The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Strike of German telephone workers

Jun 3, 2007

The strike, begun in Germany on May 11 by a part of the workers of Deutsche Telekom, continues as of May 30. This is the first important strike at what was formerly a state-run enterprise. Today it employs 180,000 workers, compared to 280,000 at the time it was privatized in 1995.

In the name of reducing costs, the directors of the company want to transfer some 50,000 workers in service departments (call centers, technical services, etc.) into new affiliate companies by July 1. These workers face a pay cut of 9% and an increase in their work week from 34 to 38 hours. Taking all the changes into account, according to the union, new hires will earn 40% less.

To justify these changes, Deutsche Telekom complains about a 43% decline in net profits in 2005. This “poor” profit still reached more than 4 billion dollars.

The workers tried work stoppages for a number of weeks; they participated in worthless negotiations to maintain current salary levels. Finally the union carried out a vote in which more than 96% of the union workers voted for an unlimited strike. This vote covered 22,000 workers.

Right from the beginning, the directors of Deutsche Telekom tried to break the strike. They threatened to fire all apprentices who joined the strike, even though their participation is legal. They tried to bribe workers not to strike by offering them a 300 to 500 euro bonus. They tried to use about 1000 state workers as strike breakers; they hired temporary workers to replace the strikers, which is illegal according to the union contract. The bosses even tapped the mobile phones of the workers to listen in on how the strike would be organized. The company also sent out letters to hundreds of workers assigning them to “emergency service.”

The strike seems to be supported by many workers – even in the private sector – since there is very little of the usual grumbling about state workers. Many workers can see that if Deutsche Telekom wins, it will open a new door encouraging all the bosses to go on the offensive to reduce the cost of labor. A victory for workers of Deutsche Telekom will be a victory for all.