(English translation below)

Update: Chronologie zum Konflikt im Kino Babylon (in Stichpunkten)

Das Berliner Kino „Babylon Mitte“ kann auf eine 80-jährige Tradition zurückblicken. Auch in einer an Kultur so reichen Stadt wie Berlin kann sich das halbkommunale Programmkino im aufwendig restaurierten sowie denkmalgeschützten Spielort sehr gut behaupten. Leider hat sich dieser Erfolg bisher nicht auf die Arbeitsbedingungen übertragen. Angesichts ausbleibender Verbesserungen haben wir, die Angestellten des Kinos, die Dinge nun in die eigenen Hände genommen.

Wir haben genug von der schlechten Bezahlung (5,50-8 Euro pro Stunde), befristeten Arbeitsverträgen, Kündigungen unmittelbar vor Ablauf der sechsmonatigen Probezeit, genug davon, dass man es kaum wagen kann, nach Lohnfortzahlung im Krankheitsfall oder bezahltem Urlaub zu fragen, dass es weder Nacht- noch Feiertagszuschläge gibt, kurzum: genug davon unter vollkommen prekären Bedingungen zu arbeiten.

Diese Arbeitsbedingungen überraschen besonders in einem Kino, das für sein politisches und gesellschaftskritisches Programm bekannt ist, und das jährlich mit mehreren hunderttausend Euro vom Senat unterstützt wird.

Um die Situation zu verbessern, haben einige MitarbeiterInnen beschlossen, sich in einer Gewerkschaft zu organisieren und traten der Freien Arbeiterinnen und Arbeiter Union (FAU) bei. Wir entschieden uns für die FAU, da wir uns dort am ehesten selbst einbringen können und weil sich die Gewerkschaft schon früher für einen unserer Kollegen engagiert hat. Nach einem turbulenten Start und der versuchten Kündigung mehrerer Gewerkschafter legte die FAU am 6. Juni 2009 einen Entwurf für einen Haustarifvertrag vor. Die Geschäftsleitung erklärte daraufhin, sie erkenne die FAU nicht als Verhandlungspartner an.

Die Geschäftsleitung gab an, nicht mit der FAU zu verhandeln, weil diese vom Verfassungsschutz beobachtet werde, da sie unter anderem die G8-Proteste und den Arbeitskampf in einer Fahrradfabrik unterstützt hatte. Dass „Die Linke“, die das Babylon mit Senatsgelder unterstützt, ebenfalls vom Verfassungsschutz beobachtet wird, stört die Geschäftsleiter dabei nicht. Ebenso war es für die Geschäftsleitung bisher kein Problem, mit der DKP oder der Berliner Antifa zusammenzuarbeiten, welche ebenfalls unter Beobachtung des Verfassungsschutzes stehen.

Die Geschäftsleitung gab gegenüber ihren Beschäftigten an, für weitere Auskünfte stets bereit zu sein. In die wirtschaftliche Situation des Kinos wurde bisher jedoch kein Einblick gewährt, wie vom Betriebsverfassungsgesetz jährlich vorgesehen wäre. Vielleicht weil die kostspieligen Rechtsverfahren gegen die eigenen Angestellten große Löcher ins Budget geschlagen haben?

Am 16. Juni 2009 erklärte die FAU, dass sie von jetzt an in einen unbefristeten Arbeitskampf treten werde, um die Geschäftsleitung an den Verhandlungstisch zu bewegen. Inzwischen ist etwa ein Viertel der Beschäftigten in der FAU organisiert, ein Großteil der Beschäftigten unterstützt die Aktivitäten der FAU, die täglich die BesucherInnen des Kinos vor Ort informiert und mehrmals Kundgebungen vor dem Kino veranstaltete. Doch weder dies noch die Berichterstattung über die Verhältnisse im Babylon haben bislang die Geschäftsleitung zu Verhandlungen bewegt. Doch die Angestellten und die FAU werden nicht klein beigeben bis ihre Forderungen nach würdigen Löhnen und abgesicherten Arbeitsbedingungen erfüllt sind.

