by 02.12.2004 18:53-
EVERY TUESDAY IS THIS TUESDAY: On August 31st, we have launched this weblog. In the next three months we will update it every tuesday with a selection of edited material on specific topics in addition to your personal logs on migration, labor and organizing. Stay tuned!
Contribution from TIE
From November 27 to 30, 2003 the fifth international Working-Conference of TIE/express took place at Oberwesel, Germany.
The main framework of the conference may be described by its title: “Another World is Possible - Building a Labour Movement for Social Change”
About 260 participants from all over the world – rank and file activists, union members, shop stewards, scientists, regular or irregular employees of all types of companies and different sectors - met there to discuss about their strategies and experiences. Several workshops concentrated on questions of organizing under conditions of so called irregular, precarious work.
The following Outline describes one of these workshops and also our further perspectives concerning the relationship between migration and precarious work.
Outline for the Discussion, Workshop VII “Organizing in non-unionized companies and sectors exemplified by industrial actions at the cleaning company Arcade and at McDonald’s in France, the German building and construction industry as well as Korea”
Reflections on the background of the Workshop: The so-called precarisation of labor has become an acknowledged social reality; scholars, political activists as well as unions are dealing with precarious labor – though from rather different perspectives. While some are still arguing over the extent and very definition of “precarisation” and different terms, such as “precarisation”, “casualization”, “precarious labor”, “contingent labor”, are often used to describe the same phenomenon, the political debate about “the end of regular jobs” nevertheless diverges: some celebrate it as liberating from the constraints of “fordist”, socially secured wage labor regulated by contract, and as transition to new forms of self-employment, as re-qualification, as the end of union directives and outdated company paternalism; for others precarisation means back to early up to pre-capitalist conditions, forms of work without legal and union protection, employers despotism, the principles of hire & fire, poor wages and so forth. Within the unions the phenomenon of precarisation is mainly met with a simple “back to regular jobs” and/or the call for welfare state protection as well as compensation for the “precarious”, while at the same time the difficulty to get hold of the precariously employed is being lamented. In many cases they are merely regarded as unorganizable. However, the persons affected are often not included in all the considerations, let alone get a chance to speak – they remain the object. Seemingly there is neither space for them nor forms to articulate their interests. At the core of the workshop is the recognition that above all precariousness means one thing: a systematically (re-)produced insecurity concerning all aspects of wage labor. From a global perspective this might pose a new problem only for a small part of workers, to many it is a reality, that they never knew to be any different. For what in the Federal Republic is characterized as “IG Metall regular job,” for example, could never be enforced within Germany: If we consider the forms of wage labor on a European or global scale, “secure”, regulated, and in most cases that also means unionized jobs have always been the exception. Predominantly we find different, frequently considered outdated, forms and concomitant factors of wage labor: informalization of labor, isolation of employees, high fluctuation in the workforce, individualization of risk, no access to union representation of interests up to explicit repressions of employers and so on. These aspects of change in employment relationships, or rather the diversity of developments in “securing” wage labor becomes increasingly important the more labor markets internationalize, companies operate internationally, and – where they exist – regulations of the nation states no longer take effect or are being replaced by liberalization efforts on an international level. Not only capital, work, too, proves to be flexible and “migrates”. Therefore the internationalization of labor markets at the same time also means a new formation of the working class in the individual countries as well as worldwide. In conjunction with declining rates of unionization and in most cases also the deteriorating impact on the arrangement of industrial relations, the central motive of competing wages and dumping the conditions of “labor” utilization is not only put back on the agenda, but also pursued systematically and politically, yet now actually on the level of global society: Where companies are not able to relocate their production, assisted by calculated national immigration policies they make use of a selective liberalized “world labor market” and bring the “third world” home into their own country - according to their inclinations, temporal needs and the respective “usefulness” for production requirements. And the other way around: The selective liberalization of labor markets always represents a reaction to migration flows, an attempt at controlling and canalizing them so that “wanted” (wo)manpower can be separated from “unwanted” (wo)manpower. When we talk about precarisation, we therefore also talk about old questions crucial to the beginnings of the labor movement: How can we resist wage dumping, increased competition in working conditions, company repression and so forth? What are the potential strategies of organizing in spheres with no or minor union presence? And which perspectives of organization do we aspire with these “precarious” jobs? What is the significance of a strategy of transnational exchange or rather of transnational organizing? In the workshop we want to take a closer look at the questions mentioned and talk about the differences and similarities in various kinds of precarisation. For this reason we have invited colleagues to give an account of industrial actions in quite different fields or rather companies that share the lack of union presence and a high level of precarisation: At the cleaning company Arcade, a subcontractor of the hotel chain Accor, workers of predominantly African descent were on strike for better working conditions for more than 130 days. In Berlin construction workers with mostly precarious residence permit statuses succeeded in overturning wage robbery. At McDonald’s in Paris a strike was declared over the dismissal of so-called “managers” that eventually gained worldwide attention and led to the formation of a McDonald’s solidarity committee. In Korea the network “Korean Solidarity for Contingent Workers” tries to support precarious workers, partly in fighting for their access to and regular membership in existing unions, partly in helping them to find their own forms of organization.
We wish to discuss the following questions with our guests and colleagues:
Questions to the speakers:
Cause of conflict: What provoked the struggles? Has the problem of “precariousness” been significant, and if so in which ways? And has migration been of significance in this context? Which direct goals did the employees pursue?
Forms of Organizing:
Who started the efforts at organizing: Who were the protagonists, who were the supporters in these conflicts? What was the relationship between workers and “external” supporters like? Have you been in touch with the unions or have the unions been of significance in the struggles? How did you organize, which forms of organizing did you develop? Did you develop special concepts for dealing with or rather the participation of the employees? Who did what and how? How did questions of self-organization, grassroots democracy and an autonomous representation of interests have a bearing in this?
Perspectives of organizing: How did the conflicts develop? Did the goals of organizing change in the course of conflicts? What remains? What characterizes the success or the failure of the individual struggles? And did you develop perspectives beyond the direct causes of the struggles?
Questions for the discussion: The subsequent discussion should above all deal with similarities and general perspectives of the initially isolated battles:
Concerning the causes and goals of conflicts?
Concerning forms of organizing? (Union organizing and/or self-organizing?)
What are the perspectives developed (for instance, legalization campaigns as a strategic option?)
Do you regard legal protection as a prerequisite for or as a result of struggles on precariousness?
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