Elon Musk v labour unions: Sweden version

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Elon Musk, boss of Tesla, has gone to nice lengths to maintain unions away from his electric-car maker’s 127,000 employees at its “gigafactories” in America, China and Europe. Even in Germany, land of harmonious relations between employees and managers, the highly effective metalworkers’ union, IG Metall, has no say on the firm’s native plant in Grünheide, close to Berlin. Mr Musk’s newest problem—a strike by some 130 mechanics at ten Tesla service workshops in Sweden—appears like a trifle. However it could but show consequential.

The Swedish strikers are members of IF Metall, which represents the nation’s metalworkers. They downed instruments on October twenty seventh, demanding collective-bargaining rights. Mr Musk ignored them at first. That dismissive stance grew to become tougher to take care of as different employees joined them in sympathy strikes. Postal employees refused to ship licence plates for Tesla automobiles, dockers to unload Teslas from ships and cleaners to clean the agency’s showrooms.

On November twenty seventh Tesla filed lawsuits towards the Swedish Transport Company and the nationwide postal service over their employees’ refusal to ship licence plates for its automobiles. On the identical day the court docket dominated that Tesla could be allowed to gather the plates straight from the transport company’s workplaces. However the strike continues. IF Metall vows to pay the strikers’ wages for months, even years, if that’s what it takes.

“My guess is that the Swedish unions will win,” predicts Jesper Hamark of the College of Gothenburg. For IF Metall this can be a a lot greater battle than a walkout by 130 automobile mechanics. The union doesn’t need to set a precedent that might encourage different firms to function in Sweden with out accepting collective bargaining. Right this moment round 90% of employees in Sweden are coated by such agreements; 69% are union members.

A face-saving resolution for Mr Musk may very well be to arrange a Swedish subsidiary below a unique title that might run the workshops and permit collective bargaining. Tesla’s greater fear is that the plucky Swedes embolden employees at its German manufacturing facility, which manufactures 60% of Teslas offered in Europe. That share is more likely to enhance ought to European international locations impose tariffs on electrical automobiles from China, the place the remaining 40% presently come from. To serve Europe’s rising EV market, the world’s second-biggest behind China, Tesla plans to double its German workforce from round 11,000 to 22,500.

“What’s happening in Sweden is encouraging for us,” says Markus Sievers of IG Metall. Swedish comrades’ battle for higher working circumstances is its battle, the German union has declared. It claims that Tesla’s German employees are paid a fifth lower than these at carmakers coated by the business’s collective wage settlement. And it has already arrange an workplace close to Grünheide to win Tesla workers over. ■

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