Zusätzlich gibt der 8-minütige Kurzfilm des Freundeskreises Videoclips einen guten Einblick in die prekären Arbeitsbedingungen im Kino Babylon.

Introduction

The Babylon cinema located in Berlin’s Mitte district can look back at over 80 years of cinematic tradition. Its location in a historically preserved building and its art-house program give it the best chances for success in a sophisticated city like Berlin. Unfortunately this hasn‘t translated into good working conditions. With little outlook for improvement, the employees have recently taken matters into their own hands.

They were sick of meager pay (5.50–8 euros/hour), short-term work contracts, constant dismissals shortly before the end of the employment probation period, not having the nerve to ask for paid vacations and sick pay, no night and weekend premium, in short: working under completely precarious conditions. Even the cinema’s own theater manager admitted that the wages are only a bit over welfare levels in Germany.

These working conditions are especially surprising for a cinema which is known for showing political and social films and which also receives hundreds of thousands of euros in grants each years from the Senate of Berlin.

In order to bring about improvements, some of the workers decided to organize in a union. They joined the Freie ArbeiterInnen-Union (Free Workers‘ Union; FAU) in January 2009. They chose the FAU because it’s a union where their voice is heard, that acts with its member’s interests in mind and which had already helped one of their colleagues.

After a turbulent start and the layoff of a member, FAU Berlin presented the Neuen Babylon Berlin GmbH with a labor contract proposal on June 6. The cinema’s bosses let the June 14 deadline to contact the FAU to begin bargaining slide, and they‘re now refusing to recognize the FAU as a negotiating partner.

The bosses explained that they would not negotiate with the FAU because it is being observed by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), a domestic intelligence agency. The reasons why the Verfassungsschutz deems the FAU anti-constitutional include: its support for protests against the G8 and its organization along anarcho-syndicalistic lines. The fact that the Linke, one of the governing parties of the Senate of Berlin, is also being observed by the Verfassungsschutz doesn‘t bother the bosses when they accept their government funding every year. Nor does it bother them when organizations such as the German Communist Party and Berlin’s anti-fascists, also observed by the Verfassungsschutz, use the Babylon for events.

The bosses also pleaded with the employees not to do anything that would be bad for business. However, they weren‘t willing to share any information about business matter as is required by the German Works Constitution Act. Perhaps because the price tag on the recent, often unsuccessful litigation against their own employees has eaten away at the budget.

On the June 16th, the FAU Berlin announced that it was entering an indefinite labor dispute to force the bosses into negotiating. One of the main forms of job action was the distribution of flyers in front of the cinema to alert visitors to the labor dispute. Throughout the summer FAU members showed their presence rain or shine, but not only in front of the Babylon. Another company run by Babylon’s bosses, Kino und Konzerte GmbH (K&K) had the lucrative contract to run an open-air cinema and a outdoor radio play theater in Berlin. Much to the bosses‘ chagrin, FAU members also handed out flyers at those two locations to inform visitors about the connection between K&K and Babylon as well as the labor dispute.
On the 25th of June a second demonstration was held in front of the cinema, where the labor dispute’s mascot „Baby-Lohn“ made its premiere, a Berliner teddy bear who earns baby wages (lohn means wage in German) and brings attention to the fact that a lot of the jobs in Berlin, particularly those in the cultural industry, offer minuscule wages.
In July, with the bosses not showing any sign of coming to the negotiation table, the FAU upped the ante by calling for a boycott of the Babylon. The audience was invited to show their solidarity with the staff by avoiding the Babylon until the bosses agreed to negotiate. Internet banners, posters, flyers, blogs, buttons, T-shirt, stickers and a number of articles in the local newspapers, all brought attention to the boycott and labor dispute, so that it seemed like the bosses finally began to take notice. Well at least they seemed to tire down. One of the bosses earned himself the nickname the Margaret Thatcher of Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (the cinema’s address) for both his neo-conservative and choleric antics. He called police to have people wearing Baby-Lohn T-shirts removed from the cinema, has torn flyers out of the hands of his customers and has frequently been spotted late at night scratching Baby-Lohn stickers and posters off signposts.
Other organizations also joined the fray by organizing demonstration in front of the Babylon. FeLS (for a leftist current) twice showed films. Once to support the boycott by providing an alternative film program. The other time to protest against the Expo Columbia, which rented the Babylon as one of its venues. That the Expo Columbia – a forum to attract business to a country where hundreds of union members have been killed in recent years – was given a platform at the Babylon, once again proved that the cinema’s claim to be leftist was only symbolic. „Solidarity with Emmely“ is a group supporting the cashier Emmely who was sacked after being accused of pocketing bottle coupons worth 1.30€, whereby the real reason was probably that she was responsible for organizing a strike at her supermarket. They organized a demonstration at the Babylon – who’s boss hasn‘t shied away from trying to fire active unionists – to call attention to Emmely’s labor dispute as well as that of the Babylon staff.
The struggle took a new direction because of the activity of the Germany’s biggest union, ver.di, and the socialist party, the Linke. The Linke resulted from merger of the social-democrat secessionist WASG and the socialist PDS (which has its roots within the SED, GDR’s governing party). The FAU had already criticized them because of the grant the Babylon receives from Berlin, and because the party tolerates wages between 5 and 8 euros in a cinema that it could influence, while calling for a minimum wage of 10 euros.

