FAU Germany interview, 2006

Based on an interview with comrades from anarcho-syndicalist FAU (Germany, Approx 300 members), this is a round up of the situiation in Germany, and their recent activity.

What is your largest local?
I think the local federation of Berlin – we have about 50 members. Hanover, Hamburg and Frankfurt are quite strong, about 20 members.

What have been your main issues for the past couple of years for the FAU?
A lot of solidarity action for the strike at Mercadona. For example, we sold strike badges to raise money, and we also do this for local strikes. In Germany, we’ve been very involved in the unemployed movement. For the past 2 years there have been major reforms to unemployment support – making it more complicated and getting less money.

There are also “1 Euro jobs” – this is a huge issue. These are jobs you are forced to work, which pay 1 Euro an hour, plus some minor support – which isn’t really enough to live on. If you don’t take it, you lose all your benefits. The boss even gets paid off the unemployment office – so it costs them nothing. While there is supposedly policy that it can’t replace regular workers, this happens – for example, one person our Education syndicate encountered had been laid off as a porter, and then a year later after being unable to find a new job, ended up working the same job for 1 Euro an hour.

This also has the effect of bringing down regular wages, as they have to “compete” with these jobs. This combined with the problems of casual work and agencies, makes it very difficult for workers to maintain their wages and conditions. In many places, you see agencies firing their entire staff, and then reemploying agency staff on a lower wage. The one Euro jobs combine with this to makes things even worse.

The “one Euro jobs” are also not a formal contract of employment, and so the worker doesn’t even get basic labour rights. There are thousands of people working these jobs, as unemployment in Germany is almost 10%. It has got better recently, but it is still high. The “One Euro jobs” also affect these figures, as those working them do not count as unemployed. There are tens of thousands of people working these jobs, and it is growing, especially in the public and health sector. It is said it has to be additional work that wouldn’t otherwise be done, but the problem is everything is “additional work” – for example in a university we have members in they claim anything other than education is “additional work”, and so we have been involved in protests against bringing them in.

Do you usually work as FAU, or do you go into existing campaigns?
Well the main thing is people have to organise themselves – we are not organising them. Unlike left groups, who try and recruit off these kinds of things, we think if people can’t organise themselves, then there is nothing we can do.

For example, in Berlin, which has huge unemployment – around 15% - we have a lot of unemployed FAU members, and have used our office to give support and produced leaflets for it. However, one problem we found was that a lot of people viewed it as a service, took the advice, and went home – they didn’t want to be involved themselves, which can be a problem.

How does German labour law affect you?
One recent example, we were involved in a strike in a temporary agency where they were not paying his workers when there was no available work – which is illegal under German law. When the strikes started, we were able to win the strike and get them the money owed.

The problem with German labour law is the description of a union. We always say we are a union, but for example other unions (such as the Christian one) have been sued by competing unions for not being real unions. The FAU is not officially registered as a union – there are advantages and disadvantages to being officially registered, for example if you are a union and you go on strike, your members can’t get fired. However, we think even if we wanted to, it wouldn’t be possible for FAU to become a union, the legal definition is so specific. You have to sign collective contracts, which mean you can’t go on strike until the end of the contract – strikes can only be used to negotiate contracts, and it’s unlawful to go on strike during contract and the union can be sued.

Posted By

Fall Back
Jan 15 2007 18:09


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Dec 26 2009 08:14

The description of the legal situation in Germany is not exactly like the comrade said. In Germany doesn't exist a labour law (in one book) like in other european countrys, there is a mix of paragraphs from various laws that together is the labour law. Where no law exists, like about strike or unions, the law is "created" by the labour courts. This makes it verry difficult because things can change from one trial to the next.
In the case of unions there is only one sentence in the german constitution (Art 9.3.) that gives us the right to organise ourself to defend our economical interests. This is the background for all the labour court decisions about unions and strikes.
Because the contitution denies any union registration or something similar, anything in this direction is forbidden in Germany - in theory. (coalition is the word they used because this right is the same for the employers)

At the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany the impact of the former nationalsocialist judges was extremely strong, because the others was dead or in exile.
So this people developed a difference between "unions" and "tariffähige unions" (unions which are able to negotiate collective agreements).
With this trick they went around the fundamental constitutional right to organise yourself in/as a union - you still can do it - but you and your "union" lost with this step all the required rights to fight for a contract or to strike, if a court decides that you are not "tariffähig".
This happened against some christion pseudo-unions and their contracts in the last decade. But this organisations was never involved in a work conflict or a strike, they never made a demonstration, they only signed prepared dumping wage contracts of the bosses, sometimes they got paid for this.

In the case of the FAU Berlin the situation is the following. They are in a work conflict since month, they are able to make heavy preassure on the bosses and they are able to negotiate collective agreements. In theory they fullfill all the requirements but like I wrote before, in Germany the judges law rules. In whatever direction.

Dec 26 2009 08:17

The prohibition to call itself a union or grassroots union is an other story. This never happend before so I can't say anything to this idiotism.