03.06.16

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The EPO’s Media Strategy at Work: Union Feuds and Group Fracturing

Posted in Deception, Europe, Patents at 8:39 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Apologies to Mr. Lucas for this famous meme’s reuse

EPO meme
Adding the caption/s to the photo op is an easy game to play now

Summary: The efforts to demonise SUEPO using ‘good child’ FFPE EPO are well underway, with insults flying both ways (classic union-busting pattern where one side is embraced to help discredit/malign/alienate/mischaracterise/undermine another)

THE EPO’s management is rather frantic/panicky about the negative press coverage (here is German radio coverage for those who might want to send us a summary or a translated transcript). So, as one might expect, in cooperation with outside help (FTI Consulting) the PR team keeps bombarding journalists with self-created (strategic) distraction, such as the above photo op and (dis)infographics about so-called ‘results’.

“This is clearly the intention; timing isn’t a coincidence here.”We are worried that the EPO’s scandals (here is a primer for the uninitiated) may somehow be brushed aside because of the charm offensives, aided to a large degree by the FFPE EPO MoU, which we wrote about in [1, 2, 3, 4]. This is clearly the intention; timing isn’t a coincidence here. In fact, based on documents, the day of the signing was chosen by the EPO’s management. It hardly feels like a two-sided agreement because EPO management calls the shots at all levels, even before the signing of a binding agreement. Would anyone trust an abusive partner to somehow be less abusive (or even violent) after marriage, as if matrimony alone would magically soften the person?

Speaking of coincidences, someone sent me “Coincidences at EPO” over the weekend, listing them as follows (verbatim):

Please be informed of more coincidences at EPO:

(Coincidence 36) Current FFPE-EPO’s treasurer Michiel Sonius recently became a manager in team Battistelli.

(Coincidence 37) The four other FFPE-EPO committee members have Dutch names.

(Coincidence 38) The FFPE-EPO union received office space within the EPO premises, whereas union SUEPO was ejected from EPO premises a year ago.

(Coincidence 39) SUEPO has 3400 members who feel Battistelli is bashing them and their union. FFPE-EPO claims to have 70 members, at least one of which feels bashed by SUEPO.

(Coincidence 40) By signing a MOU two weeks before the AC meeting, Battistelli gets EPO staff to quarrel over details. He can now fully focus on votes for his survival.

Looking at SUEPO’s public site, there has been no word from there since the MoU. They probably know well enough that lashing out at (or bashing) FFPE EPO would be immediately exploited/framed/interpreted as SUEPO being excessively combative and unnecessarily divisive. We have read and published leaked documents from Microsoft where there are explicit admissions of this strategy, namely finding or accentuating differences between groups (e.g. BSD/GPL) in order to incite them against one another. It’s related to the divide-and-conquer (or divide and rule) strategy, somewhat akin to sectarian violence.

Even with SUEPO saying nothing at all, and with only some anonymous comments posted at IP Kat, an apologist of FFPE EPO (or rather, someone who chooses to view or portray FFPE EPO as the victim) wrote:

What you see here is union-bashing….exactly what Suepo accuses the EPO management of. The message seems to be clear: if you do not agree with Suepo you are wrong. This is what happened to the independent staffreps, they were bullied away.
Samuel, you have my respect for trying to fing a solution to the current situation!
EPO staff, if you want to be represented by bullies, vote Suepo again next elections.
After all, they have been very successful so far.

This is a very provocative comment. Unsurprisingly, it immediately led to responses such as: “Just the opposite, as an EPO outsider I find the comments very factual and informative. I doubt it very much that the information is coming from a sole source, or SUEPO as your posting suggests. FFPE-EPO is a new actor on the scene, so it is normal that they get scrutinized at the beginning and have to face some wisdom of the crowds. As Mr van der Bijl as a chairman of the FFPE-EPO is about to resign, it may be an opportunity for you to shape the EPO future differently and put your candidacy forward. Good luck!”

“At that stage, if not well beforehand, Battistelli too might already be out of the Office (for good), perhaps back in Corsica (with or without a forced exile from Eponia).”A lot of this is true. The comments don’t come from SUEPO (nothing suggests so) and the current Chairman must finish his term next month, so who knows what will happen then? At that stage, if not well beforehand, Battistelli too might already be out of the Office (for good), perhaps back in Corsica (with or without a forced exile from Eponia).

Looking at some other comments which people posted on Sunday, one says (about the provocative comment, which merited a reply): “Nonsense. What you see is valid criticism of both the content of the MoU and the timing. Given the present situation, the timing is unfortunate at best and downright suspicious at worst. The fact that half the membership of FFPE-EPO were against the signing of the MoU, and some members have even left the union precisely because of this, speaks volumes.”

