Tag Archives: precarious labor

RadioLabour: Nestlé’s mistreatment of workers in Pakistan and Indonesia

A RadioLabour special report:
Nestlé’s dismal treatment of workers in developing countries
Part 1: Pakistan

Nestlé is the world’s largest food and nutrition company. It operates in 86 countries and employs some 280,000 workers. It is forced by strong unions to correctly treat workers in Europe where it is headquartered. But it’s a different story in developing countries where unions are weaker, unemployment is higher, poverty is rampant  and governments more corrupt. As one of its strategies Nestlé deliberately keeps many of its workers in lowly paid day-to-day jobs in order to keep wages down and unions out. I talked to Peter Rossman about Nestlé’s operations in two developing countries: Pakistan and Indonesia. Mr Rossman is the communications director for the International Union of Foodworkers. In this first of a two part series I asked Mr Rossman about the situation for Nestlé workers in Pakistan.

Listen to the interview here.



Nespressure returns with mass dismissal of union members in Indonesia/provocation and attacks on union leader in Pakistan


Management pressure on workers and their unions continues at Nestlé, the world’s largest food company

Click here to send a message to Nestlé!

Management at the Nescafé factory in Panjang has fired 53 of the 87 members of our affiliate SBNIP (technically they were handed “resignation letters”!) after the union took industrial action in support of their collective bargaining demands. The strike was the predictable result of five years of deep frustration.

On March 31 this year, SBNIP and local Nestlé management signed an agreement (initialed by the IUF and Nestlé corporate management on March 28) which finally opened the way for the union to bargain the Panjang workers’ collective agreement, including the wage bargaining which Nestlé management had been steadfastly rejecting for years.

Negotiations were difficult, and eventually deadlocked when the union called into question the enormously unequal spread in proposed wages within the many individual job categories, a spread which in the union’s view failed to comply with government regulations. With negotiations at an impasse, the union filed notification to strike in accordance with the legal requirements, and the SBNIP members – representing the majority of unionized workers at the factory – ceased to work on September 21, and peacefully occupied the plant to ensure that no product would be leaving the factory.

The company responded by denouncing the strike as illegal and ordering people back to work. During the strike workers received phone calls and two letters – letters from the company that Nestlé now claims were legal summons.

As tensions escalated, workers left the factory premises on September 26, briefly occupied the football field (inside the factory grounds), and then left the factory as a sign of good faith for the negotiations scheduled for the following day.

The next day, however, with the union announcing a return to work pending the outcome of the negotiation, Nestlé management failed to turn up for the scheduled meeting.

Following this provocative rebuff, the strike resumed on September 28, and the union filed for an eventual extension of industrial action should it be necessary.

The strike attracted sufficient attention in the media that a delegation from the provincial parliament came to Panjang on October 3 and asked to meet with the union members inside the factory. Nestlé management rejected this request.

On the morning of October 5, the local Labour Department called SBNIP and Nestlé management to mediation but management sent only junior company representatives who were not authorized to take any decisions in the mediation process. The union had looked to the mediation as an opportunity to make the case that it could not sign an agreement whose provisions were incompatible with government recommendations, and therefore potentially illegal. In this mediation the union agreed to end the strike at 1PM the same day and a memorandum prepared and witnessed by the Labour Department was signed by the union president, Eko Sumaryono and the Nestlé management representative.  Significantly the reference in this document to the strike of September 21-October 5 does not make any reference to the strike being “illegal”.

The strike ended at 1PM in accordance with the agreement and in two telephone calls between the union and Nestlé management at 6:27PM and 7:52PM, it was agreed to meet the next morning, October 6, to discuss finally signing the collective agreement. But from 10PM on October 5 Nestlé management launched the mass dismissal of union members.

When the strike ended as agreed on October 5, union members on the second shift reported for duty at 2PM and, although management did no re-start the machines, they completed their shift. But when union members arrived for the third shift at 10PM they were faced by a cordon of security guards at the factory gates, with riot police on standby inside the factory grounds. Security guards called out the names of union members, handed them “resignation” letters one by one and then sent them away. The same letters were also sent to their homes. Dozens of termination letters were issued on October 6.

This ruthless reaction by Nestlé came after the conflict was resolved under the auspices of the Labour Department and the strike was already over in accordance with the official memorandum that the company and union signed. More incredibly, even after the union agreed to sign the collective agreement, Nestlé management still continued its mass termination. This extreme bad faith on the part of the company reveals the company’s determination to crush the union regardless of the conflict being resolved. This was not about the strike – it was the culmination of five years of attempts by Nestlé Panjang management to destroy a union that dared exercise its collective bargaining rights (see What Nestlé will not want you to know: the truth about the Panjang strike).

