by Jeffersonian Democrat
Fri Dec 28th, 2007 at 12:31:48 PM EST
Daneel [on dKos; DoDo on ET] invited me to diary this here from a comment I made on Jerome's diary Don't Spite the God of Economic Reform over at the Big Orange's edition.
What follows is a case example of working conditions you don't expect in a European country that is supposed to be stiffled by socialistic regulation, maybe not even in an Anglo-Saxon country with a supposedly dynamic and flexible workforce. And of collective fight-back. Is this our future?
Promoted with slight edit by DoDo
First off, let me say that I am a long time member here and I lurk a lot. I don't comment much here because, as an American in Germany, I really do not know enough on the European issues and most here have that covered far beyond what I could add. So I lurk and learn and it has been invaluable especially for the economic analyses in (mostly) layman's terms from Jerome and NBBBrooks; Bonddad, gjohnsits, and New Deal Democrat over at Kos. That is were my modest knowledge of the economic situation comes from.
Ok, my point - or rather report.
My fiancee and I live in Menden, Sauerland, in NRW Germany. A small but mostly pleasant town. She works at a metal-work factory, which makes parts for various products in various industries, in Lendringsen. Lendringsen is a neighboring town about 15 minutes away by bus.
In November, new management came in and started making changes. Suddenly, chit-chat on the floor became a fireable offense. No Talking! The the shifts changed to longer hours. Instead of the early shift beginning at 6AM, it began at 04:30, late shift until 02:00.
A side effect of this was that public transportation does not run during these hours in small towns. We don't own a car, too poor at the moment. But one reason I love Europe is that, outside of this, you really don't need one as everything of necessity is within walking and biking distance as well as buses or trains.
So then she had to carpool to work, ok. But it was the little things: foam ear plugs disappeared, we had to buy our own. Saturday shifts, which were always voluntary for those wishing to work overtime, remained officially voluntary but became a tool of not "team playing" and became an unvoiced threat of lay-off if you didn't team play.
I asked my fiancee why didn't the workers organize and protest? She explained that a good proportion of workers (like she herself was) are temporary workers. Everyone is afraid that protesting would lead to firing since there are so many unemployed workers who would fill their positions. I say scare tactics!
What happened is that the women workers haphazardly resisted - all of them. They just quit coming in on Saturdays. The management asked why and they replied that they also had child and household duties at home.
Surprisingly for me, it worked. Things returned to normal, back to 8 hour shifts at normal times, easing of draconian measures on the factory floor, and of course, no Christmas bonus again this year. Back to normal, almost, we are still buying ear-protection.
So I got to see solidarity in action and I only can imagine what would happen if they got a union involved. So that is what is happening in our small part of Germany, perhaps this small report adds to the bigger policy pictures and issues of the EU and encroaching Anglo-Saxon Neo-Liberalism on the continent
As a sidenote, one of the temps was a dual US-German. She worked in factories and FedEx in Alabama. Surprisingly, she stated that worker protections were better in the US, one can't even get on the floor without safety glasses, for example. I suspect that has more to do with the ease of litigation in the US than here. It is easier to sue a company there as I understand it.
Nevertheless, I think I am staying here. We have a child on the way now that is due July 30th (if a boy, we're thinking first and middle names of Tristan Orestes; if a girl we are thinking Harmonie but I really like Iphigenie). I currently live on my Veterans Administration disability compensation that is paid in dollars, so that hurts, but I can not yet work until we are married. I've applied to transfer from my faculty to a doctorate program at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and waiting to here about that. My liberal but pretty much mainstream mother recently wrote to me:
...my unsolicited opinion is that you should stay in Germany and get married. Health insurance, the economy and school seem like "right decision" thinking to me. Its weird right now, I am hoping for political change but who knows what will happen.
and regarding her house:
...I certainly wasn't dumb enough to fall for the variable intrerest rate, we should be just fine.
I think I will take my mother's unsolicited advice. Is there a welcome wagon for new European citizens?