On June 7, Wobblies and supporters held loud and visible protest rallies at the stores of the art supplies chain Boesner in Colone, Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna and Graz. With these actions, they protested against the management of the Boesner shop in Colone, who prevented an organizing drive of the Colone IWW by harassing workers who had tried to form a works council (Betriebsrat) there.
German labour law guarantees the formation of works councils elected by the workers in shops with 5 workers or more and prohibits management action against the election process of these institutional bodies. When members and supporters of the IWW at the Boesner shop in Colone announced the elections for a works council, the management began to panic. Only one of the 24 Boesner shops in Germany has a works council, set up by the service workers union ver.di, union membership in the company is low and the management doesn´t want workers’ representation in their stores, anxious of hurdles for their further expansion.
Workers were questioned and pressurised in interviews at the managers office. One day before the election took place, the management held a meeting with all workers, where they threatened to cut wages and extend working hours if a works councils was formed. They forced the workers to vote publically in front of the managers against a works council. Frustrated by the divisions succesfully made by these illegal employers actions, the IWWs withdrew their election announcement.
Later, the management of Boesner Colone began to implement the first measures they had threatened the workers with: the extension of working hours by opening of the stores on saturdays (which hadn´t been the case before and obviously had been intended to implement them anyway. But neither did they employ more workers to staff the extra shifts, nor did they pay a weekend bonus, which is not uncommon for weekend work in Germany. The shifts should have to cope the extra workload with more intensified stress at work.
The Colone IWW decided to call an action at the local shop and other Boesner stores in Germany and elsewhere. While the IWW branches in Colone and Frankfurt organized the rallies on their own, the Berlin branch of the FAU supported the move and held a rally in front of the Berlin Boesner store too. In Austria the anarcho-syndicalist Federation of Workers Syndicates (Foederation der ArbeiterInnen-
Syndikate, FAS) where some Austrian IWW members are also organized, held rallies in Vienna and Graz.
At the rallies, we got some very positive reactions from customers, who took the leaflets into the store and signed a petition to respect workers rights at the workplace. We used printed transparents with
the motto “Democracy for workers too!” which surely will be used for further rallies. Furthermore, we could make contacts to radical trade unionists and workers activists who supported the action. Pressure will be put on the company until they finally back down. The Boesner company is strongly dependent on their image of being a fair and friendly socially-responsible firm and are not keen on earning a bad reputation as a union-busting sweatshop (which in fact they are).
From the German Language Area IWW.