Messages of protest needed!
In IG Metall, the German metal workers’ union, left wing activists in the southern German city Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, stand threatened with expulsion. They criticise the politics of the union and the Work’s Council leaders in the Daimler auto company for the accepting wage cuts and the worsening of working conditions.
The metal industry and car companies especially have been hit hard by the capitalist crisis. In Germany, an increase in production of more than one third would be needed just to reach again the levels which existed before the world economic crisis struck. Not being socialists and accepting the “logic” of capitalism, the union leadership, and also the majority of union representatives in the works councils are accepting cuts ’in order to save jobs’. But the results have been lower wages, intensification and flexibilisation of work and the reduction of jobs. This process went so far that, for the first time in its existence, IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, is going into a round of wage negotiations without any demand for increased wages.
Growing discontent and resistance has been expressed by combative union members who offer an alternative to the workers; namely to struggle and to make the first steps to create an opposition to the trade union leaders’ acceptance of cuts. At Daimler, in different factories and cities, different leaflets by left activists under the same name, “Alternative”, have been produced and co-ordinated. The union leadership is being challenged. In Sindelfingen, Berlin and other cities, activists will stand with their own slates against the trade union right-wing dominated lists for the works councils’ elections in March.
The answer of the union leadership has been an attempt to intimidate those activists. As a step against the left wing, the opposition group in Sindelfingen is now being attacked. If this succeeds, it’s very likely that other combative activists will also be targeted.
The group in Sindelfingen was formed last May in one of Germany’s biggest car plants with almost 40,000 workers. When they started to distribute their paper, they were excluded from the union’s shop stewards’ leading committee. Now the unions local branch committee in Stuttgart is deciding on February 22 to start the procedure of expulsions against all members of “Alternative” who stand as candidates for the coming works council election.
They insist on remaining in the IG Metall and ask for solidarity.
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Protest against the threat of expulsions – for union democracy
We have heard that, unfortunately, exclusion from the leading shop stewards committee and the threat of expulsion from the IG Metall are being used against active trade union members at the Daimler plant in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart. This action is being taken against members after they announced that they would stand an independent slate, called “Alternative”, in the coming works’ council elections, in March this year.
I know that around the world in many factories, there are discussions between union members on how to defend wages, working conditions and jobs in this period of economic crisis.
I understand that, since 2004, the majority of the works’ council in Sindelfingen, and at Daimler nationally, have accepted various deals that cut wages and, in practice, worsened conditions for workers in an attempt to save jobs. However, there has been a loss of more than 20,000 jobs at Daimler in Germany alone and wages for newly employed workers are one third below those of their older colleagues.
This policy of close collaboration with the employer and partnership between the union and the Daimler bosses naturally raises a lot of questions and debate. Thus, I understand that these active union shop stewards in Sindelfingen now want to offer an alternative for all those workers who don’t feel represented by the current works’ council majority and who are looking for a more combative trade union policy.
The administrative measures taken or planned will not help IG Metall, the union movement in Germany or internationally to find a way to unify all workers in the struggle to defend jobs and wages. On the contrary, they will weaken the trade union movement in general.
A debate is necessary about how union representatives should act in a situation of capitalist crisis to defend the workers against bosses who caused this crisis and now want us to pay for it. This discussion can not be suppressed by administrative measures.
I believe that such expulsions could stifle debate within IG Metall and set a bad example of trying to suppress debate within trade unions. This is especially because I believe that Peter Hartz, the architect of the internationally notorious “Hartz IV” unemployment benefit cuts and who was later convicted in January 2007 of helping corrupt the then Volkswagen Works’ Council, is still an IG Metall member. If Hartz really still is an IG Metall member then it would be an even bigger scandal for opposition IG Metall activists to be expelled.
I therefore ask you urgently to refuse all threats of expulsions, accept the full democratic rights of all supporters of the alternative in Sindelfingen and to defend the democracy in the union.
Yours in solidarity,