curtis price (
Mon, 29 Jan 1996 23:19:03 +0000

Subject: Building Worker I
Message-ID: <>
Date: 27 Dec 1994 02:26:22
Lines: 166

These leaflet was distributed on building sites in Berlin -
first in english language -- polish, spanish ecc. will follow.
The comrades are interested in any further information about the
situation in the building sector in other countries or
experiences with the organization of building workers,
especially migrant workers, legal or illegal.




No.1, Autumn 1994

What the hell is going on here? They're trying to rip us off
whenever they can. We're forced to look around to find work and
earn some money. They make us pay exorbitant rents for sublet
flats or in pensions. We're never certain if we get paid or if
the boss takes the money and disappears. Many of us get injured,
some get killed due to dangerous working conditions... And the
question remains: what and for whom are we building all this?

Some Background Information:

Crisis And Boom

Today, the Berlin-Brandenburg building sector is in a state of
crisis and boom at the same time. Many East German enterprises
have a relatively low productivity and are often deeply
indebted. Those sectors of the building trade which are
dependent on public investment (e.g. road building) suffer from
the cuts in expenses for infra-structure development by local
and regional governments. More and more companies go bankrupt,
especially in East Germany. Often those acting on a sub-sub-
contractor level are hit hardest by the concentration of
capital. On the other hand, there is a building boom in Berlin-
Brandenburg and the rest of Eastgermany, probably like nowhere
else in Europe. Huge central state projects like Autobahn
(motor-ways) and new railway tracks, the new government's
quarter in Berlin, gigantic private investments into office and
services centers, the modernization of old buildings in East
Germany and the boom in building single-family houses around
Berlin are producing growth rates of up to 40 or 50% a year.

Special developments in the former GDR

With the so-called "German re-unification", which began in 1990,
nearly half of the 600.000 building workers were laid off in
East-Germany. Women and migrant workers were fired first.
Since then 100.000 have been employed again. Others have become
self-employed or early pensioners. Huge training campaigns have
been started to get a new young, qualified workforce. In Leipzig
even women are being trained as bricklayers, floor-tilers etc.
In many sectors the boom has led to a labour shortage. That is
why wages in the building sector are relatively high and close
to the West German wage-level.

The New Proletariat

In Germany there are about 1,4 million building workers with
complete social insurances not counting subsidiary trades. There
are about 162.000 immigrants. Most of those have settled here in
the 60s and 70s. With the fall of the "wall" in 1989 and the
creation of the "European Common Market" in 1992 a recomposition
started. More than 100.000 workers from Eastern
Europe and the same number from Western Europe work legally
(with official papers) in the trade. According to the not
especially trustworthy construction employers' associations and
the building trade union (IG Bau Steine Erden), several hundred
thousands doing so called illegal work (without permits). Thus,
for a long time the building proletariat hasn't been a
"national" anymore. On the contrary, today it is more
"international" than ever before.

One Working Class on the building sites?
Manifold conditions for the workers

That is especially true in Berlin as Germany's biggest town and
one of its proletarian centers. Here the building sector is one
of the key sectors. Adding to the old migrant communities
(mainly Turkish/Kurdish and Yugoslavians in the West -
Mozambican and Vietnamese in the East), new communities have
been emerging: from East European countries (mainly Poland, ex-
Yugoslavia, Czechia), from Western Europe (Ireland, Britain,
Netherlands, Portugal) and smaller refugees' groups from Africa
and Asia. But there are not only diverse countries of origin and
languages. There are different forms of legal status in terms of
residence and work permits:

- some completely illegalized on the black labour market;
- others have residence permit but are not allowed to work;
- there is contract work or seasonal work;
- "new self-employed" and fake "self-employed";
- welfare recipients on workfare;
- workers in job creation schemes;
- piece rate gangs and
- various forms of the "normal" seven to four jobs or the 70
hour a week jobs that for some could become the standard.

Accordingly, the wages reach from two or three DM per hour to
more than DM 30. One major way of seperating the workers is a
racist one: few Germans and not many Western Europeans are
working for less than DM 10, while only few refugees and Eastern
Europeans get more than DM 20. That seperation characterises the
housing conditions, too: Some struggling hard to afford the
rent, others live in rotten empty buildings or refugee camps, in
caravans or containers, some are homeless and live on the
streets or they share a room in a pension with three others or
so. Since the socalled "re-unification" the guaranteed job under
guaranteed conditions, stable living conditions and so on, have
become unusual in the trade. Former standards have been eroded,
hire and fire practices and high mobility between cities and
countries became common features. Many guaranteed workers in
Germany or the EC became itinerant workers and/or day-labourers.
The living and working conditions of some building workers in
and around Berlin correspond with metropolitan - "First World" -
standards, those of others with the European periphery and
"Third World" conditions - all this at the same time and in the
same city!

New Struggles - Building One Working Class?

There was not a single big building workers' strike in Germany
in the last decades, neither self-organized nor by the union.
The building sector was based on a "deal" between the state, the
union (IG BSE) and the bosses. That accounts for the fact that
German building workers have next to no experience with strikes.
There is no tradition of direct action, collective strength and
so on. There were some sit-down strikes against massive lay-offs
in the former GDR. And in 1993 more than 100.000 builders
demonstrated in Bonn against the abolition of bad weather
payments. Up till now this struggle is being controlled by the
IG BSE, which is a union like any union. In addition the IG BSE
has accepted a steady decline in real wages (wages after
substracting inflation) over the last years. They try to control
any conflict and not to win it. Furthermore, the union takes
part in the bosses strategies of separating the workers. They
started a campaign against the so-called illegal workers and
cooperate with the cops, etc.. On the other hand, there are new
types of struggle. Direct actions like crane blockades (see the
summarized press clippings) by people from different EC
countries - which we see as something very positive. But so far
these struggles stay completely isolated. We only learn about
them through the press who mainly report about workers from EC
countries. We still know little about actions by Eastern
European migrants and nothing about actions of the illegal
workers from all over the world. The struggles reported by the
media are anyway only the tip of the iceberg, everyday conflicts
get never reported.

All this makes it necessary to go beyond the spontaneous action
of small gangs and single sites. We have to communicate with
workers from other language groups and at least put through some
minimum conditions below which none should be obliged to work...

(continued in next message)

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