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(en) Poland, Workers Initiative: Workers' victory at the Hungarian Audi factory: We hope that our strike will encourage other workers to unite [machine translation]

Date Mon, 22 Apr 2019 09:06:45 +0300

A strike at the Audi factory in Györ ---- Below we publish a translation of the interview that Philippe Alcoy conducted with representatives of the AHFSZ trade union for the "LeaftEast" portal[see the Left East website]. The interview turned out to be originally in English on April 10 this year. - translation and publication with the consent of the editor. ---- The employees of the Hungarian Audi factory in Györ in the west of the country carried out a winning 7-day strike at the end of January. It was organized by AHFSZ (Independent Trade Union Audi Hungaria). AHFSZ currently has 9,700 employees among factory employees (72% of the crew) and is referred to as "a relationship independent of all political parties as well as all Hungarian trade union federations." AHFSZ members agreed to answer Philippe Alcoy's questions.

Audi employees in Györ struck for seven days, demanding better wages and working conditions, and won a great victory over this giant of the car industry. Can you say how it started and why the workers decided to strike just then?

We had a collective agreement by 31 December 2018. Negotiations began in the autumn of 2018. Unfortunately, however, the employer was determined not to present constructive proposals. It took several weeks before we were able to put it clearly. AHFSZ set out its pay demands at the annual conference on November 9, 2018. However, the negotiations continued and our positions remained equally distant.

The AHFSZ Board of Representatives decided to create a Strike Committee on January 14, 2019, because the employer did not respond positively to our previous pay offers. The Council decided to conduct a 2-hour warning strike on 18 January. The success of the warning strike has emboldened the Strike Committee to declare a strike length of 168 hours from 6 am on January 24 because there was no progress in the negotiations.

We know that there have been large strikes in the region, including the car industry (though not only there). Have you followed these battles and did they have any influence on you?

We are always open; however, most recent protests in Hungary were caused by other[political]factors. We must make it clear that the strike we organized took place in the Audi car factory and aimed only at increasing pay for the employees of Audi. We were able to carry out this strike because we are an independent factory association and we are not members of any association or federation.

Nevertheless, your strike was watched by Volkswagen workers in other countries, and even by those working in other car companies in the region. We know that you have received solidarity from trade unions such as IG Metall from Germany. Can you explain it? Have you received support from other trade unions in Hungary or other countries? How did the employees of Audi accept these expressions of solidarity? Can this herald the beginning of international cooperation? And do you think that your strike can mobilize other workers in the region to take advantage of your example?

We have received many expressions of solidarity from trade unions in Hungary and abroad, for example from workers in the Italian factories Lamborghini and Ducati. We must also mention the Mercedes employees from the city of Kecskemét. Trade unions in other industries also sent expressions of solidarity. We believe that other relationships can benefit from our example. It must be said, however, that the main condition for a successful strike is well-organized unity at the factory level. The unity that we built in our factory was unbelievable - during the strike all the workers stopped their work, and 4000-45000 thousand employees took part in information magazines on one shift.

In recent years, many employees from Györ went abroad for training. What effect did it have on their awareness of their working conditions compared to other Audi and Volkswagen plants in the region and relations with unions and workers in other countries?

We are in touch with unions from other countries and regularly exchange practical experiences.

The Audi factory in Györ is the largest plant in Hungary (employs 13,000 people and is responsible for 1.5 percent of GDP.) Since its creation in 1994, it is the largest foreign investment in this country). How do you think this strike will affect other workers in Hungary?

Here you can not answer the definitive yes or no. Time will come, but we hope that our strike will give the workers of other plants the courage to admonish their rights.

You fought for a pay increase, but also for increasing the number of days of leave. The demands of workers to have more time for rest and leisure are becoming more and more important in the country and the region. Why is it like that?

The attention of people in Hungary and other countries has attracted the fact that we are demanding one free weekend for all workers. Most people in Hungary seem to think that one free weekend is guaranteed for all employees. However, unfortunately, this is not the case here, because we have a special shift system in which an employee can have a weekend off only once every 7 weeks. That's why we fought for this right.

What can you say about the role of women working in a factory during a strike? We saw them among the strikers on filamch and photos of the strike.

The employees did not have any separate role during the strike. They are workers with equal rights and responsibilities and have taken full part in the strike.

Do you want to add anything else?

We want to add only one thing. During the strike, we were asked several times whether support was falling for us. We can proudly say that at the beginning of the strike, the number of our members was 8,900 people, while at the end - when we signed a wage agreement - it increased to 9,700. Support for the relationship has also been increasing since then.

Translation: Wojciech Orowiecki

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