More Sacrifices Not Excluded

RUESSELSHEIM/VIENNA/MOSCOW | | spaniengrossbritannienbelgien

RUESSELSHEIM/VIENNA/MOSCOW (Own report) - Under massive protests, Opel is preparing further steps toward the consolidation of the European auto industry in Germany. According to recent reports, the company's plants and those of its affiliate Vauxhall in Great Britain and Spain will be scaled back by one-third. The Opel plant in Belgium will be completely shut down. At the same time, loss of jobs in the company's German plants will be far below the average, and an enormous share of this phased out industrial capacity will be transferred to Austria, which has very close economic ties to Germany. Whereas employees in Spain and Belgium have taken to the barricades in opposition to these measures, German trade unionists are defending the plans. Whoever is "not in a competitive position" will have to look job reductions "in the eye," explained the chairman of the German Opel shop committee, Klaus Franz. German trade unionists are among those standing to benefit most from these deals. With the help of billions in Opel employees' wage waivers; they are seeking a ten-percent share of the company, promising an enormous boost in their power.

Recent reports confirm that the job cuts at Opel, intended by the new owner, Magna, will primarily affect Belgium, Spain and Great Britain. The Belgian plant in Antwerp is set to be completely shut down; whereas a one-third reduction in personnel is planned for the Spanish plant in Zaragoza and the British Ellesmere Port and Luton plants. In Germany the planned reduction will be but one-sixth of its personnel, significantly less than in the rival plants abroad. Of political significance is the fact that a considerable portion of the capacity lost in Germany, will be transferred to Austria, whose economy is closely linked to Germany's. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]) These plans represent a further consolidation of the European automobile industry in the hands of the EU's hegemonic power, Germany.

Protests

Massive protests are taking place in the countries affected by these cuts. Several thousands of demonstrators are expected in Antwerp today, where a symbolic human chain is to be formed around the plant due to be shut down. Observers are estimating that the plant closure will affect, not only the 2,500 Antwerpian Opel workers, but put at least as many employees of subcontracting firms also out of work - a heavy blow to Belgian industry.

A Stitch-Up

Also in Great Britain, resistance is growing to these plans for job cuts. Unite, the largest trade union in the country, is demanding "an immediate meeting with Magna in order for this deal to be renegotiated." According to Unite's joint general secretary Tony Woodley, at least 1,830 jobs would be cut directly, more than is officially admitted. These job losses are the beginning of the end for Vauxhall, a British company, founded in 1857, with a long tradition.[2] The joint general secretary is calling on the EU to intervene. The agreement between GM and Magna is a "political stitch-up" with the German government.

By All Means Necessary

In Spain as well there have been hard protests against the Magna plans. Led and supported by various trade unions, up to 40,000, including prominent politicians, demonstrated in Zaragoza Saturday. More demonstrations are planned as well as a strike, to lend emphasis "by all means necessary" to the demand to lessen the burden on Spain.[3] The tone is growing sharper between Spain and Germany. For example the regional chairperson of the conservative party of Spain (PP) in Aragón declared that in this conflict it depends on the "weight a country wields".[4] This expresses the lack of understanding the regional government of Aragón has for the transfer to Eisenach Germany of production of the Corsa. In Eisenach production costs are higher than in Zaragoza. The Spanish government plans to have the EU intervene. The Minister of the Economy is raising serious accusations against Berlin, saying he had never been personally informed of the terms of the Magna plan, but merely called upon to participate in the billions in financial credits.

Not that Dramatic

The Belgians, British and Spanish workers cannot hope for solidarity from the German unions. In fact, the IG-Metall and the German shop committee were struggling to have Opel sold to Magna [5] - well aware of the plans that the job cuts would be more massive elsewhere than in Germany. Those who are "not in a competitive position", will have "to look" job reductions in the eye, declared the chairman of the German Opel Shop Committee, Klaus Franz last week. The Opel workers in Belgium, Great Britain and Poland should be grateful for the German government's engagement for the Magna deal, otherwise "these plants would have become insolvent". Referring to the job cuts in the other European countries, Franz declared, "I don't find it that dramatic." Franz also heads Opel's European shop stewards [6], allegedly representing the interests of also the non-German Opel workers, who are holding crisis talks today.

Voluntary

The German unionists' obstinate struggle in favor of the Magna deal, which will reinforce the German automobile industry's predominance in Europe, coincides with their ambitions to obtain new positions of power within the corporation itself. Under the slogan "employee participation," ten percent of Opel's shares should verbally be allotted to employees. Certain circles inside the union would like to have these shares transferred de facto to a company, in which union functionaries and shop stewards would have the power of decision.[7] This position of power is being bought with the losses in salaries of the employees, who are supposed to renounce on 1.5 billion Euros in wages over the next five years - as "voluntary" payment for these 10 percent in shares. These representatives, elected by the workers, will then become co-shareholders, defending Germany, as the production site, against the interests of the workers of Belgium, Great Britain and Spain, but also to restrict the workers here in Germany. This is apparent through recent statements made by Berthold Huber, IG Metall Chairman. According to Huber - in addition to the current loss of jobs and the renunciation of wages - further "sacrifices" in the future "are not excluded."[8]

[1] see also Unheimlicher Anschluss (II), Crisis and Concentration and Mafiotische Züge
[2] Union Fury At Huge Vauxhall Job Cull Plan; Sky News 22.09.2009
[3] Los sindicatos auguran, tras el éxito de la protesta, un otoño 'caliente'; El periódico de Aragón 20.09.2009
[4] Rudi califica de "éxito" la manifestación contra el plan industrial de Magna en Opel; Europa Press 21.09.2009
[5] see also Falling Giants (II) and Die Automacht
[6] Jobabbau? Aber klar doch!; Süddeutsche Zeitung 16.09.2009
[7] "As the magazine the WirtschaftsWoche (wiwo) learned from circles of those involved, the presidium of this corporation would consist of the chairperson of Opel's general shop committee, Klaus Franz, the lawyer Apitzsch and Michael Witzel, the lawyer for Lovell and an expert for mergers and acquisitions. The board of directors will be comprised of Lovell's expert for taxation law, Ruth Zehetmeier-Mueller, a representative of the IG Metall trade union and four members of Opel's shop committee. The shop committee chairpersons of the four Opel plants in Ruesselsheim, Bochum, Kaiserslautern and Eisenach will act as shareholders. Apitzsch and the other lawyers have thought up a special legal construction. The Opel employees will not personally acquire their shares from their employer, but rather the current "Vorratsgesellschaft 4" ("Pooling Company 4") would be the legal owner, and will administer the shares for the Opel employees in trust. The Opel employees, themselves, will not acquire shares, but merely a claim to these shares, meaning the right to receive the equivalent value of the shares in cash." wiwo.de 27.06.2009.
[8] "Wir lassen uns nicht mehr erpressen"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.09.2009