As of yesterday, December 11, 2009, FAU Berlin (FAU-B) has essentially
been banned as a union. The decision was made by the Berlin Regional
Court (Landgericht Berlin) without a hearing. FAU-B was not even
informed that the Neue Babylon GmbH – which is involved in a labor
dispute with FAU-B – had started legal proceedings against them. The
court’s decision goes beyond merely taking away FAU-B’s rights as a
union within the Babylon cinema. From this point on they are no longer
allowed to call themselves a union!
FAU-B and its group within the Babylon cinema have been fighting for
a labor contract since the beginning of June 2009. Although the Babylon
cinema is government funded, pay has been miserable and workers rights
have been ignored. A large portion of the cinema’s staff is organized
within FAU-B. This is the first significant labor dispute of the
relatively small FAU-B. It has caused an uproar not only in Berlin, but
in all of Germany. Anarcho-syndicalists in a labor dispute, an
effective boycott that was prominent in the media, extensive and
innovative demands, and the involvement of the workers themselves
(which is rare in Germany) have made an impression on the public. When
the pressure was at its height and the bosses could no longer avoid
entering negotiations, not only did politicians intervene but ver.di (a
big union in Germany, part of the umbrella organization of mainstream
unions, DGB) took up negotiations with the bosses even though they had
almost no members among the cinema’s staff and no mandate from them.
The workers, who were obviously flabbergasted, were excluded from
Apparently a deal was made between ver.di, politicians, and bosses
to get rid of FAU-B and calm things down at the cinema. But the staff
and FAU refused to be silenced. Neue Babylon GmBH reacted by flexing
some legal muscle and ver.di by attempting to damage FAU’s image.
Firstly, the boycott – one of FAU-B’s main forms of pressure – was
banned, and doubt was cast on FAU-B’s ability to negotiate contracts
(in Germany this is a prerequisite for being able to legally take
collective action). At the same time, other court cases were brought
against FAU-B relating to freedom of expression. But FAU-B did not back
down. This led to the latest court decision, which basically bans FAU
as a union.
The situation in Germany
FAU Berlin has long said that this labor dispute – as small as it
may be – is not only about better working conditions but also about the
freedom to organize. There has been little tradition of militant
unionism or syndicalism in Germany since 1933. The umbrella
organization DGB has a practical monopoly (corporatism), which is
backed up by case law. This makes it very hard for alternative unions
to grow. Self-organization and decentralization within unions in
Germany are not encouraged and do not enjoy legal protection.
FAU-B’s modest collective action has demonstrated that an
alternative union is possible in Germany. Big unions and politicians,
apparently afraid that this form of organization will spread like
wildfire, are displeased by this development. This is the context in
which FAU-B’s union work has been banned. The court’s decision implies
that it is not possible to establish a legally recognized union in
Germany because – paradoxically – you have to be a legally recognized
union in order to become one. A union taking collective action without
being an officially recognized union can expect stiff legal
consequences. On two occasions FAU-B has been threatened with fines of
250,000 euros or jail sentences. FAU-B is not allowed to work legally
as a union anywhere. German anarcho-syndicalists thus see themselves
banned once again after being prohibited in 1914 and 1933.
The court’s decision is especially scandalous because it was
rubber-stamped via summary proceedings without any hearing – FAU-B was
not allowed to state its case. This is possibly to do with the fact
that anyone in Germany can legally call themselves a union and that the
judicial authorities wanted to act unilaterally. Germany has passed
some ILO conventions, but they have little meaning here because big
unions cooperate closely with the bosses and dictate what a union has
to be like. Syndicalists enjoyed more rights under the Kaiser in the
19th century and in the 1920s. The situation in Germany is reminiscent
of Turkey, for example, where unions are often banned.
The court’s decision can possibly be overturned. But FAU-B remains
realistic: everything is possible. Political cronyism is rife and the
powers that be will make further attempts to block the growth of
The consequences of the court’s decision are wide-ranging and will
be catastrophic unless the decision is overturned. An outright ban of
FAU-B as a union would have had a similar effect. The decision
regarding FAU-B is essentially applicable to FAU in Germany as a whole.
As it sets precedence, it will automatically affect the entire union
movement and the rights of workers. Whatever form an alternative union
in Germany might have, this precedent will render it powerless in
future. This case is a novelty in the sphere of German union-busting.
This decision allows the bosses to negotiate with the union of their
choice and to define what a union is. Workers’ self-organization –
whether in the Babylon cinema or elsewhere – has been blocked, and the
institutionalized muzzling of the working class has been intensified.
The lack of solidarity shown by ver.di through their intervention is
partly to blame for this. The court decision may even be in their
direct interest since ver.di has already written that they see FAU-B as
competition that they have to take action against.
The battle for union freedom in Germany has now begun. Every little
bit of solidarity is needed. Bring this scandal to light, protest in
front of German institutions, and demand that the decision be
overturned and that FAU be given full rights as a union!
Please help us if you can. Your own ideas are welcome, but here are some suggestions:
• protest in front of German diplomatic missions (embassies, consulates) or other institutions representing
the German state;
• send protest letters to German embassies in your country (and a copy to the management of the Babylon
• send protest faxes to the Berlin court responsible.
You will find the relevant information at http://www.fau.org/verbot
as soon as we can put it online. It includes a list of German
diplomatic mission, pointers to other relevant institutions, templates
for protest letters, and the necessary contact data. More details also here http://libcom.org/forums/news/solidarity-fau-berlin-16122009