Tesla: Elon Musk tries to crush Swedish workers
Tesla vehicles line a parking lot at the company's Fremont, Calif., factory, on Sept. 18, 2023. | AP

The strike by 130 car mechanics, members of the IF Metall union employed by electric vehicle maker Tesla in Sweden, who are striking to improve conditions and defend the “Swedish model” of trade union recognition and sector-wide collective bargaining moves into its second month — with no sign of a settlement.

IF Metall is being supported by the Swedish trade union movement across a number of sectors with secondary action by other workers in the Tesla supply and service chain and a blockade by the Swedish dock workers’ union which has stopped Tesla cars from being imported into the country.

IF Metall says the strike and secondary action have now forced Tesla boss, billionaire Elon Musk, to face reality and to acknowledge there is a dispute — even though he refuses to allow his local management to negotiate with the union.

Sweden’s industrial relations mediation service says there has been no movement by the company since Tesla management in Sweden told IF Metall that Musk had effectively blocked talks from California with the mediation service present on November 4.

The mechanics strike and secondary action are starting to hit Tesla, with postal workers and engineering workers taking secondary action. Workers at the Swedish post office Post Nord have stopped delivering mail to Tesla. This has resulted in the company not receiving any new registration plates for new imported cars.

Swedish rules say that new car license plates can only be distributed by mail and the office issuing the plates cannot use a provider other than the one they have a contract with — and that is Post Nord.

Hydro Extrusions in Vetlanda, Sweden has stopped manufacturing aluminum parts for new Tesla vehicles being manufactured in Brandenburg, Germany, where German unions are also seeking union recognition.

The Swedish Painters Union have refused to service Tesla cars while imported Teslas destined for the lucrative Swedish market remain unloaded from vessels and are stranded in Swedish ports.

Musk says they’re “crazy”

Musk described the strike as “crazy” and is trying to circumvent industrial action by importing cars via Denmark and Lithuania, but Veli-Pekka Saikkala, head of collective bargaining at IF Metall, responded: “It is not Musk we are negotiating with, but Tesla’s Swedish company, TM Sweden.”

The strike and secondary action have been criticised by Swedish employers for affecting “innocent companies” that have collective agreements with unions and are not direct parties to the conflict.

The CEO of Hydro Extrusions says he is worried that Tesla will change suppliers and that Swedish jobs may disappear.

“The management of Hydro Extrusions is afraid of what could happen but it is it is our union members who work for Hydro and support the union,” says Saikkala.

Saikkala says he is not surprised the strike is still going. In a recent interview, he said: “I knew that when we went into this strike that it was going to be a huge thing and will be covered in the New York Times and other major newspapers. We are prepared for this dispute to last a very long time.”

Saikkala accuses Tesla of systematically bringing in strikebreakers and overseas staff to maintain and service Tesla cars. According to IF Metall, it is about much larger principles and not just an individual agreement with Tesla.

“We have 130 people out on strike, plus those involved in secondary action and the blockades. Their employees go to work as normal — it is Tesla cars they are not allowed to handle, but other work continues.”

IF Metall has public backing. In Sweden, around 90 per cent of workers are covered by sectoral collective bargaining on pay, holidays, and working conditions.

A recent poll carried out by the Swedish union umbrella organization the LO shows that 67 per cent of those polled believe IF Metall is right to protect Swedish jobs, to defend union rights and sectoral collective bargaining.

“We are defending the Swedish collective bargaining system. If we do not succeed it will have very large consequences for the entire Swedish labor market,” said Saikkala.

Tony Burke is the co-chair of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom in the UK.

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Tony Burke
Tony Burke

Tony Burke is President of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions; a former assistant general secretary of Unite; Trade Union co-ordinator for the Morning Star newspaper; and chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom. He is a contributing editor of Left Foot Forward blogging on trade, international issues, and workers’ and union rights. As well as LFF, he contributes to the Morning Star, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom website, and his own Power In A Union site.