“As you know, it is prohibited to express outside opinions without a previous authorization from the EPO administration.”
      –Anonymous
Writing to Samuel van der Bijl (referring to him by name), one other person wrote: “While all EPO staff (including staff representatives and SUEPO elected members) have to remain anonymous on the Web, I´m happy to see that you enjoy a privileged status and you can sign your comments with your name. As you know, it is prohibited to express outside opinions without a previous authorization from the EPO administration. Then my question: Did you get the authorization from the president to comment on IPKAT, and then you act as a EPO spokesman? Or next Monday will you be investigated by our investigation unit and probably dismissed?”

Here is another comment:

Firing elected unions members.
The AC asked for revision.
It’s illegal in most of the European countries.
It’s not only legally but also morally indefensible.
FFPE signs a MOU with people claiming the indefensible and furthermore proud to do so (see TV reports, interviews, etc, etc.).
FFPE complains to be a victim.

FFPE is being opportunistic, it’s not a victim. It’s misguided, if anything (or at best), and it has only itself to blame for its horrible decision. How could it not foresee these consequences? As one very recent comment put it: “The only reason to sign such a pamphlet is opportunism. It doesn’t give any rights except to send twice a year a management approved email to all staff. Compared to the “acquired rights” from the pre-BB [Battistelli] era, this is just a joke. If BB & Co would be genuinely interested in staff, they would respect the elected representatives – at least what they have to say (play the ball and not the person …). I guess FFPE will learn the hard way what it means to have a Pyhrric victory.”

“FFPE is being opportunistic, it’s not a victim. It’s misguided, if anything (or at best), and it has only itself to blame for its horrible decision.”“If I understand rightly,” said another person, “disagreeing with FFPE-EPO is considered Union-bashing? You and the union are free to make whatever decisions you like. But not to allow criticism or comment is setting the bar a little low. Abuse or threats or intimidation should be deplored and not permitted. But to point out the folly of only 24 people voting for a MoU which will have knock-on consequences affecting 6500+ staff is hardly unallowable, surely?”

From the above we learn quite a bit of new stuff, even if not everything is verifiable. If it’s true that most FFPE EPO members OPPOSED the MoU with Team Battistelli (see the comments), then by signing it with the management anyway the FFPE EPO’s Chairman demonstrated that his group is as undemocratic as the EPO’s management. That’s just self-discrediting a move. “only 24 people voting for a MoU which will have knock-on consequences affecting 6500+ staff,” said this comment. 24 people out of 75 is less than a third. That’s far from a majority.

“That’s one of the classic elements of yellow unions in principle and in practice.”Regarding the person who wrote “disagreeing with FFPE-EPO is considered Union-bashing,” let’s consider how laughable a dichotomy that is. It’s not a case of either one agrees with the signing of the MoU or one bashes this union. Far from it.

FFPE EPO, having fallen into Battistelli’s trap, probably created a rift, as expected all along; it’s a fracturing strategy — an unfortunate situation which helps distract staff and resort to infighting rather than fighting the real abusers (Team Battistelli). That’s one of the classic elements of yellow unions in principle and in practice. That’s why yellow unions are banned in many places. It’s a ban that came about due to situations such as this.

According to this comment, half of FFPE EPO’s members have quit because of this back-stabbing deal with Battistelli. Is this true? Can anyone verify?

“They’re in the job of crushing movements of activists, whistleblowers, competition and so on, not just unions.”To Battistelli, FFPE EPO is just something to exploit and throw aside. It’s collateral damage. We now enter a new (apparently predictable) phase in union-busting action. The forces behind union-busting are demonising SUEPO and they needn’t even do this directly. Watch what Control Risks and FTI Consulting have done for EPO management. Absolutely despicable an act, not doubt, and both firms are on the wrong side of history. Consider the history of Control Risks in Iraq (the invasion) and known Stasi connections. Helping the EPO with union-busting moves is ‘small peanuts’ to them. Don’t forget FTI Consulting's role in dirty energy AstroTurfing, either. These people know what they are doing. They’re in the job of crushing movements of activists, whistleblowers, competition and so on, not just unions.

The following new comment calls SUEPO “immovable object”, creating or reinforcing a narrative where SUEPO is just some bad stubborn boy (spoiled brat) rather than a genuine union that’s pursuing justice for workers. To quote the comment in full:

What I’ve seen for quite some time is an irresistible force (Battistelli) coming up against an immovable object (SUEPO). The inevitable result is the present train wreck.

What is needed is flexibility on both sides. We haven’t seen it from either side.

SUEPO has been an immovable object since before Battistelli arrived. Because of Battistelli’s inflexibility, SUEPO is even less likely to be flexible now. They are so deeply entrenched in their position that there is no way for them to change. And they criticise anybody on the staff side who isn’t equally immovable.

It appears the Admin Council has privately been telling Battistelli to be more flexible, even though supporting him in public. But he has ignored them. As a result, he might lose their support at the March AC meeting. Maybe they will force him to be more flexible, or maybe they will replace him.