To demonstrate their refusal to accept this mass forced “resignation” and to express their determination to be reinstated, the unfairly dismissed union members collected the severance pay that was automatically transferred to their bank accounts on  October 5 and attempted to return it to the company. On October 7, when union and management representatives were called to a meeting by the local parliamentary commission, union representatives handed over the severance money. Nestlé management – left speechless by this – refused to take it and left.

Union delegates at the IUF-A/P Regional Conference (Bali, Indonesia October 18-20, 2011) carried an emergency resolution on trade union rights violations at Nestle Panjang (Indonesia) and Nestle Kabirwala (Pakistan).  Picture shows delegates protesting against Nespressure inflicting  mass dismissals at Panjang and false criminal charges against union leader in Pakistan.

The Panjang strike was an understandable response to years of struggle for the right to form an independent union and engage in meaningful collective bargaining with one of the most powerful corporations in the world. The company’s local management has deliberately stoked accumulated frustration, engineering a series of events which it is attempting to exploit in order to undermine years of struggle in a country where workers are still denied their fundamental rights.

Nespressure stalks Pakistan

No sooner had Nestlé expanded its plant in Kabirwala, Pakistan in 2007 to become the company’s largest milk reception factory in the world, than management set about trying to undermine the union and attacking its energetic and effective president, Mohammad Hussein Bhatti, who was suspended in June 2007 for resisting management interference in union elections (see Pakistan: Management interferes in union elections, dismisses elected union president and violates court orders). Nestlé was forced to back down and Bhatti was reinstated.

But pressure on the union continued and has again come to a head, stimulated by the union’s decision to open its membership to the numerous contract workers at the plant and to assist 250 contract workers to become permanent employees – in accordance with the law – by filing legal cases at the Labour Court. Bhatti and the IUF-affiliated National Federation of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers gave important support to the Casual-T struggle at the Unilever Lipton tea factory in nearby Khanewal – and it would appear that Nestlé’s local management has determined to resist similar demands for an end to abuses of precarious employment arrangements.

While the court has issued ‘stay orders’ enjoining management from changing the contract workers’ status until the cases are decided, management has terminated many workers’ contracts and organized a calculated provocation by inviting new contract workers for a factory ‘visit’ – creating the impression that they will replace those fighting for permanent positions after years of precarious employment.

Rather than meeting the union’s demand to negotiate the employment status of precarious workers at this ‘world class’ facility, management has tried to mobilize local opinion against the union and its president and fomented a series of incidents and provocations involving false criminal charges (subsequently thrown out by the court) and inciting extremist religious organizations to attack the union. On October 10, union president Bhatti was stopped by security at the factory entrance and informed that he was suspended for four days, then repeatedly suspended for four-day periods since.

Stop Nespressure!

Tell Nestlé management in Vevey that local Panjang management must unconditionally reinstate the fired SBNIP members and enter into good faith negotiations which have been delayed too long! Pakistan management must rescind the suspension of union president Bhatti, stop provoking, intimidating and dismissing union members and officers and enter into good faith negotiations with the Kabirwala union.

Click here to send a message to Nestlé!

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Filed under international affairs, trade unions

May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers (Moscow)

First Open 48-Hour May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers. Moscow, April 29–30, 2010

Over the course of the two days, artists, researchers, translators, teachers, curators, union activists, journalists, writers and musicians from all over Russia will take part in round-table discussions, talk-marathons, poetry readings, and concerts. In recent years, the participants have been involved in many artistic and research initiatives that address the social and economic situation of creative workers in contemporary Russian society.

As neoliberalism continues to establish its hold, its ugly manifestations have become a daily reality for all of us. Not only have exploitation and lack of freedom taken on increasingly elaborate forms, but the very resourcefulness and creative potential of artists and researchers are also appropriated and capitalized by employers. It is against this backdrop that the issues raised by the phenomenon of precarious labor have become ever more pressing. It is our conviction that a reassessment of the precarious worker’s position in today’s economic structure calls for joint action in search of a new cultural space and an alternative educational platform outside of and beyond the fraudulent logic of the neoliberal market economy. Alongside the struggle against injustice at the workplace, collective defense of rights within militant trade unions, and street politics, we are now making another crucial step towards a re-examination of our position and, therefore, towards change.

he May Congress builds on and develops the experience of such earlier projects as Drift. Narvskaya Zastava (St. Petersburg—Moscow, 2004–2005), Self-Education(s) (exhibition, Moscow, 2006), 68.08. Street Politics (exhibition, Moscow, 2008), and Leftist Art. Leftist History. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist Poetry (seminar, Nizhny Novgorod, 2009).

