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Successful organizing in Romania

24 July, 2020In an industrial complex in Cugir, Romania, that used to house weapons factories, German auto giant Daimler is operating a transmission plant called Star Transmission. A large majority of the workers wanted to join a union, while local management tried to prevent it. 

IndustriALL Global Union's auto director Georg Leutert reflects on a difficult but successful organizing drive, and what elements are needed for successful transnational cooperation. 

In October 2019, Leutert, together with a colleague from the Daimler World Works Council and a manager from Daimler, travelled to Cugir to meet the local union.

At the plant we meet our colleague Calin Giurgiu, who has been maintaining the demand for a union with his colleagues for months. And in front of the factory we meet a man in a hooded sweatshirt with a huge wolf on it, Árpád Suba, general secretary of IndustriALL-BNS, our affiliated union in Romania. But he is not allowed in, as management does not want to talk to him. A complicated and questionable procedure ensues; we talk inside and then go to the gate to talk to Suba again and again, to inform and advise each other. 

According to Romanian labour law, employees can only register with a representative trade union if the company states the total number of employees in an official letter. This is because a union is only eligible for collective bargaining if it has organized more than 50 per cent of all employees.

At the end of the day, the company agrees to deliver the critical letter We travel back and hope that a decisive breakthrough has been achieved.

And indeed, the union registration process is quickly completed. But management continues to intimidate employees and the start of the collective bargaining is constantly delayed. 

With the arrival of Covid-19, plans for a planned workshop with the Romanian union and part of the management, has to be postponed. 

Now, more than eight months after our visit, good news arrive from Romania: the trade union has an office at the plant and on collective bargaining began on 22 June. 

Transnational cooperation can be effective, and there are four key ingredients: 

  1. A strong trade union on the ground with strong support from the workforce - IndustriALL-BNS 
  2. A trade union at company headquarters who takes global values and solidarity seriously and is able to initiate the appropriate monitoring processes - IG Metall and the World Employee Committee at Daimler 
  3. A company that takes trade union rights and social values seriously and is willing to thoroughly investigate reported violations - Daimler 
  4. A global trade union that knows the world, can mediate and knows how to enforce international standards - IndustriALL Global Union 

In Cugir all the elements were in place and we will do everything we can to keep it that way. The current bargaining is only slowly proceeding which is a clear indicator that the achievements made so far are only a beginning.

Georg Leutert
Director, Automotive and Aerospace industries
tel. +41 22 308 5026