Tesla assembly line. Photo: Steve Jurvetson/CC
Tesla assembly line. Photo: Steve Jurvetson/CC

Adam Harmsworth, Coventry Socialist Party

On 27 October, 130 engineers at Tesla workshops in Sweden began strike action against the car giant. They have been demanding Tesla recognises their union IF Metall and negotiates a collective bargaining agreement. Striking workers have raised six-day weeks and unavoidable overtime as part of their motivation.

Tesla and its notorious billionaire boss Elon Musk have refused union recognition for any of their workers across the globe. Currently some 90% of Swedish workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Collective bargaining

Unions fear that if Tesla wins, other companies will be inspired to reject collective bargaining and end union recognition as standard. Some fifteen trade unions across Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland have now joined in solidarity and launched sympathy strikes against Tesla.

That includes dockworkers refusing to unload Tesla vehicles, mechanics at independent workshops refusing Tesla cars, postal workers leaving letters and packages for Tesla untouched, and even waste collectors no longer collecting from Tesla sites.

Musk fears that if Tesla loses this fight, more of the company’s 127,000 workers will be inspired to strike and unionise. German union IG Metall has said that a non-unionised Tesla factory near Berlin with 10,000 workers had workers reporting “extreme workload [and] excessive production targets”. If Swedish Tesla workers can win recognition, then Musk may face the horror of tens of thousands of overworked Tesla workers demanding reasonable working conditions.

Tesla has already gone to court to sue the Swedish Transport Agency and state-owned mail carrier PostNord for holding onto Tesla licence plates. He also condemned the sympathy strikes in his very blunt and arrogant manner, tweeting simply: “This is insane”.

With the ranks of Scandinavian workers coming to the defence of trade unionism against the world’s richest man, this strike may last for some months. And whether Tesla wins or not, threats to collective bargaining will likely grow. Sweden’s social democracy is not immune from the growing crisis of world capitalism. That’s been shown by over a decade of attacks on ‘Nordic model’ principles by successive Swedish governments, including those led by the Social Democrats.

Ultimately, the Swedish working class will need to be convinced to fight for a socialist system where workers run Tesla and all factories under their own democratic control and management.