A strike by telecom workers in Germany is threatening the upcoming G8 summit in Heiligendamm with a communications blackout.
Workers at Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s biggest telecommunications corporation, have voted by an overwhelming majority of 96.5 percent to strike against management’s restructuring plan.
The strike began on Friday of last week when over 10,000 workers walked out to join demonstrations.
The public sector union Verdi has said that that it will target “prestigious objects” and economic chokepoints, such as bank and insurance call centres, in the dispute.
If the battle lasts into June, the telecommunication infrastructure at the G8-summit could be targeted.
This is the first nationwide strike at Telekom since its privatisation in 1995.
The Telekom management, led by Rene Obermann, nicknamed “Dobermann” by Telekom workers, plans to outsource 50,000 workers to a company called T-Service.
Wages in the new service company will be 9 percent less and the weekly working hours will rise from 34 to 38 hours.
This will bring about a 20 percent cut in wages. Moreover, Obermann wants to lower starting wages by 40 percent.
Telekom workers fear that the outsourcing plan is just the first step into unemployment. Obermann has not ruled out that T-Service could be sold after 2011.
The same happenened to Siemens’s mobile production, which was outsourced, then bought by the Taiwanise multinational BenQ, and then closed down.
The current restructuring at Telekom is the 16th since its privatisation. Some 120,000 jobs have been lost since then.
There is a lot of anger among workers. A Telekom technician in Berlin said, “They don‘t care about the results of their decisions. They just walk on with ever fuller pockets and leave behind one big mess after another.”
The battle at Telekom is a key struggle. Through extensive restructuring, and helped by government reforms like the lowering of corporate taxes and the slashing of umemployment benefits, German firms have regained their profitability in recent years.
This has led to record profits, while workers’ living standards have fallen sharply.
German capitalism is leading a race to the bottom in Europe.
Real wages have been falling in the last 15 years. Outsourcing has played a big part in the attack on workers’ living standards.
If the Telekom workers win, it would be the first victory against corporate restructuring.
The strike is also a political confrontation with the “grand coalition” of the conservative CDU and the SPD, which is Germany’s Labour Party.
The government is still the biggest stakeholder in Telekom and could stop the restructuring by using its majority.
It could even renationalise Telekom, which is providing vital services that should not be left to market forces.
But the two parties are wedded to the idea of building a “national telecommunications champion” to compete on the world market. They have so far backed the Telekom management.
Die Linke, the new left wing party, which will be officially formed in the middle of June, has started a solidarity campaign for the strikers.
The new party won 8.4 percent in state elections in Bremen last Sunday, gaining seats in the new parliament.
This is a major breakthrough in the west of Germany for Die Linke.
Protests build up head of steam despite state raids
The German state has stepped up repression in an attempt to stop people attending the anti-G8 protests in the country at the beginning of next month. But the attacks on the movement are increasing the determination of activists.
The police raided over 40 offices and homes of anti-G8 activists last week claiming they were investigating “suspected terrorism”.
The charges were bogus. All 21 jailed activists were released shortly afterwards because of “lack of evidence”.
But the state campaign against the protest continues with Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister, threatening to jail “key suspects” two weeks before the summit using an anti-terror law introduced after 9/11.
The raids reflect mounting panic in the government about the growing mobilisation against the G8 summit. The government is increasingly unpopular because of its neoliberal reforms.
There is rising industrial unrest, with strikes by metal workers that won a substantial wage increase, as well as the Telekom workers.
It is the growing dissent which is fuelling the mobilisation against the G8 summit. The mobilisiation is organised by a broad alliance reaching from the churches, sections of the unions, the youth wing of the Green Party, and the radical left.
After the raids, more then 10,000 people demonstrated in solidarity with those arrested. They declared that the real terrorists are to meet behind the giant fence which has been built in Heiligendamm, at the site of the G8 summit.
The demonstrations in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin were called by the left but lots of local people joined in – particularly students and school students.
The government is getting very nervous, particularly as opinion polls have shown that two thirds of the German population support the key demands of the anti-G8 protests. These include reducing Third World debt, radical action against climate change and opposition to privatisation.
The protest march on Saturday 2 June is gaining momentum as trade union branches and regions are booking coaches for their members to attend.
The Berlin branch of Verdi, the public sector union, has booked transport, as have dockers in Hamburg.
The counter-summit is also building support. Speakers include Walden Bello, Susan George, John Holloway and Alex Callinicos.
A concert is attracting some of the best known acts in Germany.
Stefan Bornost is a member of Die Linke and the editor of Linksruck, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Germany.
For information on how to join the protests go to www.resist.org.uk