Telekom struggle, victory for big business ’locusts’
A new chapter in the history of German trade unions has begun. The public sector ver.di union leadership have allowed working conditions, gained over years of struggle, in big companies with 70% trade union membership levels, to be destroyed in one stroke.
They have agreed to a 6.5% pay cut, an extension of the working week by four hours without extra pay, the introduction of Saturday as a regular working day, variable pay rates and poverty wages for new employees. These are the central points of the new wage contract agreed by the leaders of the trade union ver.di for Deutsche Telekom after weeks of strike action. By accepting this deal, the union leaders agreed to the company splitting off a whole section of its workforce into a low wage company. This deal is now being put to a ballot of union members, but only 25% have to accept it as a 75% "no" vote is needed to allow the strike action that began in mid-May, to continue.
Already Telekom employees accepted a 6.5% wage cut when their working hours were cut in 2005. Taking this into account along with the fact that the latest unpaid extension of the working week by four hours means an 11.76% wage cut, this all together adds up to a total wage cut of 25% since 2004. Assuming the official annual inflation rate is 2%, this constitutes a cut in real earnings of 30%. New employees are going to have their wages cut by 30% of the current level to somewhere between 21,400 and 23,200 a year. In addition, between 15 and 20% of the wages will be made dependent on the achievement of certain targets and on profits. This allows Telekom managers to turn the screw on workers in order to reduce wages by up to 50% of 2004 levels.
Some workers may hope that the four extra hours per week may reduce the intensity of their work to a tolerable level. But Telekom directors Obermann and Sattleberger will use the extension of the working week to accelerate job cuts. Statistically, four hours of extra work for 50,000 employees leads to the loss of 6,000 jobs.
Protection against dismissal?
The planned cull of 32,000 jobs is not mentioned in any statement given by ver.di, i.e. the union leaders have accepted it. In addition, the union leadership is selling the promise of no lay-offs before 2012 and no sell-off of the company before 2010, as successes. But promises of this kind are not worth the paper they are written on. The job cuts will continue as a result of workers being put under such intense pressure that they eventually go ’voluntarily’. This deal will help this process along.
The defeat at Telekom and the enormous weakening of the possibilites of collective action as a result of the further breaking up of the company, is entirely the fault of the ver.di leadership. The founding of spin-off companies was accepted from the beginning. Only 10% of Telekom employees were included in the strike. But all Telekom workers who were not allowed to participate in the strike will have to deal with the consequences of this defeat. Ver.di says nothing about this. Management will use these cuts to worsen the conditions for other workers. This has become a simpler task. Other branches of Telekom such as T-Systems can be spun-off into ’Service Companies’
Fighting strength was there
The strike showed in a rudimentary way what power trade unions have. The strike meant that telephone networks of entire companies broke down, company telephone conferences could not operate, changes of service provider were not processed,storm damage could not be repaired, new connections could not be set up. Over 5,000 reported faults went unprocessed - normally the figure is 350. The ability to get through to call centres fell from 70% to 15%. But the union involved only 15,000 of the 50,000 effected workers in strike action, and refused to call out over 100,000 other Telekom workers. An all-out strike in Telekom would have caused massive disruption to the entire economy. Instead of extending the strike, its scale was reduced after five weeks to coincide with the resumption of negotiations. An extension of the strike would have opened up the perspective of forcing Obermann and co. to their knees. This is something which the ver.di leadership specifically decided not to do.
The agreement at Telekom has to be understood as a serious warning by Telekom workers, shop stewards, works’ council members and young workers representatives. The self-destructive policies of the trade union leadership must be stopped from below. The building of democratic, campaigning opposition platforms in the unions has become a more urgent task than ever before - not just in Telekom, but in all of ver.di.