Ethical exploitation

Another month, another case of exploitation and abuse in the gastronomy sector. This time the story takes place in the vegan pizzeria Sfizy Veg, located in Berlin’s fashionable Neukölln district, an establishment where left-wing symbolism and syndicalist literature hangs on the wall without a hint of irony or shame. The restaurant’s Facebook page proudly displays its vegan credentials and the occasional call-to-arms over some climate change issue or other. The website proclaims their principles of “political engagement, animal rights and environmental awareness”. There is, of course, a flippant throwaway comment about not serving Nazis; antifascist action now apparently consisting of refusing to serve boneheads a thin crust, meatless pizza. Right on, comrades.

Behind the facade of comradeship and solidarity, however, there exists a climate of exploitation and intimidation. The boss, happy to enjoy the profits generated by an establishment which presents itself as alternative, left wing and ‘different’, is equally happy to abuse and publicly humiliate his staff when he feels his authority has in some way been undermined. This attitude, inevitably perhaps, led to a confrontation with a FAU member who worked in the kitchen, a situation which resulted in the worker and a colleague’s dismissal.FAU’s struggle with Sfizy Veg is ongoing, with allegations made of not only verbal harassment and humiliation but also of physical altercations and intimidation. The boss, of his own admission, would spy on workers during their shift from afar and without their knowledge, desperate as he is to control every aspect of the lives of those positioned below him within the hierarchy and structure of his restaurant. Two workers, one of them a FAU member, are now without the means to provide for themselves due to minor infractions.During a particularly busy shift, one worker was observed not immediately answering the phone by her boss, who was skulking in the shadows outside the restaurant in order to observe his employees. The worker was the only member of the waiting staff working during this busy period, as the boss typically liked to reduce the numbers of employees working each shift in order to save money. After humiliating her in front of the kitchen staff, she was sacked. After a member of the kitchen staff pointed out that it would be impossible to continue operating the restaurant with literally no waiting staff to take the food to the customers, he too was sacked following another boisterous confrontation.This isn’t the first time in recent months FAU Berlin has found itself in a conflict with an establishment that is supposedly sympathetic to the principles of anarchism or working class solidarity. Time after time, restaurants and bars which purport to be left-wing, vegan or in some other way anti-establishment prove themselves to be anything but exclusively concerned with maintaining and increasing their profit margins. For these places and the people that run them, the left-wing or vegan market is merely the niche that they have chosen to gain money, just like a man who runs a sports bar hopes to profit from a subscription to Sky Sports television channels and the steady stream of weekend football fans. In a city such as Berlin, with its longstanding traditions of political activism and general ‘otherness’, this is symptomatic of a much wider and more pervasive problem. Proud principles of antifascism, working class solidarity and anarchism are continually appropriated by capitalists looking to cash in on the left wing market. Murals of Che Guevara overlook customers consuming their recently purchased ‘ethical’ meal, while the cash registers chime their bells in the background, overflowing with cash. The commodification of dissent is alive and well in the city of Berlin.

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