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John Riceburg: Holiday fun at Ikea

There is so much to do at Ikea! But as a form of alternative Xmas entertainment, try a strike! More than 50 strikers and supporters demonstrated through the big blue furniture store yesterday, and our blogger was on the scene.

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On the scene. Photo by John Riceburg

There is so much to do at Ikea! You can grab a new lamp for the living room. Or pick up a whisk for that colleague you don’t know well. And there’s a playroom for the kids. Plus, don’t forget the bistro! But what if you were drinking your coffee and you heard a loud whistle? What if more than 50 people in black t-shirts stood up and began to demonstrate through the store? What would you do?!?

Well, that’s one form of alternative Xmas entertainment: strike!

The strikes in the retail sector continue. Agreements between the trade unions and the business associations have been reached in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. But Berlin retailers are insisting on maintaining unequal pay between the outlets in the former West and East. That’s right, 24 years after the fall of the Wall, you still earn less money if you work at the Thalia bookshop at Schönhauser Allee (in the East) than at the Thalia bookshop at Gesundbrunnen (in the West). That one stop on the Ringbahn will cost you €1 per hour in wages.

Yesterday, about 50 people – workers from Ikea and H&M as well as student supporters – paid a visit to Ikea in Tempelhof during a strike day. They all sat down in the restaurant for coffee. After the whistle, they opened jackets to show t-shirts with a heart logo of the trade union ver.di. They were asked to leave, but – you know how Ikea is set up – that involves following a long, snaking path through the entire store. They handed out fliers to customers and distributed door hangers informing customers that “this business is on strike”. A small herd of yellow-shirted employees followed behind to remove everything again.

German law makes it possible for a trade union to enter a business that is officially on strike. So while the security asked the strikers to leave – sometimes with a smile, sometimes with rudeness one wouldn’t expect inside the “Ikea family” – they couldn’t do much more. When one got out his phone and threatened to call the police, his colleague whispered: “As long as they’re not bothering anyone, we really can’t do anything.” The customers assured them that the information on the strike was interesting: “I work at the supermarket Netto and they’re not bothering me,” one woman said of the activists. It seems that low wages in the retail sector affect more than just Ikea employees.

If you happen to see a strike while doing your Xmas shopping, whether it’s at a clothing shop, a supermarket, or a giant blue and yellow furniture store, remember to say hi to the strikers, help them hand out fliers, and leave your goods at the register. You can get that cheap whisk on any other day. But you can only stand up for decent wages in the retail sector on a strike day!