Swedes and Germans unite in GM battle

The battle for the production of all General Motors' medium sized cars in Europe entered a new phase in Copenhagen on Friday.

In September, GM announced production would go to either the Saab factory in Trollhättan, Västra Götaland, or the Opel factory in Russelsheim, Germany. A dastardly manoevre to play one factory off against the other, said the unions. Now Swedish unions Metall, Sif and CF have signed an agreement with their German counterparts, effectively undertaking not to ‘sell out’ to GM in an effort to secure production.

Union representatives proudly described the meeting and the resultant Copenhagen Declaration as “historic”. It’s thought to be the first time unions from different countries have made such an agreement.

“We’ve well and truly linked arms and promised not to collaborate in any attempt to undercut each other regarding terms and conditions,” said chairman of the Metall union, Göran Johnsson.

The Copenhagen Declaration provides for the negotiation of a general agreement at a European level regarding GM Europe’s restructuring, followed by national agreements. There will be no reductions in terms and conditions, including lengthening of working hours, and no closures or compulsory redundancies in either Trollhättan or Russelsheim. Finally, the declaration calls for fair division of production capacity in Europe, including research and development.

The demands laid out in the Copenhagen Declaration will be presented to GM Europe bosses on 16th October when they meet the unions in Frankfurt. Saab’s tender is due in on 1st November and a decision concerning the production of the new Saab 9-3s and Opel Vectras is expected early next year.

GM has not given any indication as to the fate of the factory which loses the ‘tug of war’. Göran Johnsson is, however, optimistic:

“I’m more confident now than I was before that Trollhättan can do it. My belief that neither factory will be closed is being strengthened more and more.”

Johnsson believes that moving Saab production overseas will weaken technical expertise and deal a potentially fatal blow to the brand. It’s acknowledged that GM purchased Saab principally for the brand.

His colleague from the CF union, Ulf Bengtsson, said:

“It isn’t just a question of the two factories surviving, they should also be developed.” The message is that both factories are good.

Further meetings between unions from the two countries are planned as the decision-making process develops. Mari-Ann Krantz, chairman of the Sif union, said:

“The meeting showed that we’re sticking together. In a short space of time we’ve established contacts at all levels.”

Reinhard Kuhlmann of German union IG Metall gave an indication of the unions’ resolve in an interview with Saturday’s GP:

“European trade unions won’t open a Pandora’s box by selling out on terms and conditions. We’ll all end up losers if we do.”

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs-Posten