The workers at Europe’s biggest university hospital, the Charité in Berlin employing around 13,000, are fed up with low wages and bad working conditions. Since Monday, this week, they started an indefinite and all-out strike for a 300 Euro pay rise per month – a demand worth fighting for. On Tuesday, they held an impressive demonstration through Berlin.
The Charité is publicly owned by the Berlin regional state, which is governed by a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party – which in Berlin does not act very left. Not only do they pay the hospital workers at the Charité 14 percent less than the national average, they outsourced the faculty management (CFM). The result is that some of the 2,500 CFM workers work for 5.50 euros per hour, with no collective wage agreement. One trade union speaker reminded the workers of the fact that the Social Democratic Party demands a minimum wage of 8.50 euros and the Left Party one of 10 euros … but words and deeds are different for these establishment politicians.
Carsten Becker, chairperson of the ver.di trade union branch in the hospital and member of SAV (Sozialistische Alternative, CWI section in Germany), quoted the Irish trade union leader, James Larkin, in his speech to the 2,500 strong strike demonstration on Tuesday: “The great only appear great, because we are on our knees – Let us rise!”
This strike shows that workers are prepared to fight when they have the opportunity and the demands are worth fighting for. Charité workers stress that their working conditions are extremely bad and that they are willing to fight until victory. The union strike ballot saw 92.91% vote for action. The request for talks by the employer has been accepted but without stopping the strike action. The trade union official at the demo said that the strike will only end when a result is on the table and that this will be decided together by the workers and the union.
Workers from the CFM facility management have been put under pressure, many have only limited contracts and do not dare to participate in the strike. Scandalously, the building and cleaning workers’ union (IG BAU) leaders, which organises a minority of the workforce at CFM, have openly come out against the strike because they only want a collective contract for the cleaning workers and not the whole workforce. But on the second day of the strike the number of CFM workers on strike has increased. Amongst the rest of the workforce, the determination is strong. For the first time entire wards in the hospital were closed down, only emergency operations were performed and hundreds of beds are empty! This creates costs of 500,000 euros per day.
SAV members supported the work of the trade union branch in the Charité and also the strike from day one. We are on the picket line from 6am, every morning, until 6pm, in the evening.