• Berlin
  • Wladek Flakin: Technical difficulties at the Technikmuseum


Wladek Flakin: Technical difficulties at the Technikmuseum

Things have broken down at, of all places, Berlin's Technikmuseum. Workers there are demanding equal pay for equal work and it's disrupting the flow of business.

Image for Wladek Flakin: Technical difficulties at the Technikmuseum
Photo by Salim Bellachia

Just in time for the Olympics in Rio starting on August 5, Berlin’s Technikmuseum has launched the exhibition Technology for Hitler’s Olympics. The official opening was last Tuesday. As the press arrived, just before noon, they encountered a totally different story: The museum’s employees were out on the sidewalk with neon yellow vests over their black work clothes. They were holding banners and waving flags. In between speeches, they were dancing to songs by Michael Jackson.

Just an hour before, museum staff started asking visitors to leave the building immediately. Was this a joke? No. At least 800 people moved, grumbling, to the exits – after stopping at the ticket counter to get their €8 back. More than 40 workers then spent the next two hours on strike. Hundreds of disappointed visitors loitered outside.

Equal Pay for Equal Work! The strikers’ main demand sounds like something that should had been resolved in the 19th century. But this simple rule still doesn’t apply in 2016.

If you go to the Technikmuseum, you will see black-clad Besucherbetreuer – their job is to keep an eye on things and make sure you don’t break anything. Some of these workers are employed by the museum foundation, which belongs to the city of Berlin. They are paid according to the collective contract that applies to all public sector workers, so they make just over €13 an hour.

Others work for a subsidiary called T&M GmbH. They do the exact same job, but they make €9.62 per hour. And to “make the insanity perfect”, as Germans like to say, T&M is 100 percent owned by the museum itself. The director of the museum is named Dirk Böndel. And the general manager of the T&M? You guessed it: Dirk Böndel.

The outsourced workers want equal pay, and they’re not alone. More than a decade ago, many of Berlin’s public companies started outsourcing to new subsidiary companies: The Charité hospital has the CFM, the Vivantes hospital has the VSG, the Botanical Garden has the BGBGBM – despite the disorienting acronyms, the concept is simple: Outsource jobs, violate collective bargaining agreements and pay extremely low wages.

It’s no coincidence that now, a few months out from the elections, all these workers are trying to make their voices heard and get equal treatment. The SPD and DIE LINKE have promised that they will put an end to outsourcing in the public sector – but these are the parties that created this system in the first place when they were in government. In fact, the SPD has been in government for more than 25 years. If you think voting for the Social Democrats will end this practice, there’s a bridge in Mitte I’d like to sell you.

If you go to the Technikmuseum this summer, there’s all kinds of great stuff to see: steam locomotives, cameras, windmills, model ships – and some people might even enjoy the pictures of the Führer. Personally, “the more I learn about this Hitler guy, the less I like him” (Norm McDonald). My favorite exhibition by far was the workers shutting down their workplace.