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Job Cuts at IBM causes the first strike in remote work

IBM recently announced job cuts at multiple campuses, including those in the Côte d'Azur, causing the CGT union to call for strikes.


First announced at the end of last year, it is becoming even clearer that IBM France is set on cutting jobs: 1,250 jobs (including 70 on the Côte d’Azur) are allegedly being cut via the PSE plan, while 1,000 others (150 of which are in Nice) are being transferred to Kyndryl, an independent company. To oppose the move, the trade union CGT for IBM France called the first digital strike in remote working earlier this month.

This severe downsizing, announced at the end of December by IBM France, is starting to take shape. To protest against the redundancies and the outsourcing of about 1,300 employees into a new company, ‘NewCo’, recently renamed Kyndryl, the trade union for IBM France organised a day of strike action on Friday, April 16, which was the first digital strike in remote work. The movement was marked by a ‘digital invasion’ by the striking employees of a videoconference meeting of the Social and Economic Committee.

A two-stage workforce reduction plan

According to the union, the staff reduction is planned to happen in two stages: 1,250 jobs will be cut by the summer, followed by the transfer of about 1,000 employees to a new company, created especially for the restructuring, on 1 September. By 2022, only half of the current 5,000 working employees will remain (a 75% reduction in the space of 10 years, down from 10,000 employees in 2011).

The CGT notes two parts to the proposed reduction in staff: the PSE (Employment Protection Plan) and the transfer of outsourcing activities (the GTS-IS branch) to an autonomous company that opens a horizon of uncertainty for the employees concerned.

Part 1, PSE: Assisted departures and redundancies. This plan, announced in November 2020, includes measures to assist voluntary departures, supplemented by forced departures. The many meetings with trade unions barely shifted management’s position, says the union. Although management have now closed their dialogue with the group of unions (CGT, UNSA, CFE-CGC, CFDT, CFTC), the unions have not stopped demanding the withdrawal of redundancy plans included in the PSE.

Part 2, NewCo/Kyndryl: Forced transfers out of IBM into a low-cost company previously called NewCo and now renamed Kyndryl. This independent company will take over the IT infrastructure services of large companies. For the ‘survivors’ of Part 1, IBM management plans to transfer about 1,000 employees on September 1 to a company created especially for the demerger and whose shareholders would be ‘totally independent of IBM’ in the very short term.

Strike action from the home office

“This forced transfer has been met with general hostility by the employees, who see it as a prelude to massive outsourced redundancies,” the CGT emphasizes. “The company’s future is far from assured because of the mistrust of client companies who feel betrayed by IBM’s announcement to abandon this sector of activity. The demerger jeopardises the future of both companies and their employees.” The union underlines that the experts commissioned by the Central CSE union have come to confirm the findings of the union group, who believe that the economic situation of IBM France does not justify a PSE of this scale and that the economic situation of IBM Corp is healthy, despite the pandemic.

This also poses a problem for the unions: how should they react when the lockdown and the move to remote working (on the Côte d’Azur almost 99% of IBM employees currently work remotely) do not allow employees to gather in person? The CGT has also sought to play the digital game, a world that IBM employees obviously know well. “Every Thursday we organise a digital general meeting on Zoom with a Twitch feed that brings together 300 to 400 employees, and on Friday we do even more: we encourage connected employees to sign in and then out in ‘strike mode’,” explains José Sainz, CGT trade union member. “In the midst of a pandemic, this is one of the new means of strike action, while all IBM sites are empty and management is taking advantage of this dispersal of employees to remain intransigent.”

A ‘digital invasion’

An example of the new possibilities for unions’ strike action in the digital age: The ‘online strike’, launched by the CGT for IBM France to protest against the crucial job cuts, was accompanied by an attempt at a ‘digital invasion’ of the WebEx meeting of the CSE (Social and Economic Committee) on the morning of Friday, April 16. The action represents another union first in the new world of digital work.

José Sainz, CGT member, reported to AFP that on the morning of April 16, several of the 80 employees on strike invaded the WebEx platform by “connecting in an untimely manner” before seeing their access cut by the Director of Social Relations. “Now the Director of Online Social Relations,” added José Sainz ironically.

- Jean-Pierre Largillet

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