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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 June 2006

General Motors meets workers' resistance

GENERAL MOTORS is in trouble - and not just economically. With his recently announced plan to close down the factory in Azambuja, Portugal and to move the production of the Opel Combo to Zaragossa in Spain, GM-Europe executive Carl-Peter Foster has provoked workers' resistance in all of the company's European plants.

Daniel Behruzi, SAV (CWI Germany)

Production of the Opel-Astra and Zafira in the German factories of Bochum and Eisenach was stopped for several hours recently because of a workers' rally in solidarity with their 1,150 Portugese colleagues, threatened by the closure.

Last week, 5,000 employees attended a demonstration in the company's main plant in RŸsselsheim, Hessia. Similar actions have taken place in all 18 of GM's European plants.

GM workers feel threatened by the company's newest cuts-package, which is said to be worth E130 million.

The current "re-structuring" programme has led to wage cuts and the loss of 6,500 jobs in the German Opel plants alone.

This has been carried out with the consent of the leadership of the IG Metall union and the workers' council, Betriebsrat. But the closure of the factory in Azambuja has shown that GM managers want more.

The factories in Bochum, Antwerp (Belgium), TrollhŠttan (Sweden), Gleiwitz (Poland) and Ellesmere Port are supposed to compete for the production of the new Astra from 2010. Two of them might be closed then.

In Ellesmere Port, 900 jobs have already been cut recently. Altogether, 30,000 jobs at GM Europe are threatened.

The situation in the United States - the home country of the world's biggest car manufacturer - is no better. Twelve factories will be shut down in the next two years. 30,000 workers are supposed to leave the company. 25,000 have already taken a golden handshake and left 'voluntarily'.

But the workers in the European factories definitely do not want to give in to the management's plans without a fight.

The closure of Azambuja would be: "the beginning of the end of the production of motor vehicles in Western Europe", says the leader of the euro-workers' council, Klaus Franz. "We are preparing for a long conflict", he adds.

Nevertheless, it is more than doubtful whether the workers' council and trade union leaders will wage an effective struggle against the company's plans. They are very much tied to "social partnership" and think of themselves as better co-managers.

Franz especially has a long history of stabbing struggling workers in the back. In 2003, during the bitter East German metal workers' strike for the 35-hour week, he publicly spoke out against the dispute.

And when the Opel workers in Bochum went on a week-long 'wildcat' strike in October 2004, he did everything he could to put an end to the stoppage.

Because of this experience, there is a lot of scepticism among the activists in Bochum. "The workers are distrustful of the leaders of the trade union and the workers' council", reports JŸrgen Schwartz from the oppositional group Gegenwehr ohne Grenzen (Resistance without Borders). "But nevertheless, the protests, which are now taking place, are a step in the right direction".

He suggests that as the next move, the workers should deliver an ultimatum to the management. If they don't take back their plans to close down Azambuja, strike action on a larger scale should be organised.

 

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