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Saab Metall sagas: the plots thicken

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14:01 CEST+02:00
It's been hard to keep up with developments in Trollhättan this week, as events surrounding the Saab redundancies and Metall sex club scandal begin to resemble an industrial Knutby.

First of all, the strike that wasn't a strike. Yesterday afternoon, production was shut down at Saab's Trollhättan factory for two hours for 'information meetings in working hours'. The meetings were addressed by the unions Metall (metal workers), Sif (technology employees), the Civil Engineers' Association and Ledarna (the senior managers' union).

The meetings were in response to the redundancies announced by parent company GM throughout Europe last week. 12,000 workers are set to lose their jobs across the continent, including 540 in Trollhättan. There was similar action held yesterday at GM plants in Germany, Belgium, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Union leaders told their members that it was GM management that was to blame for the company's crisis. Chresten Nielsen, shop steward for the Metall union, had had enough of redundancies:

"We're not going to accept cuts in the workforce. It's the management itself that's caused the crisis through poor leadership since the 1990's. The workforce have co-operated with restructuring programmes on numerous occasions in order to achieve a turnround."

This is the fifth round of redundancies to hit Trollhättan since 1991.

The unions want to see a more offensive strategy and refuse to be played off against each other. They are dissatisfied with the plan to integrate Saab and Opel production and want it to be the subject of negotiation. Lars R Johansson of Sif said:

"Research and development at Trollhättan should not be allowed to shrink, it must be allowed to grow."

200 of the 540 proposed redundancies are technical jobs and Håkan Danielsson of the Civil Engineers' Association said:

"I'm most concerned about the prospect of a brain drain from the R and D department with so much uncertainty."

However, just as the temperature on that front is beginning to rise, the redundancy negotiations are to be put on the back burner as the 'tug of war' with the Opel plant in Russelsheim, Germany, hoves into view. On 1 November, Saab bosses are due to submit their tender to produce all GM Europe's medium range cars in a competition against the Germans. And SvD reported on Tuesday that the biggest slugger of all, prime minister Göran Persson, is going to bat for Trollhättan.

He announced at a press conference that he will meet GM Europe bosses in Switzerland on 29 October. Persson tried to play down talk of a battle between Germany and Sweden.

"We can't enter any kind of an auction with the German state, that would be complete madness," he said. "But we can have a sensible dialogue with GM. I think we have good conditions for car production in Sweden."

Just how high the stakes are for the town of Trollhättan and the Västra Götaland region was brought home yesterday. 100 out of a total workforce of 400 were given their notice at Lear Corporation. The Trollhättan company manufactures car seats.

Ulf Holmeby, shop steward of the Metall union at Lear, said:

"It was expected. About twenty of the redundancies are due to Volvo stopping production of the C70 in Uddevalla, but the rest is because of Saab selling fewer cars and we're dependent on Saab."

This was, of course, another blow for the hard-pressed chapter 112 of the Metall union in Trollhättan. Over 300 of their members at Saab look like losing their jobs and now a further 100 at Lear.

But due to the scandal which erupted last week concerning the spending of members' money on visits to sex clubs, the purchase of sex toys and drinking binges, the entire board have resigned. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Scandal whistleblower, Tommy Larsson, has now told GP that Metall have demanded that 14 people involved with chapter 112 have been asked to pay back a total sum of 370,000 crowns. Larsson, the former treasurer of 112, who fully accepts his own involvement in the various escapades, claims to have been asked to pay up 65,000 crowns. He was at his whiny best:

"They haven't shown any basis for their demands - which events or items are being questioned. At the same time, the demands show that it's not just me that should pay... I think personally that we should pay for the nightclub visits, but if memory serves, the three visits came to around 50,000 crowns. And there were at least five of us."

Unfortunately for Larsson, the news to emerge on Wednesday was that things could be even worse. Representatives of 112 were given an oral account of the auditors' report investigating the scandal. An edited version of the reported was also distributed.

The report states that "the correct figure [to be paid back] will probably be significantly higher" than the 370,000 crowns already quoted. Although the report suggests the final bill will be shared between 20 rather than 14 miscreants. Metall spokesman, Anders Ferbe, said:

"It would be appropriate for those people to come forward and apologise."

One named person is former chapter chairman, Kenneth Freiholtz. The report states:

"According to our ivestigation, the chairman has taken part in visits to nightclubs."

In addition the report accuses Larsson of engaging in activities for personal gain.

In a busy day for 112, an interim board was elected. The new chairman is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a woman. Monika Theodorsson, a metal worker at Saab, was under no illusions as to the task ahead of her:

"As always when it's a matter of building trust, it will take the chapter time to get the trust of the members"

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs-Posten

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