some exam 2 - Institution building in the German retail...

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Institution building in the German retail sector: the Schlecker and Lidl campaigns Several years before the 2001 merger that created ver.di, Germany’s consolidated service workers union, a remarkable campaign led by HBV (banking, insurance and retail union) offered an alternative model for contemporary union strategy, bringing social movement activism to a German labor campaign. The effort was led by a small group of union and rank-and-file activists employing a range of tactics that together amount to what in the U.S. would be called a comprehensive campaign. The story begins early in 1994 when HBV officials in the Mannheim office were approached by several employees of Schlecker, a nationwide chain of small drug stores, a company with a well deserved reputation for opposition to any works councils or union presence. Pay records and working conditions showed both undercutting of existing contracts and violations of law. Union efforts on behalf of the employees met with no response from the company. When the death of an employee exposed unsafe working conditions (in this case no telephone to call for help in a life-threatening emergency), labor practices at Schlecker received national attention. In the ensuing eight months, the union developed a broad campaign that would bring company abuses to the public eye, embolden employees, and force major concessions on their behalf. Details are many, but the essence of the story is this. Schlecker is a nationwide German company consisting of mini-stores, often with no more than five employees. As of 1993, the rapidly growing company’s 22,500 employees were spread across the country in 4,250 stores (Huhn 2001, 24). The workers were and are mostly women, many working part-time, isolated from employees in other stores. Schlecker made its profits in part by paying the lowest possible wages and providing minimal working conditions. Company practice as of 1994 was to discourage any employee effort to exercise legally mandated codetermination rights, with works councils present in only a very small number of stores. As the HBV campaign developed,
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attention centered on fighting company abuses in pay and working conditions as well as establishing elected works councils to enforce agreements and negotiate improvements. In response to aggressive company opposition, including intimidation of employees and the firing of activists, HBV leaders in Mannheim and Heidelberg, led by local union president Anton Kobel, developed step-by-step a campaign both broad and sophisticated. In contrast to established German labor practices based on relations of social partnership punctuated by occasional collective bargaining conflict, this campaign built upon an explicit logic of social movement unionism. Key tactics included active employee engagement, press conferences, legal proceedings, political pressure and social networks that built support from a variety of social actors. Extensive publicity included the “shaming” of Anton and Christa Schlecker in the courts and in the public realm
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2009 for the course ILRCB 3020 at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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some exam 2 - Institution building in the German retail...

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