But that would still leave a problem. If the management does become more flexible, when will SUEPO become more flexible? I don’t see it happening. They are still the same old immovable object.

“Basic human rights & labor rights aren’t negotiable,” responded one person to the above, “full stop!” The above spins the situation somewhat. It puts the blame and the burden on SUEPO, as if the whole situation is SUEPO’s fault.

Here is another new comment:

About BB’s statement in the Dutch press: “…I sincerely hope that SUEPO realize that their “empty seat” is not to the advantage of employees or of the patent office. ”

Does the reader observe here that BB is missing SUEPO? …maybe putting a pair of empty boots near the “empty seat” to remind him that there is still an important invisible party in the room.

The latest comment says: “Shame on you Mr van der Bijl and FFEP : this is the regime that you now support.” It points to the BR “Kontrovers” program on YouTube (just posted here).

Right now the EPO’s management has a cowardly, weak, incapable partner which it calls a union. It’s on the verge of being just a corporate union, as it won’t be able to rock the boat and it hardly ever tried to. As this one comment put it the other day: “Just to put this in perspective, the union which has signed this MOU represents only 1% of staff, is biased towards one specific nationality (Dutch), was set up specifically to complain about the expat privileges of non-Dutch staff and is only open to staff in the Netherlands. Thus it is not even slightly representative of the majority of staff at the EPO.

“There is now a fictional (perceived) fiery feud between unions (as will be framed by Team Battistelli although there’s no public confrontation between the two), so the tension has been misplaced and Battistelli can soon allege that there’s a “civil war” or infighting (not involving him personally), reinforcing his fictional narrative of ‘unreasonable’ SUEPO which is intolerant to negotiations and is basically “Mafia” or “dangerous cocktail”.”“The FFPE btw are something of a laughing stock at the EPO and haven’t even been active for years – their public pages haven’t been updated since 2008 I believe.”

We noticed that too. And if it’s true that half of their members have just left (we need confirmation, as for now it’s just a rumour), then all FFPE EPO will be (or be remembered for) is a silly photo op (PR ammunition) that will be used as ‘evidence’ later this month (by Team Battistelli) that there is peace for our time. There isn’t. There is now a fictional (perceived) fiery feud between unions (as will be framed by Team Battistelli although there’s no public confrontation between the two), so the tension has been misplaced and Battistelli can soon allege that there’s a “civil war” or infighting (not involving him personally), reinforcing his fictional narrative of ‘unreasonable’ SUEPO which is intolerant to negotiations and is basically "Mafia" or "dangerous cocktail".

Update/Postscript: Near the time of publishing the above another comment was added — this one from “Former SUEPO official” — and it echoes some of our sentiments, then mentions the vote for a strike. To quote the comment in full:

I must confess to be deeply disturb by the current trend of these comments. Whilst I do not appreciate the move of the FFPE, I appreciate even less the aggressive tone and the words used against FFPE members and Samuel van der Bijl, presumably from many embittered SUEPO supporters.

My opinion is that they are doing a pretty bad job at trying to defend the interests of staff: the document they signed is not helping to solve any of the problems affecting staff and they have apparently not even realised that with the pressure on the president they could have amended the document to something potentially useful. That looks pretty bad for wannabe staff representatives.

But this is nothing more than my opinion. And everyone must respect diverging opinions. I understand that the perspective of being recognised officially as a representative union despite systematically failing to have FFPE candidates elected as staff representatives (even with a tailored-made elections rules unknown in Europe and in the democratic world) overweighted all the other aspects. This step matches well my opinion of the strategic thinking of the successive FFPE leaders until now.

Regardless how pitiful it looks, FFPE has the right to choose this path. Their opinion can be properly challenged and battled against. But some of the posts above target the FFPE as a whole or its head. I fear their authors have forgotten through their emotions that the FFPE is neither responsible for the current situation nor the stupid rat race into which examiners are forced to enrol. The office will not last very long this way, the public and the service we are supposed to provide are blatantly ignored, the applicants will soon feel the unwanted consequences of these mad policies, and the staff will be left with nothing.

If we want to change to course of destruction set by the president, all the staff must be united. FFPE members, SUEPO members, ethical managers that still believe in the office if any are left, non union members, and even former staff members or families! Infighting is a luxury we cannot afford if we still want to have a chance. And whilst the signature of FFPE on this document is not the smartest idea of the year, we have all made mistakes. Past cannot be changed but we should all (at least try) to make things better in the future!

For instance, FFPE and SUEPO could both call clearly to massively vote in favour of the strike on Tuesday. Individually, you can all participate to the strike! For those you have never participated to a day of strike, sometimes cowardly taking a day off or faked strike participation, change it NOW! Please show that you are worth serving the European public and have values!

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