Despite very difficult times, struggle can bring results.
Over the past two to three weeks much publicity was given to the attempts of the Swedish multinational clothing company H&M (Hennes & Mouritz) to force its employees in Greece to sign new contracts which contained far worse terms. The new contracts included terms, such as:
- Workers would have extra duties, but would still be paid with the same minimal wage
- The company would have the right to move employees from shop to shop and even city to city without their agreement and without covering their expenses
- Employees would be obligated to attend “training seminars”, again on their own expense
- Any employee that misses a day work without justifiable explanation is considered as having resigned. Thus, losing any compensation from the company and the right to receive unemployment benefit from the state
A very large portion of the workers, refused to sign the new contract. The issue became widely known through interviews of workers and articles in the press. Xekinima, the Greek Section of the CWI, was the first to take up the issue and start a campaign around the rights of H&M workers. This campaign went viral on social media. Xekinima also took the initiative, inviting other forces to join, to organize pickets outside of H&M stores in Athens and Salonica. Under the pressures this created, the Labour Inspection (a governmental body responsible to check if labour laws are applied at workplaces, though usually intervening after complaints are made) intervened and asked H&M for an explanation about the new contracts.
The company, with a big part of the employees not signing and under the pressure of negative publicity created, was forced to retreat! Towards the end of last week, managers in several stores informed the workers that the company is withdrawing the new contracts!
Managers tried to justify this by blaming the workers, saying that the reason the company withdraws the contracts was because “there were a lot of questions from the workers who obviously didn’t understand the contracts…certain things were misunderstood” etc.
Of course the workers perfectly understood that the company wanted to turn them to present slaves!
No matter what the company is saying, the withdrawal of the new contracts is a victory, an important achievement, and the workers won through their struggle!
This does not mean that the issue is closed, as the company will try again to bring back the new contracts, slightly altered or not so.
Therefore, there should not be any complacency! Workers and those who stand in solidarity with them should be prepared for a “come back” by management. The company could start to gradually lay off or force the most militant of the workers to resign. Or, generally, to wait for better times to impose the new contracts, perhaps slightly altered. Or start hiring new staff on the basis of new contracts and gradually replace the older staff, until they are able to impose the new contract to all their workforce.
What is certain is that there should be no trust in any of the promises given today by the management. It is important that the workers are prepared in time for another round of struggle. Something that would be very crucial is the election of Action Committees of H&M workers, in each store, on an all-city basis and to coordinate struggle nationally. Greek H&M workers should contact H&M workers and unions (where they exist) in other countries and ask for solidarity.
This first retreat of the company has proved that, even in the present difficult times in Greece, struggle can bring results. This should boost the confidence of workers and raise their morale in view of the new struggles that will inevitably develop in the coming period.