Self-portrait of an (unconventional) trade union
As a prisoners‘ union, we are in favour of solidarity among all imprisoned workers* and unemployed, ex-prisoners and supporters*. We do not let ourselves be divided and played off against each other as women, men, LGBTIQ* or as Germans and migrants*. All those who plan to do so – whether as neo-Nazis, state officials or women-, LGBTIQ* enemies* – have no place in the GG/BO.
The prisoners‘ union/national organisation (GG/BO) was founded in May 2014 by several detainees of Tegel Prison in Berlin. The Basic Law of the Basic Law in Art. 9 (1,3) guarantees the freedom of association and coalition. As a so-called association with no legal capacity, the GG/BO is structured analogously to DGB individual unions or the basic trade union FAU.
The GG/BO poses the social question behind bars: no minimum wage, no pension insurance, no sick pay, no protection against dismissal, no social welfare for unemployed in prison – that is the reality of the German prison system for prisoners.
GG/BO, which exists in front of and behind the prison walls, derives core demands from this social and labour law discrimination: Inclusion of imprisoned workers in the general legal minimum wage and in the complete social security obligation, abolition of the obligation to work, increase of the pocket money rate and above all full trade union freedom behind bars.
GG/BO is centrally oriented towards the guidelines of solidarity, collegiality, emancipation, autonomy and social reform. Any form of hostility to humanity towards groups is fundamentally at odds with this. Trade union policy is always educational policy, so historical references to the international trade union movement are important to us.
Dedicated prisoners and imprisoned trade unionists* are the GG/BO’s clock and keyword givers. In solidarity with supporters* of the GG/BO in front of the prison walls, trade union political and legal campaigns are launched. First and foremost the GG/BO tries to create a public platform for the GG/BO inside.
The GG/BO organizes itself in all institutions of detention: detention and remand pending trial, execution of sentences and forensics. The GG/BO currently acts as an independent and self-determined grassroots trade union. The GG/BO also strives for alliances with the basic trade unions FAU and IWW, with specialist departments of individual DGB trade unions, actors*from social movements and progressive parliamentarians*in order to become more assertive.
The prisoners‘ union/national organisation (GG/BO) is based on Article 9 of the Basic Law, which contains in paragraph 3 the right „to form associations for the preservation and promotion of working and economic conditions“ (freedom of association). The central requirements of the GG/BO are the introduction of the general statutory minimum wage for working prisoners and the statutory pension insurance for prisoners. Ultimately, the GG/BO strives for full trade union freedom for prisoners in German prisons.
Trade union freedom
Workers or unemployed prisoners have in fact not had a lobby so far. Prisons were a non-union zone for the prisoners. The existence of the GG/BO has changed this situation. This is extremely positive, as the prisoners now know that they are not alone. Prisoners now take their fate into their own hands and we support them from outside.
On the way to trade union freedom behind bars, the judgement of the Higher Regional Court Hamm is too positive. This confirms that the GG/BO has declared freedom of association and coalition behind bars. However, prisoner activists* of the GG/BO are also increasingly exposed to repression, which can be clearly classified as Union Busting.
Statutory minimum wage
The general statutory minimum wage of € 8.50 came into force on 1 January 2015. There are exceptions, as is commonly proclaimed, not only for under-18s, the long-term unemployed, interns, seasonal workers and newspaper delivery staff. Prisoners also have to work, often for less than 10€ a day. The fact that workers‘ rights apply in prison and thus also the minimum wage of 8.50 euros is vehemently denied by the judiciary – with the argument that the work of prisoners is resocialization, not an employment relationship under private law. But they form up to resist and invoke the fundamental right of freedom of association: Article 9 applies to everyone.
The business is flourishing in the special economic zone prison and „We would actually need more prisoners with longer prison terms,“ says Mannheim’s prison director Thomas Weber.
Full social insurance
Prisoners are insured against unemployment, i.e. they are entitled to unemployment benefit after dismissal if they register as unemployed and have worked for at least 12 months during the last two years (see § 142 SGB 3, § 143 SGB 3).
Prisoners are also insured against accidents according to SGB 7.
Prisoners, however, are not covered by health insurance. Although the prisoners themselves receive medical care in prison, family insurance is no longer required for their relatives during the period of detention. The family members then have to take care of their own health insurance. For cost reasons, the paragraphs regulating health and pension insurance were never enacted at state level (see § 198 Paragraph 3 StVollzG).
Contributions to the pension insurance are also not paid, i.e. despite the work done, the years of imprisonment for the pension entitlement are missing. In view of often prevailing, precarious living conditions, the path to old-age poverty is thus favoured or even manifested by the state. On the question of recocialisation or exploitation? we are clearly in favour of recocialisation.