The Congress will be organized around two main thematic clusters: LABOR and SELF-ORGANIZATION. The third, practice-oriented section of the congress will take place on the morning of May 1, International Workers’ Day, which celebrates unity and solidarity. Congress participants will take to the streets of Moscow to form their own joyful and creative column.

The Congress will provide modest dorm-like accommodations for its participants on the premises of Proekt-Fabrika (Moscow, Perevedenovsky pereulok, 18).

Scheduled participants/projects: Vpered Socialist Movement; Chto Delat; Translit Almanac; Seminar Group; Street University; From Community to Union; Educational Film Group; Megazine.Biz; Kinote.Info; Keti Chukhrov/Mobile Theater of the Communist; Free Marxist Press; Liberated Marxist Food; Here and Everywhere Studio; Everything That’s Filmed; Institute for Collective Action; Verkhotura and Friends.

You can read texts that have inspired congress participants here (in Russian and English).

If you wish to make a donation to the congress, you may do so in the following ways:

US Dollars: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817840704190003607
Euros: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817978104980006548
Yandex Money Account No. 41001516866888

For more information, write to: may-congress@yandex.ru


Filed under activism, alternative education, contemporary art, critical thought, open letters, manifestos, appeals, Russian society

Pavilion UniCredit: An Artist’s Tale

Pavilion UniCredit: An Artist’s Tale

I would like the following text to serve as a continuation of the discussion on the economy of the contemporary art world and the place of art and creative labor in the world of capital.

Let’s begin with a simple tale.

Once upon a time there was an artist who was so naïve that he thought that artists, as workers, should receive compensation for participation in shows and screenings of their works. Despite the disappointing experiences he’d had when he’d tried to press these issues in many projects, he thought it made sense to try his best and see what came of it, especially when his art works were invited to spaces marked by the obvious presence of capital (or where one could presume its presence). When he made his modest requests, he usually received the answer that there was no money. Neither for artist fees, nor for travel, nor for production. Curators usually just asked him and his colleagues to send copies of their films or print files of their works – they would do the rest. Most artists thus had little chance to see the many beautiful, important shows that were made with their work and thus to grow professionally.

The artist was a member of a collective. This collective did not have a gallery, and most of the videos they produced were self-financed (or underfinanced) with the vague hope that one day they might be able to raise money for a new production. To make matters worse, they worked under public license.

One day the artist received a polite letter from a nice curator whom he had never met. The curator was pleased to invite the artist to screen a video work at a show. She explained how the video was crucial to the whole concept of the show. She even asked the artist to produce a new graphic piece that would work in conjunction with the video.

The artist was thrilled to receive this invitation. He read the concept for the show and discovered that it was filled with important ideas and stirring expressions that he liked a lot. The emancipatory aspect of modernity as an unfinished project… The question of the contemporary emancipatory potential of revolutionary ideas, of socialism and communism… The role of art in the transformation of society. And so on.

He thought to himself that it was terrific there were curators and venues that worried about the issues dear to his heart. He read the name of the place where he had been invited to exhibit: Pavilion UniCredit in Bucharest. This particular space was renowned for supporting the most radical (even revolutionary) practices and some of the most leftist and socially concerned international artists.

He recalled that this cutting-edge space with its radical agenda was run by a guy he had once met; this man had also invited him to a big biennale he was organizing. He also recalled that this fellow had complained his space was very poorly financed because his country was the poorest in Europe. They had begun to argue about just this fact. The artist felt that since this fellow’s space was named in honor of a big bank, it might make sense to push this bank for more solid support. Otherwise, when local institutions were not treated as equal partners, and their hard work was poorly compensated, you ended up with something that smacked of the neocolonial exploitation of resources and people, of local miseries and inequalities.There was nothing wrong with the bank’s sponsorship itself, he thought, but there was something perverse about featuring the bank’s name without securing enough funding to run a decent program and treat artists and contributors right.

The artist recalled all this when he got the invitation. He Googled the name of the bank’s Romanian branch and within minutes he learned that UniCredit, one of the most powerful banks in Europe, was also well known for its social responsibility and support of culture:

The banks who united their forces to create UniCredit Group have a long tradition in promoting culture and local artistic manifestations, in the countries where they are present. This involvement is proved by UniCredit Group’s vast art collection and by the tens of initiatives within the UniCredit & Art Project.

Being very close to the communities where we are present, we try to maintain a strong relationship with them, by encouraging all the initiatives that contribute to their cultural enrichment. Thus, we encourage cultural diversity, by supporting music, literature, film and plastic art projects.