Ver.di had been asked to do something about the situation in the cinema before by one of its members who works there, but union officials didn‘t react. Because of this, ver.di’s motivations aren‘t clear at all. Union secretary Andreas Köhn argued that he became active because of the member’s request two months earlier, while the Linke claimed to have convinced Köhn to make things happen at the cinema. In September ver.di dived head first into the conflict by announcing it was going to fight for a labor contract at the cinema. This announcement was done without consulting the FAU and in spite ver.di’s small presence at the cinema (only one member has been active in the struggle). After the announcement, some communication between the FAU secretary and Andreas Köhn took place, but the ver.di official didn‘t offer the FAU anything other than the vague promise to ask the cinema’s bosses if they would negotiate with both unions, which they would obviously refused.

Two days before the German federal elections, on September 25th, the Linke organized a night of cinema at the Babylon. The FAU couldn‘t resist the opportunity to protest against the cinema bosses‘ behavior on one hand and the party’s ignorance on the other. After announcing the protest and arriving at the cinema with signs, flags and flyers; the union members were surprised to find members of the Linke handing out flyers defaming the FAU. The cinema’s boss took this protest as a pretext for bringing the FAU to court, alleging that the FAU had no right to call for a boycott. Meanwhile, Andreas Köhn said that the first negotiation date between him and the cinema’s bosses would be at the end of October. The trial, which took place on October 7th, ended with the judge prohibiting the boycott.

Meanwhile, Köhn started his „negotiations“ with the Babylon bosses. The wages fixed in the contract he is proposing are much lower than the ones demanded by the FAU; nevertheless, some workers‘ wages would increase by around 30%. The bosses have put forward a counter-proposal which would result in wages below ver.di’s standard contract for cinemas because there would be no weekend or night premiums – one of the workers‘ key demands. Negotiations continue and the FAU is keeping a close eye on them, especially since Köhn’s intrusion in the conflict remains questionable in light of the fact that, amongst other things, he didn‘t establish a commission to prepare for negotiations, which is in violation of the constitution of his own union. The FAU is also putting political pressure on ver.di by calling on its member not to let the Babylon employees be undersold.

In the meantime, the FAU has a strong presence in the cinema and the majority support the FAU’s activities. Clearly, the employees and FAU aren‘t giving up yet, not until their demands for reasonable wages and job security have been met.

Additionally, a good introduction about the precarious working conditions at the Babylon cinema is the shortfilm by Freundeskreis Videoclips (8 min, in german with english subtitles).