Workers' struggle at Gate Gourmet is getting harder

Article from February 2006 about German workers' struggle against airport catering firm Gate Gourmet.

The opponents are Texas Pacific Group and LTU (=REWE). A two hours long blockade at the 100th day of strike puts Gate Gourmet and LTU under distress.

Saturday, January 14, the strike counter at the striker's tent counted the one hundredth strike day at Gate Gourmet. The union announced "No reason for celebration, but for protest" on its website (in German: http://www.ngg.net). The people understood the message.

The supporters gathered at 7 am, not at 1 pm as it was announced, at the strikers' tent to express their solidarity to the strikers. They did it practically through blocking the exits. In this way they stopped the catering deliveries to the airplanes, which where already waiting at the maneuvering area, for about two hours.1 Especially explosive on this morning was the airplanes were going to go on long-distance flights. Short-distance flights can leave without food, but it is not possible to let airplanes leave without catering to South Africa or the Caribbean.
Later, you could see the success of the blockade at the schedules at the terminals: The flights to South Africa, Dominican Republic, USA, and Jamaica had delays between one and two hours (LT 674, LT446, LT908 and LT400). But Gate Gourmet had prepared to protect the delivery from blockades. At the last blockade on Christmas Eve (December 24, Christmas Eve in Germany), airplanes left two hours late because the trucks had been blocked. A few short-distance flights had delayed departures as well.

The security crew of the company Chevalier from Krefeld was doubled. Chevalier had distinguished themselves again with brutal whippings. An emergency exit through the parking lot was arranged, the trucks had simply to pass over a few thin posts. Obviously a coordinated procedure was arranged with the police. However, it didn't work this morning. A brutal whipping by the security crew enabled seven trucks to break through under the threat of peoples' health and passed the parking lot to get to the access road to the maneuvering area. But also the supporters were flexible and since a few blocked the main entrance, where still two trucks were waiting, the others blocked the road and stopped the trucks until 9:15 a.m.

Even when the last three trucks backed up to pass a makeshift gate to enter the maneuvering area (gate 47), which must not be used by Gate Gourmet for security reasons, they got blocked and hindered to continue driving.

At the beginning of the action, the police, who got there in small numbers, was not very enthusiastic to play the usher for the profit interest of Gate Gourmet. The situation changed when the seven trucks were blocking the road which belongs to the airport. Now the airport company intervened. The shuttle, which brings passengers from the train station to the terminals, couldn't pass either and passengers had to carry their suitcases a few hundred meters through the icy cold. Don't blame it on the blockade. Blame it on Siemens, who didn't manage to get the overhead railway running. This train is supposed to connect the train stop with the terminals but a few days before some passen­gers got stuck in the "sky train" and missed their flights. This is the reason why it got closed and replaced with buses indefinitely. To blame the failure of Siemens on the supporters of the strike is bad defamation. It lead to the use of riot police, who had no clue about the strike and already checked IDs brutally. None the less, everybody was happy about the action. Especially after more and more strikers came and expressed their ardor about the successful blockade of long-term flights.

The opponent is Texas Pacific Group
Now effective solidarity is needed which harms Gate Gourmet economically. On December 7, 2005 Gate Gourmet had, according to the owner, Texas Pacific Group, a previously negotiated compromise withdrawn. After that, nothing happened for a long time. When the next negotiation took place on January 5, 2006 with the boss of Gate Gourmet, it was only decoration. The leader of the negotiations, an attorney from Munich named Leuchten, was hired by the Texas Pacific Group. He announced a completely different work pace, and demanded more advanced incisions, which he didn't want to negotiate about. All in all, the personnel costs should be reduced by ten percent. Companies like Texas Pacific Group work differently than normal industrial businesses. They're also called "Private-Equity-Companies", because they collect private money and promise giant margins of 20 to 40 percent. With this money they buy profitable businesses and accomplish a strict "lean-restructury-program". Shortly after the take­over of Gate Gourmet, they sent the notorious business consultant McKinsey and with the goal to sell the business at a profit in no later than five to seven years. In the case of Gate Gourmet, it means TPG will hold the business for at the most three years and until then the company needs to be restructured. That means, they have to tighten the exploitation conditions as much as possible to get an extraordinary income return for the stock­holders through resale.

