Independent Media Centre Ireland

Defend the right to form a Trade Union!

category international | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Sunday June 29, 2008 18:30author by Jack White - WSMauthor email wsm_ireland at yahoo dot com

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Solidarity can beat the Bosses!

This Friday, the 4th of July marks the start of a week of actions against Lionbridge, a multinational translation and software development company in support of the right of workers to organise in trade unions.

Groups of workers from Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Spain, America and elsewhere will hold pickets outside the offices of Lionbridge to mark the start of a case taken against the company in Poland by Jakub G.

Jakub has been working for the company for almost 8 years and received several promotions before becoming active as a trade-union organizer. Shortly after a union was formed in Warsaw he was fired by Lionbridge. To get around the Polish law which prohibits the sacking of union representatives without good cause, the bosses said that Jakob had leaked confidential company information to an internet website.

The allegation was a lie and the information referred to is long in the public domain. It was certainly not confidential, in fact even the Irish Independent has written about it.

We interviewed Jakub to find out why he was involved in starting a union in Lionbridge, why he was fired and what is happening now.

What led to your decision to form a union in Lionbridge?

Trade unions are an essential tool that empowers workers to stand up for their rights and forge links with other fellow workers. The current political climate in Poland is extremely hostile to trade-unions and bosses are doing what they can to portray workers organizations as an "obstacle to progress". Unfortunately, many workers seem to believe the ideology of the ruling class. Many people in other countries remember the "Solidarity" movement and believe that unions are a strong and respected part of Polish society. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Today, unionized workers represent only a small fraction of the workforce and union rights are constantly curtailed by new neoliberal legislation.

The office workers sector in particular is very weakly unionised - that's why organizing workers in a company like Lionbridge is so important. The policies of cost-cutting and related cuts in bonuses and frozen wage rises are strongly felt, as global corporations try to maximize profits, thus accelerating the global economic downturn. In this context, workers are always last to receive proper compensation for their work. The situation of external temporary contractors is even worse.

A union is simply indispensable to stop the relentless erosion of working conditions.

Lionbridge - attempting to smash Unions!

How did the company find out about it?

We made no secret of it - the existence of the union was announced publicly as soon as it was registered. We did not disclose the full membership of the union, which at first was over 15% of the 300 people employed in the Warsaw office.

The company made attempts to find out the full list of membership - which legally it is only allowed to do in case mass layoffs are planned. We knew there were no legal grounds for this request and we kept the membership secret, with the exception of elected trade-union representatives which are protected by the Labour Code. We expected problems, but we hoped the company would respect the Labor Code.

How did they react?

The first reactions were fairly typical. It started with comments about how "trade-unions are a threat to the competitiveness of a company", how "the US based headquarters of the company would decide to move production to non-unionised countries like China and India" and how "the Polish subsidiary would lose jobs because the trade-union was formed". The bosses made it sound like the trade-union is the worst thing that could happen to workers. That's not surprising to hear this type of statements from capitalists who benefit from other people's low wages - but it's sad to hear workers pick up this sort of thinking.

What did the company claim the reason for firing you was?

Of course they didn't say that I'm being fired because I am a trade-union organizer. The Polish Labour Code tries to protect elected union officials from being dismissed. They had to find other reasons. What they did, is actually common practice in Poland nowadays. They used the pretext that was used in dozens of other cases of dismissed union-members in Poland - the alleged disclosing of secret company information. Irish readers might not realize, but workers in Poland are not expected to speak about their salaries or working conditions with other workers or - god forbid - the press. This type of information is considered as an asset of the company that safeguards its competitiveness. Needless to say that workers bargaining power is hampered by this type of secrecy. And this is exactly what the bosses want. Coming back to the pretext used against me - I was accused of publishing an article that allegedly disclosed "secrets" and at the same time "untrue" information (how some piece of information can be at the same time "secret", presumably stolen and "untrue", presumably fabricated is beyond me). It was also argued that the article could damage the share price of the company, and nothing short of causing panic on the Wall Street. The fact that the company's shares kept falling steadily since the new Lionbridge management took control, after the acquisition of Bowne Global Solutions, did not matter. The low performance of the stock could not have been the effect of, say, the mismanagement of the company, could it? The fact that another person admitted having written the article did not matter either. It didn't even matter that the information contained in the article in question has been published months before by the mainstream press, including The Independent in Ireland, the Polish newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza" and many other publications, including the Lionbridge website itself!.

What was the reaction of your collegues?

Management got what they wanted, at least for a while - my colleagues understood that unions are a scary business and preferred to step back and wait to see what will happen next. Even symbolic solidarity gestures, such as sending a protest letter to the management were harshly criticised as being "disloyal" and workers got a clear signal that any action on their part would mean them getting in trouble. At the same time, the management also offered them bonuses that seemed impossible to obtain just a few months before. All this combined ensured that the managers slowed down the development of a real workers representation in the workplace.

What is happening with your case now?

The first court hearing will take place on July 4th. This is the day a picket will be organized in front of different Lionbridge offices, including Dublin. The legal case I have filed against Lionbridge is fairly strong - in essence public information available on the internet for everyone to read cannot be treated as a secret. The company's lawyers must be aware of that if they are worth the money Lionbridge is paying them. It is usual that the Polish Labour Courts re-instate trade-union members dismissed from their workplaces.

However, it does not mean that the case will be over soon, as the company has a lot of money to spend on expensive lawyers and appeals.

Can you tell us about the demonstrations being organised in other countries?

Yes, demonstrations are planned in Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Denmark, Germany and the USA. We are trying to work with different networks and organizations concerned about workers rights and social justice, such as the International Workers' Association, Workers Solidarity Movement, Industrial Workers of the World and others...

What do you hope they will achieve?

It is quite probable that Lionbridge will be forced to undo their illegal dismissal and forced to show more consideration for basic workers rights in the future. I also hope that more self-organization amongst workers in Lionbridge will emerge as a result of the publicity around this case. This would be an unexpected outcome for the corporate managers who maybe hoped to crush the union movement once and for all.

There will be a picket placed on the office of Lionbridge in Dun Laoghaire on Friday the 4th of June from 1 to 2.
If you can make it along your support would be appreciated. The office is located at:
3 West Pier Business Campus
Dun Laoghaire

If you cannot make it out please consider contacting Lionbridge to let them know that you support Jakub and the right of workers to organise in Trade Unions:

Tel: 01 202 1200

Send a copy of the e-mail to the union:

Related Link:

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