Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 30 October 2004

Opel Workers - Down But Not Out

WORKERS AT the Opel plant in Bochum ended their solid, unofficial six day walkout on Thursday, 21 October.

Tanja Niemeier

The walkout was a response to General Motors' threat to sack 12,000 workers across Europe. 10,000 jobs are meant to go in Germany alone. This would be a major blow to the Ruhr area which in previous years has already suffered from the collapse of the mining and steel industry.

With the retailer Karstadt Quelle and Opel, two of the main employers in the region, threatening mass lay-offs, the future looks grim for many workers and their families. The unemployment rate already stands at 14% in the area.

Widespread solidarity

OPEL WORKERS had received widespread sympathy and solidarity for their struggle. "Your fight is our fight" was a common expression of solidarity of workers who visited the Opel workers from other car plants and workplaces across Germany.

Moreover, 50,000 took part in an international day of action organised and called for by the trade unions. In Bochum alone, 20,000 joined the demonstration in support of the striking workers and at the same time to protest against the government's attacks on unemployment benefits and redundancies at Karstadt Quelle.

Despite this marvellous show of solidarity on the part of the Bochum working class, the main aim of trade union speakers, politicians and church leaders at the closing rally was to convince workers to resume work instead of providing a strategy how to win the struggle.

Representatives of the works council and Bochum's mayor stressed the need "for both sides in the conflict to compromise". A Catholic bishop was booed and whistled at after he said: "It was now time to resume work" and that, "compromise also means renunciation".

Role of the trade union leaders

AFTER SIX days the strike was having an effect on other Opel plants which rely on parts from Bochum. The Antwerp plant in Belgium had to stop production and also in Rčsselsheim, the main plant near Frankfurt, some production was halted. The same was true at the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool.

This powerful position could have been used as a starting point to force General Motors to make concessions and to call upon workers to join the strike until all threats of redundancies had been dismissed. This would have put workers who are facing negotiations on terms and conditions in other car plants in a much stronger position and would have encouraged them to stand up against the demands of the bosses.

Instead of building the strike and officially backing the Opel workers - who did not receive any strike money and subsequently lost about █500 - trade union leaders tried to convince workers to go back to work and leave their fate to negotiations with the bosses.

On top of that, workers at Bochum had to put up with attempts of intimidation and repression. The chair of the employer's association demanded to look into the possibility of sacking the so-called ring leaders of the dispute. It was reported that workers had been filmed and photographs had been taken.

Socialist Alternative members who had intervened into the strike demanded that a decision to go back to work should only be taken after the whole of the workforce was given the time to fully and democratically discuss the back to work deal.

The opposite happened. First of all a majority in the works council only agreed to hold a meeting of the whole workforce after it had come under pressure from below. At the meeting itself, it was only the works council representatives and the local union official who were allowed to speak.

The formulation on the ballot paper deliberately mixed together the issues of negotiation and returning to work, part of a conscious strategy to end the strike. While many workers were in favour of the works council to engage in further negotiations with management, this did not automatically mean they were in favour of resuming work. On the ballot paper however, those two aspects had been combined into one question and you had to answer yes or no. 4,647 of the 6,404 workers present therefore voted in favour of going back to work.

This was not the end

"THIS WAS a sell out" said one of the shop stewards. He continued: "Workers and shop stewards relied on the works council but they misled us." Some workers asked the head of the works council to step down because "right from the start, he tried to make us resume work as soon as possible".

However, one worker added: "The dispute has not come to an end yet, we have learnt a lot in the past six days. We will still cause major problems for GM". This is an indication that workers do not seem to think that they have suffered a major defeat and are ready to take action again as soon as they feel GM is coming back for more.

While the trade union leadership claim they have struck a victory by forcing GM to negotiate a plan to secure locations and to prevent mass lay offs, the Financial Times says: "GM managers would almost certainly demand significant cuts in wages in return"(19/10/04).

The strike at Opel Bochum once more expressed the anger and determination of the German working class. The fact that they took actions without the official backing of the trade union leadership marks a turning point but also emphasises the need to build a strong opposition inside the trade union movement that can eventually challenge the current leadership.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 30 October 2004:

Unite And Fight

Why We're Going On Strike

International socialist news and analysis

Troops Out Of Iraq

Israel: Sharon's 'Entanglement Plan'

The White House For Sale

Ukraine: Galol Plant Workers Left High And Dry

Opel Workers - Down But Not Out

Life As A Refugee

Socialist Party campaigns

Socialist Party Stands To Stop Privatisers

How The NHS Is Being Taken Apart

Wythenshawe: Young People Need Decent Facilities

Four Weeks To Get All Pledges In

Workplace news and events

Nominate Roger Bannister

Manchester Evening News Strike

Support Jaguar Workers

Coventry Workers Fight Back


Home   |   The Socialist 30 October 2004   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

General Motors:

triangleGeneral Motors - no to 'divide and rule' in Germany


triangle110 years ago: massacre at Santa Maria school in Chile - commemorate 21 December 1907

triangleThe Socialist's 2017 quiz

triangleNewham anti-academies strikes

triangleDriving examiners walkout hits first day of new test


triangleBradford campaign to save children's services launched

triangleSix months on - still no justice for Grenfell

triangleTwo in five 'right to buy' homes now for let


triangleTamil Solidarity and Refugee Rights activists meeting

triangleUnite day of action against blacklisting


triangleGenetic Modification: A contribution to the debate

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Support the Crossrail Woolwich walkout



Totnes MP uses coffin controversy to distract from brutal NHS cuts



Tory plan to hold dinner at coal mining museum defeated



Bradford campaign to save children's services launched



Six months on - still no justice for Grenfell



Movement growing against fracking giant Ineos


South London

South London health bosses' cover-up



Unite day of action against blacklisting



Brighton victory



Newham anti-academies strikes


Tamil Solidarity

Tamil Solidarity and Refugee Rights activists meeting



Unite protest against blacklisting



Anti-DOO lobby of Liverpool's transport committee


Donald Trump

Mobilise to stop bigoted billionaire Donald Trump's state visit to Britain



Arriva bus strikers stand firm

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Dec Support the Crossrail Woolwich walkout

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

More ...

triangle13 Dec Caerphilly Socialist Party: Are we heading for an era of war?

triangle14 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Universal Credit - the Tories' latest assault on the poor

triangle18 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Religion and Socialism

triangle19 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas social

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice