Most of the members of the IBEW are socialists

When a decision is made at Siemens headquarters, a manager picks up the phone or sends an email and the implementation begins - perhaps not always without friction, but worldwide. Uniform structures and information channels as well as standardized processes ensure that the centrally determined direction of a service or sales office in Budapest does not deviate significantly from that of a branch in Germany, and an Osram plant in the USA is subject to the same conditions as one in Germany .

The organization of employee representation is completely different: different framework conditions - whether political, legal, social or historical - make cross-border cooperation mostly a game of patience with an uncertain outcome. Effectiveness suffers as a result; the employer is the winner.

In order to lay the foundation for a global network of works councils and unions at Siemens and to put an end to the imbalance in the long term, the Siemens team at IG Metall held a meeting of international employee representatives from the Siemens group at the end of January. The conclusion of a British participant after two days: "If this continues to develop here, Siemens management will have cause for concern."

In addition to Germany, delegations from Italy, England, Austria, the Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark and the USA were represented, as well as a representative of the International Metalworkers' Union from Geneva. Even a brief outline of the respective situation in the individual countries shows how great the differences are. Both Wolfgang Müller, head of the Siemens team, and the chairman of the Siemens European works council (SEC, Siemens European Committee) Werner Mönius explained how limited the existing basis for coordinated measures across national and departmental borders is. An additional obstacle is the factual competition in efforts to keep or relocate businesses, especially in the case of relocations to Eastern European (EU) countries.

In Siemens ’home country Germany, as the chairman of the general works council Ralf Heckmann explained, there are a number of possible problems in the room: As part of shared services, more and more central accounting functions are being relocated to Prague and Asia; at COM, far-reaching technical developments will increasingly require less work content and service; In traffic engineering, not only technical problems but also (as everywhere) the concept of “global competitiveness” lead to pressure on employees; Like all suppliers to the automotive industry, Siemens-VDO is under severe price pressure. In the event of conflicts of interest and disputes between the employer and employee side, Siemens adheres strictly to the laws and regulations - but usually does not go a millimeter further.

In Great Britain there is practically no coordination of the Siemens locations at trade union level; a network has to be established on a case-by-case basis by the supervisors concerned. There are several trade unions responsible for this, but no works councils; the degree of organization is still high, usually well over 50 percent. Siemens is not obliged to provide information; the management only provides information on request.

In Italy there is a concentration of companies belonging to Siemens with around 10,000 employees. Labor relations are not very good, and management is keen to pull workers' councils and unions apart. The degree of organization is around 13 percent, partly because Siemens has a high number of employees in Italy. There are statutory representative bodies in all plants, and there is also a coordination body for the various unions.

Due to the socialist past, trade unions and works councils in the Czech Republic find it difficult to convince workers of the need to act together, explained Jiri Hanak. Few are willing to stand up for their rights, instead one is often happy to even have a job at a company like Siemens - solidarity, coordinated action with foreign unions, for example on issues of relocation, is therefore hardly conceivable, especially here too the management already threatened with relocation to Ukraine, for example. The average wage is 600 to 700 euros.

In Scandinavia, the overall economic situation at Siemens is satisfactory; Norway, for example, had the best year in the company's history. The Scandinavian management has largely changed and now seems to be more oriented towards the goals of the Siemens Management System than before, so that the dialogue has to be rebuilt in part. The unions and the Siemens divisions are relatively well networked, a degree of organization of 100 percent for commercial workers and around 95 percent for salaried employees does the rest to facilitate contact with politicians. Nonetheless, the unions are keen to further improve their network.

The Austrian subsidiary is economically stable and business development is positive. The atmosphere between employee representatives and the board of directors is good, even though personnel expenses, measured against sales, have fallen by 4.6 percent. The level of organization at the two responsible unions is 100 (GMT, Metall Textil, Arbeiter) or between 40 and 75 percent (GPA, Private Employees Union). Both unions have worked well together for years.

The situation in the USA differs significantly from that in European countries. Since taking office, the Bush administration has exerted direct and indirect pressure on workers and their representatives and promotes the interests of companies. There are hardly any historically grown structures, and the union landscape is extremely inhomogeneous. A large number of organizations work side by side with major regional and local differences, at Siemens for example the Communication Workers of America (CWA),, which have organized several Siemens locations; other companies remain blank spots on the union map. The situation is similar with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which is involved, among other things, with the Siemens subsidiary Osram. Strong resistance comes from management; A representative of the union showed the seminar participants a video that was shot on the advice of the specially commissioned so-called "Union Busters" in order to demonize any trade union organization against the employees - at a level that strongly reminds European viewers of involuntary satire.

Information as the first step

The participants agreed that despite all the difficulties, every effort must be made to better coordinate the employee side of the global player Siemens. As the reports of the individual representatives showed, cross-border information and communication is the first step to catch up with a significant advantage of management: only with the same level of knowledge and an interface to employees of the other country can one have promising discussions and negotiations on multinational issues with management enter.

As the SEC chairman Mönius summarized, the seminar was a “good start”; The task now is to improve the flow of information via the Siemens Dialog platform, among other things, and to organize another meeting for the next one before the momentum that has now arisen slows down again.