Sunday 6 July 2008

Unionists Protest Lionbridge the Cowardly Lion

About court case and protest

Lionbridge stalls the court and tries to defend its actions as the case gets more political.

On July 4, proceedings started in the Warsaw Labour Court in the case of Jakub G against Lionbridge Technologies. Jakub was fired in February 2008, shortly after becoming a representative of a newly-formed union in the Warsaw branch of that company.

No Arguments in Court

Lionbridge was represented by not one, but two high-priced lawyers from the Warsaw office of a well-known international law firm. The courtroom was full with observers from no less than three trade unions, some left political groups, four mainstream newspapers, the independent media and Jakub's friends and supporters. Lionbridge claims that Jakub published an article on the internet using confidential information, that he used the company e-mail to transfer confidental data and that he acted to the detriment of the company.

Jakub prepared all the evidence to prove that the allegations were false and it was already submitted to the court. This included many source documents that had to be translated and notarized. Instead of dealing with these documents, which had been used by the company as the basis for their dismissal (the court documents referred to the article written on the Polish internet site "CIA"), the lawyers tried to submit an interview with Jakub made by the Slovakian group Priama Akcia as evidence of Jakub's "disloyalty to the company". The court, naturally, would not admit this evidence as the interview was made after Jakub was already out of the company and could not constitute grounds for dismissal.

The lawyers also claimed that the alleged confidential information was leaked not in the Polish version of the text, but in the English one and that Jakub was especially trying to withhold copies of the English versions of the text. This was quite amazing since both the dismissal letter and the court documents referred to the Polish version of the text and the only reason that everything was submitted in Polish certified translation was because that is the official language of the court and documents, as a rule, should be submitted that way. The head of Lionbridge told the court that he had to go on vacation and asked for the next hearing to be postponed one month.

False Claim with No Chance

The lawyers also made quite an interesting claim that the alleged "confidential information" which was leaked was information concerning the company's revenue. They claimed that this type of information is "stricly confidential, was never published anywhere and was known only to Lionbridge employees". This was the only "proof" of leaking confidential information offered in the court.

It is hard to judge whether the lawyers could be so astoundingly incompetent that they failed to check this or whether this was just a shameless attempt to introduce false arguments in the case solely to buy time. Information concerning the revenue of large public listed companies is generally public, especially in the United States where financial reports of companies with more than a certain level of assests and shareholders must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on a 10-K form. (Lionbridge is an American-based global company.) Revenue information is available not only to shareholders, but is published on the web pages of the Commission ( On Lionbridge's 10-K forms, published openly on the internet, anybody can find out the revenue of any of Lionbridge's local offices. Anybody can also just type in the words "Lionbridge revenue" to see that it was common practice for Lionbridge to release information about their revenue to the press. The revenue of the Polish office was also printed in the Polish press.

It is quite hard to believe that a professional lawyer would not check this information, even more so as I submitted a letter to the firm, which Lionbridge submitted to the case as evidence, giving all the sources of information for the article in question, "Lionbridge, Globalizing Low Wages". Among the sources I submitted were the sources of information on the company revenue. There is no chance that the false allegations of leaking confidential information for the article can stick.

This leaves the company with only one strategy: to try to convince the court that, for political reasons, they should be spared from having to reinstate their former employee.

The Lion's Red Herring

The court date was preceded by an international solidarity campaign on behalf of the unfairly dismissed unionist. Protest letters were sent and solidarity pickets took place in Slovakia, Portugal, France and Belgium. The attention drawn by these pickets unnerved the Polish management of the company. In an attempt to weaken sympathy with Jakub, two letters were sent by management to workers of the Warsaw office, one of which was later leaked. The letters accuse the unionist of threatening the financial stability of the company because of the protests and warn workers that their job security could be on the line should the firm suffer because of the negative publicity.

Such logic is typically used in global corporations and this is not the first time such comments could be heard in the Polish office. Upon the creation of the union, Jakub was told essentially that unions undermine the competitiveness of the company. It was sometimes heard in the firm that the employees were all competing with Indian and Chinese workers and that acting out of line in anyway could mean that their jobs would be quickly lost to those countries.

In a letter to the employees and later (in an interview with a journalist from Poland's leading newspaper), Jacek Stryczynski, head of Lionbridge Poland, gave an emotional account of the inappropriateness of the protests, especially fixating on a stuffed toy lion used in Slovakia. (See picture here: He told the journalist that he was "being persecuted by the Communist International". (For some people, anybody who criticizes a corporation must be a communist.) The letters sent to the employees could well be considered red-baiting. They constantly speak of anarchists and anti-globalists and insinuate that these actions have nothing to do with the welfare of the workers but with Jakub trying to make a career in the anti-globalist movement. (The fact that Jakub isn't an anti-globalist is another matter.) One letter implies that people with such political ideas cannot work in global companies which appears to be evidence of discrimination on political grounds - another violation of the Polish Labour Code.

Protests on the 4th of July

Protests in front of Lionbridge's Polish headquarters were seriously hampered by a downpour of torrential rain but a good crowd of hardcore activists came anyway and protested in the storm. (Thanks to people from ZSP, WRS, IP, FA, LA, SMS, etc.)
The management must have been thoroughly panicked after the visit of Priama Akcia to the Zilina office with a stuffed lion toy so long before we arrived, four vans of riot police appeared to protect the office from potential toy-carrying unionists.

There were some speeches and slogans. Besides that, ZSP (Union of Syndicalists) submitted a request for a translation job to the company. ZSP asked Lionbridge to translate an article about violations of workers' rights into all languages to be published on their website. (We don't think the firm will take the job.)

On the same day, solidarity actions were also held in Ireland, Copenhagen and in Madrid. (Huge thanks to everybody who took part in these actions or will take part in the ones planned for the future.) Leaflets were handed out with basic information about the case and about worker organizing.

Employee Reaction

In Ireland, employees were warned against talking to demonstrators or taking their leaflets. In Poland the employees had been warned beforehand that the demo was going to take place during working hours and of course leaving during working hours could carry serious consequences. A few might have been genuinely frightened by the totally unnecessary police presence and the amount of people from security filming the demo, so only a few brave ones came out and talked to the rain-soaked protestors. Unfortunately, a couple of employees later sent nasty emails to Jakub about the inappropriate form of protest in Slovakia (concretely, the mistreatment of the stuffed toy), but for every mail like that, Jakub, myself and others have received dozens of letters of support from Lionbridge employees and contractors around the world, especially freelance translators who also complained that they are often paid very late.

As one can expect, there are others in Lionbridge who may not be so gung-ho on the corporation's practices and who were genuinely offended by the e-mail sent to employees suggesting that people with certain political views shouldn't be employed by the company. This does not seem to be limited to people with leftist or liberal leanings: one person who wrote to me a couple of times in fact seems to be a quite patriotic American who is just genuinely concerned about good jobs being outsourced around the globe. (This earned Lionbridge a place on CNN's Lou Dobb's "Exporting America" list of US firms sending jobs abroad.) That person wrote that he wishes us well on the fourth of July and saw the case as an attack on freedom of speech and political thought, which are values he hopes every American would fight to uphold.

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