Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Frontline Hospital Workers in Berlin Go on Strike

On Monday, workers at Berlin’s Charité hospital began a five-day strike. Workers of the Charité Facility Management (CFM) are responsible for cleaning, sterilization, patient transport, food preparation, and all the nonmedical work at Europe’s biggest university hospital. They are demanding equal pay for equal work.

Nathaniel Flakin

July 7, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share

The Charité, founded in 1710, is the oldest hospital in Berlin. With over 15,000 employees, including over 4,000 doctors, it is also the largest university hospital in Europe. But not everyone who works at the Charité is counted as a hospital employee. Two thousand five hundred nonmedical workers are needed to keep the three campuses running: they are responsible for cleaning, sterilization, patient transport, food preparation, and everything else.

These nonmedical workers are part of the front line of struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. Without hospital janitors, for example, it would be impossible for doctors and nurses to treat patients safely. They have gotten much praise from politicians, but little actual compensation for risking their lives. So far, the German government has only paid hospital workers a one-time bonus of €500.

And nonmedical workers at the Charité are employed by a wholly-owned subsidiary of the hospital: the Charité Facility Management or CFM. On Monday, almost 400 CFM workers began a five-day strike. They want to be paid according to the same collective agreement that all other Charité workers have.

Doctors and nurses at the Charité are paid according to the Collective Agreement for the Public Sector (TVöD in German). The CFM was outsourced in 2006, as a Public Private Partnership between the Berlin government and multiple corporations, in order to cut the wages of nonmedical workers.

Work at the CFM is characterized by low wages — often at or just above minimum wage — and a lack of job security. The first strike at the CFM, lasting 13 weeks, took place in 2011. The bureaucratic leadership of the public sector union ver.di declared a victory in that strike — but they did not actually win a contract.

In the last nine years, numerous other strikes have taken place. Unfortunately, ver.di leaders have applied the brakes before these strikes could be effective. Crucially, they have steadfastly refused to have nonmedical and medical workers at the Charité strike together, just like they have refused to organize joint strikes of the outsourced workers at all Berlin hospitals. This is because these union leaders are closely linked to Berlin’s governing parties.

The last strike at the CFM took place in March, as the coronavirus pandemic was just reaching Germany. Here again, the ver.di leadership cancelled the strike without even consulting the strikers themselves. The leaders promised that the Berlin government would grant concessions through negotiations. But after months of virtual meetings, Berlin’s Health Senator has not offered a single concession. Since the CFM belongs to the Charité and the Charité belongs to the Berlin government, this is entirely the responsibility of Berlin’s Senate.

Why can’t the Charité simply offer union wages to everyone? The wage increases would cost several million euros per year — peanuts in comparison to the hospitals €2 billion annual budget. But the model of outsourcing and precarious labor is central to Germany’s economic model, both in the public and private sectors. Berlin’s public sector, for example, has over 100 of these low-wage subsidiary companies. This is particularly scandalous since Berlin’s government is composed of the social democratic SPD, the Green Party, and the Left Party — all three of which have promised to end this kind of outsourcing for years, but have refused to actually do anything.

This strike is not just about the CFM workers. It is a struggle for low-wage workers across Germany. The CFM workers have shown an astonishing determination over the years, and they deserve the support of workers internationally. If you send messages of support to Left Voice or our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse, we will make sure they reach the strikers. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French. He is on the autism spectrum.



Tracking, Deportations, Internment: European Countries Go on the Hunt for Migrants

On May 10, German chancellor Olaf Scholz strengthened Germany’s anti-migrant policy. This means more deportations, border patrol reinforcements, and economic agreements with sending countries. The new policy is being deployed throughout Europe.

Leo Stella

May 25, 2023
People in Berlin demonstrating on the 75th anniversary of the Nakhba.

Berlin Police Attack Jews and Palestinians Commemorating the Nakba

On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, the Berlin police banned all Palestinian demonstrations, and broke up a demonstration of Jewish Berliners in solidarity with Palestinians.

Nathaniel Flakin

May 22, 2023

In France, There is No Return to Normal for Macron

Anger of the French people at Macron's pension reform is far from extinguished, despite moves by the Inter-Union bureaucracy which weakened the movement.

Juan Chingo

May 20, 2023

The French Union Bureaucracy Tries to Bury the Movement Against the Pension Reform by Resuming “Social Dialogue”

After historic May 1st protests, the Inter-Union announced the following day that the next mobilization will take place on Tuesday, June 6. This distant date appears only to be conceived of as a way to pressure the National Assembly, which continues its strategy of defeat and prepares to bury the movement.

Nathan Erderof

May 12, 2023


A Neurodivergent Case for Abolitionism

An autistic member of Denver Communists explains why neurodivergent liberation is bound up with the fight to abolish the police and build a socialist system.

Robin Forrester

June 6, 2023
Five young people stand in front of a car in a dessert in a scene from the movie "How to Blow Up a Pipeline."

A New Film Shows How to Blow Up a Pipeline — But Would That Save The Planet?

The new film based on Andreas Malm’s book offers lots of fun action — but very individualistic politics.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 6, 2023
Florida governor Ron DeSantis announcing his bid for the 2024 presidency in front of a big US flag.

Ron DeSantis Is a Reactionary Monster, but the Working Class Can Defeat Him

Far-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis launched his presidential bid for 2024 last month, reflecting some Republicans’ desire to move beyond Trump. The working class can defeat him.

Molly Rosenzweig

June 6, 2023
Image by the Economist, Satoshi Kimbayashi

The Debt Ceiling Agreement is an Attack on the Working Class and on the Planet

Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy’s deal to raise the debt ceiling is a handout to the military industrial complex and an attack on the working class and the planet. Rather than just raising the debt ceiling, a relatively standard practice that allows the U.S. to pay the bills for spending that already happened, this debt ceiling deal caps discretionary spending on everything but “defense” and fast-tracks the Mountain Valley Pipeline.