Swedish Workers Strike Tesla

Elon Musk at Tesla Shareholder Meeting, 2014 photo by Jurvetson (flickr)

ALTHOUGH ELON MUSK’S Tesla does not manufacture cars in Sweden, it does operate several repair shops there. The company did not feel the need to enter into a collective agreement with IF Metall, a 300,000 member-strong union that organizes in the auto manufacturing industry.

After unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate a contract, the union struck Tesla on October 27. Veli-Pekka Säikkälä, IF Metall’s Collective Bargaining Secretary, commented:

“This conflict is about our members’ salaries, pensions and insurance. In the long run, it is also about the rules of the game throughout the Swedish labor market. Some companies should not be able to gain a competitive advantage by giving employees worse conditions than they would have with a collective agreement.”

As the union covers between 85-100% of the Swedish private sector workforce, this is an unusual fight. IF Metall signs approximately 200 local collective agreements a year in the auto sector, with no more than one strike.

More than 100 Tesla workers are officially on strike, but labor reporter and retired auto worker Lars Henriksson, writing in the Göteborgs Posten, visited the picket line in Hisings Backa the first week of the strike. He found some work continuing as a few were afraid of incurring the wrath of the bosses. Some had their residence permit tied to their employment; others didn’t understand the point of a union.

As the strike continued into November, sympathy strikes — which are legal in Sweden and in the other Nordic countries — supported them. Dockworkers and transport workers refused to load or unload Tesla vehicles. Electricians blocked electrical charging stations; building maintenance workers union halted their work. Seko, which represents service and communications workers, stopped delivering and collecting mail and parcels at Tesla’s workplaces. Examples worth following, which may be why “secondary boycotts” are banned in this country!

By early December sympathy strikes had spread to Denmark, Norway and Finland. Dockworkers in these countries pledged to continue blocking transit shipments of Tesla cars to Sweden unless an agreement is reached.

A successful contract agreement in Sweden would have implications for Musk’s other factories. The company’s only European factory is located in Grünheide, outside Berlin. It has a workforce of 11,000. Notices in the plant have appeared, “Our health is more important than the next billion for Elon,” and those suspected were threatened with dismissal. IF Metall has started a campaign to organize the facility, with over 1,000 workers recently wearing the union’s emblem at work.

January-February 2024, ATC 228

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