Over the last years, debate within the IG Metall union in Berlin’s Daimler factory, one of the largest plants in the city, has grown as the employers went onto the offensive: The workforce was reduced from around 3,500 to 2,900 workers. The wages for new workers were reduced by up to one quarter. Work was intensified and sick workers put under pressure. However, a majority in the leading IG Metall shop stewards’ committee and a majority of IG Metall members on the works’ council accepted further job losses and argued in favour of shortening the hours of the working week with loss in pay.
An opposition group in IG Metall and the works council developed: Since 2007, a monthly paper called “Alternative” was produced and a group of workers, organising under the same name, began to fight for democratic and fighting policies in the works’ council and their union. Again and again, the workers of "Alternative" demanded a democratic debate in their union about its strategy. But the majority in the works’ council and the shop stewards’ committee refused this, and accepted cutbacks without any debate among the workforce.
In this year’s works’ council elections, “Alternative” stood with an independent slate offering an alternative to the right wing, pro-management policies of the majority on the shop stewards’ committee. They asked their trade union for permission, and supported the idea of standing as a second IG Metall slate. This procedure was followed in other factories - but denied and refused by the Berlin area leadership for the Daimler plant.
The "Alternative" slate achieved great success, winning more than 500 votes, and therefore 5 members, in the newly elected works’ council. IG Metall’s official slate – backed by the union’s apparatus – won 15 members out of the 21 elected.
This success of “Alternative” showed the urgent need to democratically debate the strategy and policies of IG Metall in the factory. While the “Alternative” offered a programme of how to defend the jobs and the wages, the trade union officials did everything to avoid a debate about the next steps on how to defend the workplaces and living conditions of workers in the car industry and this plant. Alternative’s members linked their campaign to arguing for a strengthening of the trade union and asking all the frustrated members of IG Metall not to leave, but to get involved in the trade union’s debates.
Despite this success of the “Alternative”, standing for the first time in these elections, the leadership of IG Metall in Berlin is now trying to silence the opposition. At the end of April, Berlin’s IG Metall leadership began formal steps to expel all their members who stood on the Alternative slate, and blocked applications to join IG Metall from workers who had stood on the slate.
Model letter of protest:
Dear Arno Hager, Klaus Abel and the leading body of IG Metall in Berlin,
I have heard about the threat of expulsions against IG Metall members in the Daimler factory in Berlin. I understand that their “crime” was to stand in the election to the works council with a programme to defend all jobs, stop wage cuts and act against the increasing pressure at work and on sick workers – against an IG Metall slate that, unfortunately, did not support such an approach.
A majority of the works’ council members accepted in the previous years’ heavy cuts in wages and the shortening of the hours of the working week with loss of pay, which means for some workers, for example in Berlin, the loss of 300 Euro or more per month. I understand that “Alternative” offered the workers in the factory an alternative of struggle and fighting back, arguing for a strong IG Metall. This seems to be the reason why the ‘Alternative’ list won significant support and 5 places on the works’ council.
The debate about the right strategy for trade unions to defend jobs and wages can be controversial. But it is absolutely necessary to attract new workers to the union and to convince union members – despite all setbacks – to stay inside the unions, to have this debate inside the workers’ movement.
A democratic debate cannot be developed and the right way for the trade union cannot be found with administrative measures against critical or oppositional trade union members. Expelling critical members, especially when they have significant workplace support, will not encourage workers to join, or maintain their membership, in IG Metall.
I urgently ask you to stop all threats to expel supporters of “Alternative” from IG Metall. I urge you to stop immediately with all attempts to solve political debate with expulsions. This damage to the trade union movement, not only for you in Berlin, but for the workers’ movement internationally, have to be stopped.
Yours in solidarity