By Tom Wetzel
The workers struggle at the Babylon Cinema in Germany began last June when a large group of workers at the cinema formed a workplace council with the Free Workers Union (FAU) – an anarcho-syndicalist organization in Germany. When the workers initiated a boycott to force management to negotiate, the bosses’ went to court and got a court ban on the FAU calling itself a union or grassroots union. This enabled the employer to get a court injunction against the FAU’s call for a boycott. Under German labor law it is illegal to call for direct action of any kind if your organization does not have the legal status of a union.
Last fall the bureaucratic German public sector union ver.di intervened in the struggle behind the backs of the workers. The ver.di contract has now been implemented and workers at the cinema have received wage increases from 10 to 30 percent – but less than the FAU demanded. The contract is also below the standards of their other contracts on wages and worker rights. Meanwhile, management has retaliated against part-timers at the theater, reducing the hours of the grassroots shop council members by two-thirds.
On February 16th the FAU’s appeal was heard in the regional court in Berlin, and the original ban against the FAU acting as a union was upheld. Under German labor law, an organization has to have a certain “strength” to be granted the legal right to engage in direct actions and negotiate contracts. How much “strength” is up to the judges to decide, based on precedents from case law.
This hearing was held at the same time that the FAU and its supporters were conducting a week of solidarity actions during the Berlin international film fest (Berlinale), which includes showings at Babylon Cinema as one of the venues. The week of actions ended with a march of 600 people on February 20th. Various social movements in Berlin have supported the FAU in these protests including anti-fascists and Left rank-and-file oppositionists in the German trade union federation (DGB). In her speech to the February 20th protest, Dr. Renate Huertgen of the Committe for Union Liberties pointed out that more than half of all European unions would be illegal under German labor law.
The FAU is appealing the ban on calling itself a union and expects the hearing on its appeal to occur sometime later in May.