Retailers launch legal bid to ban flash mobs | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 29.12.2009
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Retailers launch legal bid to ban flash mobs

German retailers say there is no room for flash mobs - large groups of people who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unusual action - when it comes to labor disputes.

A flash mob outside a McDonald's restaurant

Flash mobs involve large numbers of people suddenly converging on a public place

The Association of German Retailers (HDE) has filed a legal complaint with the nation's highest court in an attempt to ban the use of flash mob tactics in labor disputes.

The term "flash mob" refers to the sudden assembly of a large group of people who perform an unusual action before quickly dispersing. Such gatherings are generally organized via mobile phone messages, social media websites like Facebook, or viral emails.

The lawsuit lodged with the Federal Constitutional Court is directed at the Verdi services union, which organized a flash mob at a supermarket where unionized staff members were striking in 2007.

The flash mob protest saw 40 participants block the store's checkout area for about an hour by simultaneously purchasing small items worth just a few cents. They also filled shopping carts with goods and abandoned them in the store for strike-breaking workers to clear away.

Members of the Verdi services union on strike

Retailers say a clear line should be drawn between traditional protest strikes and flash mobs

Questionable tactics

The latest complaint comes three months after the Federal Labor Court ruled that flash mobs are a legitimate form of industrial action given that they do not constitute a blockade of company facilities.

Judges recommended that store owners counter the spontaneous protests by closing their stores for a short time or banning participants from entering the premises.

But the HDE says that decision is both impractical and unfair.

"The people who suffer are customers who are not involved in the dispute," HDE labor expert Heribert Joeris told the Associated Press.

Joeris warned that the term 'labor dispute' would become disreputable if flash mobs were permitted to make a nuisance of themselves in retail outlets, or if store workers could only clear protesters from their premises by using physical force.

"That would be a legal situation that we retailers cannot and will not accept," he said.

Editor: Susan Houlton

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