The last election campaign brought this kind of investment company more into public. The Social Democrats (and specially Müntefering) put the attention on this populist and nationalistic "locust" campaign. Of course, they did so without mentioning that it was the red-green coalition, that attracted companies with tax reforms and relieved these kinds of businesses. With the differences between "good" and "bad" capital, the SPD tried to use the spread of outrage against capitalist condiions for their own interests and to avoid a more radical critic on capitalism.

In reality, Private-Equity-Companies (PECs) do the dirty jobs for the capitalists, for that they are allowed to raise their profits a little. As an anonymous investment business, which buys and resells quickly, PECs don't need to take care for their image, that could be damaged through their brutal reorganization methods. That is why PECs don't care about bad press and ignore public critique. That leads to a crisis of union strategies. In face of the poor possibilities to use economic pressure, the unions use verbal and symbolic solidarity and rely on publicity. But this doesn't impress Texas Pacific Group. The only thing that could put them under pressure, are economic losses.2

The background information is important to understand to know why Gate Gourmet, i.e. TPG, acts like it does and demands the ultimate cost reduction of ten percent. During the negotiations on January 5, even veteran unionists were shocked by the TPG procedure, which they hadn't known before. It's time to wake up to reality. The attorney from Munich announced he would present a ready made collective bargaining contract to sign. If the union wouldn't sign the contract he was asked to end the strike by legal means. What ever that means. Imaginably, it is only the attempt to use the police for a more repressive action because the strikers are - now, less than ever! - not willing to take changes for the worse.

During the strike it became clear that LTU, as the main customer, supports Gate Gourmet. The attempt of the seven trucks breaking through the blockade on January 14, through using the parking lot of LTU, was prepared days before. With the introduction of the trade corporation REWE at LTU they are demanding the decrease of personnel costs. This demand is a package worth 16 Million euros. They just started collective bargaining negotiations at LTU, where the company demands similar cuts like Gate Gourmet with its workers. Some LTU workers realize that they may need to open up their strikers tent right across from the tent of their striking Gate Gourmet colleagues soon. If this is going to happen, then they could overcome the division of the airport workers which was created through the many relocations and company divisions which had happened the last few years.

Secondary picketing is necessary!
Facing these divisions, it will be more important to think about mobile and flexible forms of strikes in the coming years anyway. In other countries, they are discussed and practiced as "secondary picketing" already. If a single staff can't create enough pressure, then other workers from outside have to build effective pickets to put capital under pressure. The blockade on January 14 was such an attempt of "secondary picketing" and this should be an example. The strike at Gate Gourmet shows how the single capitalist LTU airport company, and Gate Gourmet work together and stand together to break the resistance of the workers. It's time for the working class to stand together again.

In case of the temp agency Goldberg and Avci from Duisburg, which had sent the vast majority of the scabs, it was put under pressure from outside (the last time at a demo at Friday 13th, in front of the company, following a call up of WASG ("new" left party) and ver.di (union) locals). So Avci gave in and removed his extra temp workers from Gate Gourmet. Disgusted, he told his critics, "the big deal would now be done by others", it is the temp agency GMA from Düsseldorf.3 We will see if they are going to be happy with this job.

Footnotes
1 More information (in German) can be found at:
http://germany.indymedia.org/2006/01/136508.shtm, http://germany.indymedia.org/2006/01/136552.shtml, http://www.fau.org/artikel/art_060115-195028
2 Texas Pacific got known here through it procedure at the bath-armature producer Grohe. Recently a documentary was broadcast by ARD: "Und du bist raus. Wie Investoren die Traditionsfirma Grohe auspressen"(And you are out. How investors squeeze the traditional company Grohe). It shows the procedure of TPG. In German: http://www.wdr. de/tv/dokumentation/unddubistraus.html. See for more background information in German about the general strategy the articles by Werner Rügemer in Junge Welt: http://www.jungewelt.de/2005/02-22/005.php, http://www. jungewelt.de/2005/02-23/003.php
3 GMA Unternehmensgruppe, Hansaallee 321 / Halle 20, 40549 Düsseldorf, Tel. 0211-73094-0

This text was first published in German on Indymedia. [January 16, 2006, http://de.indymedia. org/2006/01/136589.shtml]. For more information see the article on Gate Gourmet and the workers's struggle in the last issue of this newsletter, ppnews #4 [http://www.prol-position.net/nl/2005/04/gourmet].
From prol-position news #5 | 2/2006