As part of a banking group with a tradition in supporting the arts, UniCredit Tiriac Bank has a strong interest in cultural artistic projects. We already have a tradition in supporting social and environment protection projects. We believe in the power of example, and this is why we involve our employees in the various projects that we support.

Beyond its main objective of making profit, we think that a private company has a responsibility to give something back to the community. Without this, we cannot speak of sustainability.


[The UniCredit Integrity Charter] encourage[s] the growth of shared feelings and experiences among all our colleagues.


Our artist was not a purist. As long as UniCredit had such good policies, that meant it should respect artists and cultural initiatives, particularly when its name was on the marquee of the art space it sponsored. How could it show its respect for artists? By supporting their work with serious funding and providing decent working conditions for guest curators and everyone involved in their projects.

He imagined what it would be like if he ran a project space in Petersburg called Sberbank Chto Delat or Gazprom Chto Delat and then sat around complaining that there wasn’t adequate funding for its programs. Wouldn’t other artists expect to be paid for their work if they exhibited at a space with such a solid-sounding name?

After mulling over all these things, he agreed to participate in the show at Pavilion UniCredit.

In his letter, he modestly asked the curator whether a fee would be paid for his work and for screening his collective’s video.

The curator sent him a rather detailed reply. There was no money for artist fees: all the money had gone into building a new wall and dimming the windows and so on and so forth. There was no money left for anything else, but still it is a great space, etc. In short, it was the same old story.

This was no great surprise to the artist. But as someone who had been developing a class consciousness and who saw artists and other creative and intellectual workers as a new kind of exploited proletariat, he couldn’t help thinking that it was irresponsible to go on making his peace with this business as usual.

So he again modestly asked the curator whether it wouldn’t make sense for all the participants involved in this project (the organizers included) to raise in a general way the issue of financial support from rich corporate sponsors. Maybe it would be a good idea to challenge them to extend their nice-sounding concept of social responsibility to artistic workers – that is, to themselves and their colleagues? He merely wanted to spark a discussion in the good old spirit of institutional critique. He didn’t want to cause a scandal – just to get folks to start thinking.

And because the piece the curator wanted him to exhibit was a video about Brecht and the dialectic, the artist thought it would be great to bring this message into their present working situation and try to prove that things didn’t have to remain the way they were. He also thought that the graphic statement he had been asked to produce for the show should likewise reflect these questions.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The guest curator liked his idea a lot. What could be wrong with it? Radical spaces like Pavilion UniCredit usually savored these kinds of tough issues. It would be possible to organize a discussion of the precarious conditions of artistic labor. They could then publish a radical newspaper with support from UniCredit in which dozens of brilliant precarious contributors would ponder this business of not getting paid for their work. Of course they would do so for free (or, at very least, for the nice food stamps called per diems in the art world). There was no money to finance this important debate, which in reality would cost almost nothing, perhaps a millionth of the budget for a run-of-the-mill corporate dinner.

The artist’s dialogue with the curator was going well until the folks at Pavilion UniCredit got wind of what he was proposing. They informed him (indirectly, via the curator) that their board couldn’t permit anyone to exhibit an attack on their institution (even in the form of an artwork) within the institution itself. And that was that: the artist’s piece, allegedly so crucial to the concept of the show, was disinvited with amazing alacrity and without any further discussion.

Why? The artist could only guess at the real reasons because the managers of Pavilion UniCredit refused further contact with him and thus foreclosed the possibility of a real discussion. Was it because the artist was a greedy egomaniac with a passion for scandal? Or was it because artists could not be allowed to raise questions of any sort about production? Or was it because the artist had mildly challenged the grey economy of sponsorship?


What is the moral of this story?

We might say that this story is too local and too bound up with personal peculiarities and emotions to have any general significance. This is true to some extent. The artist, however, believes that such cases should be made public. If today’s undeclared status quo is that artists are expected to keep their mouths shut and let institutions decide how things should be done and what things should be discussed, then this is wrong. Radicalism in art, culture, and thought should not be the exclusive property of institutions backed with power and money.

In short, institutions should not be free to abuse artists with their arrogance and incompetence. They should face the consequences of their behavior, even when they are located in Europe’s poorest country and backed by the richest corporate sponsors.

– Dmitry Vilensky, Saint Petersburg, 17.02.2010

P.S. The exhibition Comrades of Time opens at Pavilion UniCredit in Bucharest on February 18. Angry Sandwichpeople, or In Praise of Dialectics, a work by the Chto Delat collective, was disinvited from the show by the board of Pavilion UniCredit because, in discussion with the curator, Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat collective) suggested raising the issue of the project’s funding and artist fees. The work can be viewed online at: http://vimeo.com/6879250


Filed under contemporary art, open letters, manifestos, appeals