540 jobs go at Saab as sex scandal hits union

"This isn't good news," said an understated Paul Åkerlund, the chief shop steward for the Metall union at the Saab factory in Trollhättan. "It's hard to take in the middle of the grief with the tender and all the other crap."

540 personnel, including 340 members of Åkerlund’s metal workers’ union, Metall, are to be handed their notice following the announcement of parent company GM’s economy package yesterday. 90% of the job losses will occur next year.

But the story grabbing the headlines was the news that the entire board of the 112 chapter of the Metall union, which covers the Saab factory, resigned after it was revealed that members’ money had been used to pay for the purchase of sex toys, visits to sex clubs and extravagant drinking binges. The incidents cover a period of over ten years.

There seems to be no redeeming feature to this story. Thursday’s Aftonbladet revealed that it first came to light when a new accountant at the union’s head office went through chapter 112’s finances and found receipts for sexual aids, including two dildos of the ‘Beaver’ model at 600 crowns apiece. Union leaders were also informed of a notorious trip to Brussels as early as 1997.

It seems that the facts have only been made public due to a buck-passing row between 112’s senior figures. In the end, treasurer Tommy Larsson blew the whistle when he sensed colleagues were trying to set him up as the fall guy.

“The board leadership tried to obscure their own role, whilst pointing me out as being solely responsible,” he said.

Larsson described a number of lively trips to Aftonbladet, including a visit to a Brussels sex club in 1995. The bill came to 30,000 crowns. He claimed senior officials of 112 also visited the ‘Kakadu’ and ‘Maxim’ clubs in Copenhagen. Two visits in 1998 and 2001 cost the union over 20,000 crowns on each occasion.

Larsson readily admitted his own transgressions and was able to reassure union members and the public that 112 did exercise judgement and knew where to draw the line:

“I’ve done the same things as the others. But when it comes to buying sex, we all paid ourselves. We didn’t use union money.”

So how did grown, otherwise responsible men on official business find themselves buying dildos in a sex shop with the union Visa card? Larsson painted an evocative picture:

“We’d hired a minibus to drive down for budget discussions. The lads sat at the back bragging about going to sex clubs and all that on previous trips. The girls from the chapter thought it was unfair that we got to do that stuff. So buying those dildos for them was a bit of a joke really.”

National union leader, Göran Johansson, has so far refused to answer questions on the scandal, so it’s been left to Metall spokesman, Anders Ferbe, to comment:

“Clearly the reputation of the union has been damaged and the focus is off Saab and on the chapter’s activities. It’s deeply disappointing.”

Ferbe added that an internal investigation is underway and that allegations of criminal activity are being very carefully examined.

What must be going through the minds of the Saab metal workers? With the resignation of the entire board of their chapter, both the sacked workers and those fighting for continuing production are lacking local representation at this pivotal stage in the factory’s history.

In all, 12,000 GM jobs are being shed across Europe, with Germany’s Opel plants faring the worst. But despite the extensive redundancies, no factories will close.

GM’s cost cutting exercise is separate from the on-going ‘tug of war’ between Trollhättan and the Opel factory in Russelsheim, Germany, over future production of the motor giant’s European medium range cars. Saab are due to submit their tender on 1 November and a decision is expected early next year.

Commenting on the redundancies, business minister, Leif Pagrotsky, said:

“I realise that GM have suffered huge losses in Europe and that they must do something about them. I also realise that if GM Europe begins to turn a profit, it’ll give added security to Trollhättan. But that doesn’t stop it from being very sad news.”

Dodi Axelsson/Andy Butterworth

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten