the shittiness of things

Category: Germany

Amazon Workers Strike In Germany

Finally some news from my country of which I’m not ashamed for a change:

>>At the end of November, hundreds of Amazon employees in Germany began staging a series of wildcat strikes. On Monday, hundreds of workers again walked off the job in an effort to put pressure on the company during the busy days before Christmas. The Ver.di union says Amazon workers receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs. According to the the union, “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts.”

These complaints will sound familiar to American Amazon employees, who testify about constant performance pressure, on-site injuries, indifferent managers, long hours and low pay.

Back in February, Amazon.com was under attack in Germany for alleged mistreatment of workers following a television documentary that showed immigrant employees living in cramped housing under surveillance by security guards in neo-Nazi garb. Workers were promised €9.69, but upon showing up for work, learned they would only be compensated €8.52 ($11.37) per hour.

Amazon later said it canceled the contract with that security company whose guards were accused of harassing workers, searching their rooms and frisking them to make sure they had not taken food from the dining room, Businessweek reports.

German workers now plan to stage a one-day warning strike at Amazon logistic centers in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld and Graben, and on Monday some of the strikers plan to rally outside the retailer’s Seattle headquarters in hopes of drawing in local union workers as well as sympathetic members of the public, the New York Times reports. […]
Amazon sales in Germany are skyrocketing. Last year, they rose by 21 percent, and the country is the firm’s second biggest market after the US, responsible for about a third of all overseas sales, the BBC reports. And while this is certainly a labor dispute over the familiar terrain of living wages, the Times notes there is also a bigger question of whether the warehouse workers should have control over their workplace. (Employees known as “pickers” assemble Amazon orders. These jobs are extremely physically demanding, and pickers are constantly monitored, and are not provided job security).<<

It’s also nice to see that local unions in America are openly supporting their German colleagues’s fight:

>>”What’s happening in Seattle is not a strike but an act of solidarity with workers in Germany,” Ms. Middeke said. A number of U.S. unions took part in the protest, including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, two of the largest U.S. unions. […]

In Seattle, a representative for the union federation AFL-CIO said about 50 people participated in the protest there. “About 10 different labor unions were present in solidarity with Ver.di,” Kathy Cummings of the Washington state AFL-CIO said.<<

But most gratifying for me was to read that in Leipzig at least some unviersity students showed up to express their solidarity (in order to understand why this is for me such pleasent surprise, I should add that German students these days are not only quite apolitical but also show usually only indifference for the labor struggle of low-wage workers, including the cleaning personnel in their own universities):

>>On Wednesday a delegation of Amazon employees, who are striking since Monday, vistited the students at the campus of the University of Leipzig. In the morning a delegation of 250 strikers arrived at the university and was greeted by signs and banners. One activist of the protest campaign welcomed the colleagues with a defiant belllicose speech, in which she emphasised that the students would identitify themselves with the labor struggle of the employees, because they were hit by precarious working and living conditions as well. […] “More and more people are living and working in this rich Germany under precarious conditions and can hardly survive on their wages. Amazon as global corporation stands symptomatically for this very business model – increasing profits at the expense of the wages.”<<

The Hypocrisy Of Germany’s Indignation Over Foreign Indebtedness

Just yesterday I’ve come across a text passage worth reading in an op-ed by Tomas Konicz in the current issue of the Konkret magazine, which perfectly manages to briefly and succinctly convey the hypocrisy of the German indignation over the indebtedness of other European countries:

>>Berlin’s struggle for the welfare of the German auto industry does also result from its strategic position. The construction of vehicles forms actually the backbone of the aggressive German economic strategy, which is aiming at the creation of an export surplus as big as possible, after all. This successfully practised neo-mercantilism by Berlin has reached extreme dimensions by now: Last year the Federal Republic of Germany would have been hit by a recession, if it hadn’t been for the positive cyclical effects of the current German account surplus (and the consequent foreign indebtedness). To put it plainly, that does mean that Germany’s economy is living on credit as well, only that the necessary dynamics of indebtedness are being exported abroad by the trade surplus – this, by the way, makes the here in this country highly cherished indignation over the exorbitant indebtedness of foreign states entirely absurd. The auto industry plays a key role at this: In 2012 the vehicle manufacturers generated 17,3 percent of the German exports, but in the same time they’re responsible for roughly two-thirds of the German trade surplus. [By  preventing more strict EU directives for the CO₂ emission of cars,] chancellor Merkel is, therefore, defending the foundations of the aggressive mercantilist “business model”, on which the Deutschland AG is based.<<

Oury Jalloh Was Murdered By German Police

Imagine following in the US: A black person, who has been arrested by the police for bothering some charwoman and refusing to show his identity papers, burns to death in his police cell. Despite the facts that he was tied to his mattress with hand- and  footcuffs, that he was highly alcoholized, that the police failed to discover any lighter while strip-searching him and that the mattress had an anti-inflammable coating, the police claims that this person somehow managed to smuggle a lighter into the cell, damage the anti-inflammatory coating and set the mattress on fire by himself. Imagine further that the lighter in question wasn’t mentioned in the first evdience list presented by the police and didn’t show up before three days after the fire, that a broken nose bone and a ruptured eardrum where only discovered in an independent second autopsy, which have somehow been overlooked in the official autopsy, that the officer in charge at that time has admitted to have ignored the sounds coming from intercom and fire alarm (because he was busy with a phone call) and that under the supervision of the very same officer an arrested homeless person had died of a head wound (which has been somehow overlooked by the doctor, who had to check him before he went to his cell) in his police cell just three years ago.

I think it is quite safe to assume that such a scenario would cause quite an uproar and start a nationwide discussion about racism and police brutality. Remembering the George Zimmerman Trial this year should give us a good idea of the presumable reaction by the American public. And as a German I’m even more sure that the public here would once again point their finger at American racism and see this as another confirmation of our moral high ground. Problem is, that this all actually happened in 2005, and not in the USA but in Dessau, Germany.* The victim, which had died in the flames while tied to his mattress, was Oury Jalloh, an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone. And instead of an uproar, which we could expect if something like that would have happened on the other side of the Atlantic, there was only disinterest and indifference shown by the German media and public (except some leftist activists and papers). As unbelievable as it might seem, the version of the police had generally been accepted by public, media and, last but not least, the judiciary (including the prosecution) and has not been questioned until recently. From the begin of the first trial on the prosecution had even refused to just consider the possibility that the death of Jalloh hadn’t been a suicide, let alone to investigate in this direction. Therefore, the responsible officer, who was in charge at the time of Jalloh’s death, was only found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and was fined 10,800 euros after the second trial in 2012 (he was found innocent of any offense in the first one).

Because of this the Initiative In Memory Of Oury Jalloh (which was founded by friends of Jalloh and leftist activists in order to reveal the truth about his death) had decided to engage the services of an independent arson investigator. The report, which costed 30.000 euros and was completely funded by donations, has finally been published (the report is in English, but I should warn you that some of the photos included in the report are quite gruesome) and its conclusions have been presented in a press conference last Tuesday, November 12th. And the findings are quite interesting:

>>Compiled by an arson investigator from Ireland, the document shows that the kind of burns found inside the cell could only have been caused by the use of additional fire accelerants.<<

The report itself says that the test using 2 litre of petrol was “most corresponding visually to the case of Oury Jalloh” (p. 17) and other tests without using any fire accelerants didn’t reproduce the burns found in Jalloh’s cell. It is also mentions that while dangerous concentrations of toxic gases did occur in the test without accelerants, there was “no high level of HCN (cyanic acid) in burning products”, but that “traces of cyanides” were found in the body of Oury Jalloh during the autopsy. (p.17) This is another indication for the use of fire accelerants, because traces of cyanides can usually be found when petrol or charcoal lighters have been used to accelerate the fire (sorry, but I could only find a German article including this detail). Making the version of the police even more unlikely than it already was, this report caused quite a stir here in Germany and as a consequence it is likely that the authorities will launch a fresh investigation, which will finally consider the possibility of a murder. Dessau public prosecutor Folker Bittmann even spoke of “very serious, surprising and in part horrifying information” (see link above), while still dismissing the fact that the prosecution had tried very hard until now to ignore any indication that Oury Jalloh has been murdered.

Even before this report it should have been obvious for any unbiased observer that Jalloh’s death being a murder was a much more likely scenario than the version of  a suicide under almost impossible conditions. The reason why the public as well as prosecution had ignored the blatant absurdity of the suicide story with all its contradictions and improbabilities was the fact, that if you acknowledge the death of Oury Jalloh has been most likely a murder, you would also have to acknowledge that only one of the police officers present at the night of his death could possibly be the murderer. Obviously a too uncomfortable truth for the average German and German authorities. For me personally, it is clear from the facts that Oury Jalloh has been brutally murdered by German police. This report did only remove the last doubts I had. The way how the German public, media and our judiciary had dealt with this case was not only shameful but also revealed one more time the blatant racism in Germany, wich, in my opinion, is much worse than in America. Even if most Germans will probably even after last Tuesday be still in denial about this.

It is a good thing though that the murder of Oury Jalloh and the scandal about the Nazi terrorist group NSU seem to draw more international attention and criticism towards German racism as the comment by Iyiola Solanke, a professor at Leeds Law School, who focuses on racial integration, quoted by the Guardian, shows:

>>Taken together, the cover-up of the NSU scandal and the superficial investigation into the death of Oury Jalloh raise questions about the conduct of German police towards black and minority ethnic victims of crime. The parallels are worrying and it would be hasty to brush them aside as mere coincidence.<<

Because the only time when Germans start to see racism as an actual problem, is when it is threatining to damage their reputation abroad.

The Initiative In Memory Of Oury Jalloh has also uploaded a video summarizing the most important conclusions of the report in plain terms, which is also available in English.

*I couldn’t find any English sources mentioning the second autopsy and the mysterious death of a homeless person under the supervision of the same officer as in the case of Oury Jalloh. If you still want to know some of my German sources for these details of the case, you can find them here and here.