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German Foodworkers Prepare Broad Fight Against Precarious Work

Posted to the IUF website 30-Oct-2008

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Combating and reversing the growth of precarious work was one of the key themes at the congress of the German Food and Allied Workers Union NGG, the IUF's largest affiliate in Europe, held October 20-24 in Berlin.

The multiple problems arising from the increase in all forms of precarious work arrangements was a recurring theme throughout the congress. Speaking to the more than 700 guests and delegates, NGG president Franz-Josef Möllenberg highlighted examples of particularly abusive employer exploitation of casualized labour as well as successful union negotiations to halt contract work in specific n companies. Möllenberg reminded the congress that agency work 20 years ago was dubbed “modern slavery”.

Many of the main congress speakers emphasized the urgent need for trade union action to combat all forms of precarious work not only in Germany, but in Europe and beyond. In addition to the motion on combating casualization proposed by the NGG Executive Committee, more than a dozen motions on the issue were introduced for discussion and action by regions and other constituent groups. The various interventions all aimed at limiting and reversing outsourcing and casualisation, ensuring contract workers equal treatment with permanent workers and defining the various areas for union action to influence employment relations - from the plant level and industry-wide collective agreements to national legislation and European-wide initiatives.

An important amendment to the NGG rules now opens union membership to agency workers employed in NGG sectors. The union will also fight for stricter legal limitations on temporary job arrangements and for the abolition of so-called mini-jobs, a form of casual part-time employment that leaves workers without social security and has been used by employers to destroy fixed employment at the workplace.

Another major congress theme was the ongoing campaign for the introduction of a minimum wage in Germany. One of the very few countries in the European Union without legally defined minimum wages, Germany has seen an explosion in the numbers of the working poor. Together with the service union Verdi and the national center DGB, the NGG has been leading the campaign for the introduction of an hourly minimum wage and has succeeded in changing public opinion on this issue over the last three years. A lively discussion took place on how to raise wages through collective bargaining while the campaign continues for legislative action to set a legal minimum .

The congress also responded to the global financial crisis by demanding stricter state regulation of financial markets, a tax on financial transactions (Tobin Tax) and an investment program to stabilize the real economy of goods and services, to be financed in part through a bank-financed European investment fund.

In his address to the congress, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald emphasized the link between falling living standards for US workers and the mortgage loan crisis which set in motion the global financial meltdown. Growing poverty and inequality were important consequences of declining union membership, and unions in Germany and around the world had to see rebuilding union density as the key task of the movement.

The struggle against racism and the far right, including the union response to racist conduct at the workplace, was another key congress theme, and one in which the NGG youth organization played a prominent role. Congress was also informed about a joint project of the union with the employers'organisation in the food industry to encourage tolerance and speak out against racism and xenophobia at the workplace and beyond.


Congress delegates voted with cards declaring "NGG Shows Racism the Red Card!"

President and Vice President Franz-Josef Möllenberg and Michaela Rosenberg were re-elected by large majorities to their positions; Claus-Harald Guester was elected as second Vice-President for the first time.