Germany: Cleaning workers’ strike ends in success!

But a better deal was possible

Today, an agreement between striking cleaning workers’ trade union, IG BAU, and employers was announced and greeted with enthusiasm by workers at strike meetings.

The union had demanded a wage increase of 8.7%. The result is a 3.1% increase in West Germany and 3.8% in East Germany to be paid next year and 1.8% in the West and 2.5% in the East in the beginning of 2011. This also means a new minimum wage – €8.55 per hour in the West and €7 per hour in the East. Still extremely low wages, but for most strikers this result represents a success, because they feared that the bosses would try to reduce wages rather than concede an increase. A certain improvement in pension regulations has also been achieved.

This was the first ever strike of cleaning workers. In a sector with a low level of union organisation, a basic law of trade unionism was vindicated: you can build the union only through struggle. Figures regarding new trade union members are not known yet but in Berlin, where SAV members closely supported and helped the strike, there were many experiences of cleaning workers joining the union in the course of the dispute and immediately going on strike.

A left-wing shop steward and SAV member in the Daimler factory of Berlin was also able to recruit six cleaning workers to the union – in a workplace where the IG BAU had no presence before.

This strike represents an important step forward in the building of the workers’ movement in this ’precarious’ sector and had an important effect. Now it is even more important that the trade union continues to organise and actively involve the workers in further campaigns for better working conditions and against the coming attacks of the new right-wing government in Germany. Given the struggles that lie ahead, it is a mistake by the union leadership to agree to a contract of two years’ duration. This takes away the possibility of continuing the building of the union on a higher level in a subsequent wage round. The result itself represents an improvement in wage levels but a longer and more extended strike could probably have achieved a better result. Decisive for such a longer strike would have been the active support of other trade unions, to turn this struggle into a political one which effects the whole society.

But the cleaning workers have shown that with struggle, success is possible. This is an important lesson for the coming wage rounds in the public sector and the metal industry, where the trade union leaders have already started to come out with extremely ‘moderate’ statements.

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October 2009