying to organise their work place. All of the sacked workers received their old jobs back except for the two union members. Below is an open letter from the now former Sport and Science teacher of the Swedish School in Berlin, Johnny Hellquist.


'We will take care of it in the autumn. There's no need to worry'. This is what the school told me on the 21st of June 2010, when I tried to obtain a written employment contract. But as the new school year started in the autumn, there was still no contract to sign.

Working at the Swedish school in Berlin we had no breaks, no workroom, worked for an hour a week without pay, as well as often having to work weekends, or extended hours during four day school trips, without being renumerated. Written contracts didn’t exist.

One year later, I received a barely comprehensible explanation about why my position was not being renewed. Yet, together with the pupils, their parents and my colleagues, and with help from my union, the FAU, we managed to get my job back. We wrote a joint letter against the principle at the time, which in the end led to her own dismissal.

Following this, the school began to pay us for the extra hour we worked each week, and for the work performed on weekends and during school trips. We also managed to negotiate a joint sliding scale wage. What is more, in February 2014 we were even given access to a staff room. During the spring, we took the conflict further, even if this mainly involved nothing more than defending what we had already gained. On the 19th of May I accepted an offer for 10% less hours at the same hourly rate in the coming school year. A week later six out of eight teachers at the school, including myself, wrote a letter to protest the worsening conditions for the workers at the after-school activities. On the 28th, the entire staff was then sacked, and told to reapply for their jobs.

We had the suspicion that hidden behind this turn of events was an attempt to get rid of the workers who wouldn't silently accept changes in their working conditions. Our concerns were soon confirmed. As the new school year started in autumn, all of the sacked workers had their old jobs back except two, who were members of a union and who had questioned the decisions of management. In our positions two new people were employed, despite management maintaining throughout the summer break that no external recruitment would take place.

Every teacher knows that critically minded students are the motivating force behind teaching. Thoughtful and critical young people make us better teachers in the classroom. What the management of the Swedish school showed with their actions and words however makes a completely different impression upon the students at the school. The last summer and autumn were in this sense an excellent lesson: this is how it will go in your working life. Say what you think, and you can be immediately fired. The workplace is then no democracy. A school where the students must keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves is a really pathetic place.

I am damn happy that we didn't let ourselves be walked over. I'm proud of all we accomplished. I'm proud that we stood up to improve the situation at the school and stood in solidarity with our colleagues. There is dignity in being fired because we refused to keep our mouths shut. It means that we tried to change the reality that we spend most of our day dealing with.

The management of the school also showed however what can happen when workers challenge their decisions. We attempted several times to get them to speak with the FAU, yet they never accepted our offer. One thing is crystal clear: the bosses will stop at nothing to create a compliant and obedient staff, including putting the education of their students at risk. Of course ours is no single case. This happens everywhere, everyday. In the end all we can do is join together and organise against those who try to profit from our work and determine our lives.

The manager of the school is also the pastor of the Swedish church in Berlin, and the church is the owner of the school. The school rents its premises from the church and a part of the staff work for both the church and the school. Because of this we tried to prove in the labour court that the church and the school were the same workplace, which, because this would mean that there were more than ten employees, protection against groundless dismissal should apply. But our request to have our dismissals overturned by the labour court was denied.

The fact is none of the union members got their jobs back. But morally, the Swedish school must bear the burden. Our backs are straight because we won't remain silent if someone attempts to stop union activity in our workplaces. The future will be formed by our actions because we didn't turn the other cheek. We will celebrate all those who were fired because they struggled. This is no funeral march. Let there be a thousand workplace struggles yet to come. Together we are visible from the moon.

Johnny Hellquist


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