Camaraderie and solidarity at Opel in Bochum. Bochum’s Opel workers with a transnational background share their recollections.
Transnational cooperation with the Polish-German colleagues from Gliwice: “Everybody is fighting for themselves.”
When the Opel site opened in Gliwice in 1998, contact gradually started to be made with the Opel workers at the Polish site as well.
“You sat there together for eight hours, there were professional interpreters then. When everybody got together, when we had eaten and drunk, I acted as an interpreter so that everyone could understand each other. I speak Polish.” (Andreas Gilner)
These cross-border contacts between the Opel workers from Bochum and Gliwice became all the more significant in the context of the strained competition between the facilities. In 2007, shop stewards, works councils and representatives of IG Metall from Bochum flew to Opel Gliwice for the first time for an informal exchange. Similarly, representatives from Gliwice were invited to Bochum. This exchange took place at the end of 2007 under the project name “Worker solidarity from below”. Many things were discussed, including experiences in developing the terms and conditions of employment at the various sites and differences in the areas of worker representation and remuneration systems. The aim of these meetings was to develop a mutual understanding of the different ways the Opel workers were affected at different facilities in Bochum and Gliwice in order to counter the competition with a concept of cross-site cooperation and solidarity.
Some of the Opel workers from Bochum who were interviewed also took part in this exchange and spoke of the very special type of hospitality that was offered by the Polish colleagues in Gliwice. The went to great lengths to look after the guests from Bochum who received a very warm welcome.
“I was really surprised at what the colleagues in Poland had produced. It was like a wedding celebration for 100 people. It was really astonishing.” (Lothar Degner)
They also spoke about how, during the exchange, there were discussions on how social standards in Bochum and in Gliwice were to be evaluated and how they could be compared with one another. It became clear how much worse the working terms and conditions were in Gliwice compared to Bochum:
“Here in Bochum, we have a lot of social standards. People with limitations don’t have to do any heavy work or bend down. But there’s nothing like that in Poland. If you got ill, you were thrown out. Even though in Bochum at the end, you had to work a lot and you had to work fast because many people had been let go, the social standards here were much better than those in Poland at the time.” (Andreas Gilner)
 Bauer, Markus: “Arbeitnehmersolidarität von unten” from 8 to 11 November 2007 in Gliwice. Project information. 2008.