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General Motors - no to 'divide and rule'
THOUSANDS OF General Motors (GM) car workers walked out across Germany on 5 November after the company pulled out of the sale of Opel/Vauxhall to Magna-Sberbank, the Austrian/Canadian/Russian consortium.
Stephan Kimmerle, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
In a blatant act of political opportunism, before being re-elected chancellor in the recent German general election, Angela Merkel had been pushing Magna-Sberbank to buy GM's European business, including a 1.5 billion euro bridging loan to ensure the survival of the operation.
Now that the sale is off, GM has revived its previous plan to cut 30% of expenditure. This would mean the loss of at least 11,000 out of the 50,000 Opel/Vauxhall jobs in Europe and the threatened closure of plants in Antwerp (Belgium), Eisenach and Kaiserslautern (in Germany), Luton (England), as well as severe cuts in other plants like Bochum (Germany).
GM is again blackmailing the workers with the demand, 'make concessions or you will suffer when Opel/Vauxhall goes bankrupt'.
The fight against threatened cuts in jobs and working conditions by either GM or Magna-Sberbank requires a united approach by European trade unions. Disappointingly this has not been adopted by the trade union leaders who instead have adopted a 'beggar-thy-neighbour' approach.
Klaus Franz, chair of the all-German Opel works' council has been cooperating with the right-wing Merkel government, even though the Magna buyout would have led to plant closures elsewhere in Europe. Similarly, in Britain Unite leader Tony Woodley praised GM's u-turn as the "best deal for Britain".
However, the differences between the Magna deal and the current plan to keep Opel/Vauxhall with GM are minimal as far as the workers are concerned. For workers in Germany, the Magna deal also included the loss of 4,500 jobs - accepted by the works' council. For British workers the 5,500 jobs at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port and Luton have not been rescued. The plant at Luton in particular has a question mark over it under the plans of GM.
The refusal of union leaders to adopt an international strategy has led to severe problems for the workers. The outrage that exists in Germany is not being used to strengthen the struggle and fight the cuts. Instead, it can be used by the government to play on national divisions.
This nationalist approach has led to a situation where workers in Britain and Poland have welcomed a development that still puts thousands of jobs in their plants at risk. Management can continue with their divide and rule policy, not only between countries but also between different plants in the same country.
Workers cannot rely on their respective capitalist governments or politicians to solve their problems - as is clearly evident from the moves of all capitalist governments to bail out the banks and other capitalist institutions and companies at the expense of workers' jobs, and to make cuts in public services and living standards.
The jobs crisis is not simply one in GM or just the auto industry. It is part of the crisis in the world capitalist economy and a lasting solution requires a socialist solution.
The struggle to save jobs is linked to the need to use the vast technology, knowledge and wealth of the car industry to develop green technology and public transport on a massive scale as well as other socially useful goods.
Abridged article. See full text on www.socialistworld.net
In The Socialist 11 November 2009:
War and occupation
Postal workers strike
Defend the four campaign
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party review