language problems, residence permit status and ignorance of German labour
rights, foreign workers are generally more vulnerable to capitalist
exploitation. But in Berlin several bosses had to learn: There is that nasty
union you shouldn‘t mess with! We spoke to Lindsay, a member of the Foreigners‘
Section of FAU Berlin.
please introduce yourself.
Seattle in the USA. I‘m a proofreader and copywriter by profession and actual
occupation. I‘ve been in Berlin nearly a year.
part of the notorious Foreigners‘ Section (FS) of FAU Berlin. What is that
section about? Why do you organize as foreigners?
The FS is a
section in FAU Berlin where non-German-speaking workers can organise and fight
their work struggles. It was founded around 5 years ago now, I believe. Mainly,
it’s a place that allows foreign workers to be active, fighting syndicalists in
Germany. The FS also gets to share a lot of knowledge and experience about how
it is to be working as a foreigner in Berlin.
section has been involved in various struggles and is still so. What is the
„typical workplace conflict“ you have? What are the most common problems foreign
workers face in Berlin?
been in FAU, we’ve primarily had wage theft cases and arbitrary firings within
the gastronomy section, which means we’ve been struggling a lot for single
members rather than organising entire workplaces. This, I think, is typical
because FS members are for the most part in the precariat of the working class:
we often bounce from job to job, even if we’re in the same industry. This makes
organising at one workplace very difficult. But we are now trying to come up
with strategies around organising in precarious workplaces and will be focusing
a lot more on education – how to organise – in the next year.
makes you win so many cases, what is the concept of your success?
If you mean
conflict with the restaurant „Cancun“, then I’d say we were very aggressive –
loud at the picket, lots of direct action – and the boss in this case could not
handle it and we didn’t need a court: He paid our member in front of the camera
at the rally outside the restaurant. As for the other ones, ok – I’ll consider
our 80 page injunction from another Berlin restaurant a kind of success since
it means we really pissed them off. But, no win on that one yet. We will bring
that injunction to court.
think, the recent success we had, comes from a combination of the small or medium
size of the companies we are fighting, from the help FS working groups gets
from the German-speaking FAU members and from FS’ use of direct action; that
is, FS working groups are thinking about how to hit the boss economically, and
how to coerce that boss into doing what we want, and then the actions are
prepared with the help from German-speakers, which is essential to FS success.
The actions themselves are louder and more frequent, we have more demand
deliveries, phone/email zaps, rallies, and other “creative” actions. Of course,
as a small syndicalist union, we see direct action as part of the recipe for
these smaller struggles for one member have in fact given more of our
membership practical fighting experience and a chance to learn union skills.
Meaning that while our membership in FS is smaller than it was in the Mall of
Shame days (a conflict that started in summer 2014 and lasts till now), nearly
all of the active members are now involved in working groups and organising
It’s often said that Germany has a
pretty underdeveloped strike and combat culture. What is your point of view on
I honestly don’t know much about
this. If you mean Germans are quieter and less combative generally in the
labour movement as compared to say, the French, then yea, this is obvious.
However, compared to the American labour movement, Germans are downright
unites workers from around ten different countries. So there must be a vivid
mix of combat cultures and experiences. Could you give an example of this
have people primarily from all over Europe and the US. I know that Germans are
quieter than the southern Europeans at actions and drink less beer than the
French at actions. At a strike in Paris they had a special van for beer and
wine that drove along with the march! Many in FS agree now that it’s important
to be more animated, and they take the street presence at actions as a real
often considered as something like a melting pot of the radical left.
Nevertheless most lefties don’t fight and organize themselves as wage
labourers. Why is that?
think the left in Berlin is focused on building defensive communities – squats,
coops, etc. In general, they have very little serious orientation towards
fighting offensively in a strategic manner. But, it would be deceitful to say
that the modern labour movements, including ourselves, aren’t somewhat
responsible for this. Labour used to have a much larger “culture” surrounding
it. So, perhaps as we start to grow up our culture again, we’ll have more
success with getting the left interested in labour again.
FAU Berlin recently became the
target of various injunctions and other repression. How can a union defend
itself against the bosses and their state? And did you get any attention and
solidarity of the left movement?
get much solidarity from the left on this but perhaps that’s because we failed
to publicise it enough. These injunctions are nasty – particularly for a small
union like ours which relies so much on being loud and annoying to get things
done. Basically, if the boss has enough money, they go and buy the union’s silence
from the court, and we are, effectively, guilty until proven innocent. I’d say,
that someday when FAU has more resources, we’ll need to challenge the law which
allows these injunctions to exist. The IWW (an international syndicalist union)
helped create free speech in the US through direct action and appealing the
supreme courts in the Free Speech Fights of the early 20th century. I imagine
the working class in Germany will have to do something similar someday if we
want our rights to grow.
you like at FAU and what has to get improved?
I like a
lot about FAU, like the fact I can take a beer on credit at the union hall when
I’m low on cash. I like that we have a union hall, with books and people and a
projector there. All that. It’s a little community of people who are nice and
polite but very nasty and unpleasant to bosses. This is what a syndicate should
Aside from problems
of education – sharing organising skills and knowledge – I already mentioned, I
don’t think I’d change anything right now. I think we’re on our way to being
much better already; people are doing things, thinking and discussing new
ideas, and are fighting. As long as we have that, we’re good, I think.
FS’ future goal?
now for FS is to combine all our fighting experiences with organising knowledge
so that we have several workers fighting for themselves at one job, instead of
only these solidarity cases with workers who are no longer working at the
workplace. Also, we need more cultural and social activities like film nights,
etc. because these are fun but also because FS has to work a little more to
keep ourselves bonded because we have a lot of cultures smashed together, which
makes miscommunication and serious disagreement more likely to happen.
Contact info for the section
Open meeting: Every 4th Tuesday of the month, 19:30.
Location: FAU office, Grüntaler Str. 24.